Stone Tools
New tool discovery thought to date back 3.3 million years (NB this picture does not represent the tools found in Kenya)Yamandu Hilbert

Researchers in California claim to have found the oldest tools ever discovered, and believe the stone implements were fashioned several hundred thousand years before the first humans walked the earth.

The tools were found in Kenya and are thought to date back 3.3 million years, 700,000 years earlier than the oldest-known tools on record, which were discovered in Ethiopia.

Archaeologist Sonia Harmand, of Stony Brook University in New York, said the tools were found during a dig at a site known as Lomekwi 3, just west of Kenya's Lake Turkana.

Addressing the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society in California, Harmand said she and her team stumbled across the site in 2011, after taking a wrong turn. They spotted a cluster of tools on the landscape, and began to excavate.

Since that initial discovery four years ago the team have unearthed a total of 20 flakes, anvils and cores (from which the flakes were struck). According to Harmand, the materials were immaculately preserved in sediment, and an additional 130 pieces were found on the surface.

Harmand was quoted as saying by sciencemag.org: "The artifacts were clearly knapped [created by intentional flaking] and not the result of accidental fracture of rocks."

If the tools are indeed 3.3 million years old, they would long predate the arrival of the Homo genus, which is now thought to date back 2.8 million years.

Harmand believes the tools were either made by the Kenyanthropus, or by australopithecines, similar to 'Lucy', the 3.2-million-year old ape found in 1974.

Alison Brooks, an anthropologist at George Washington University, agreed with Harmand's view that the tools were (very early) man made, saying that "they could not have been created by natural forces... the dating evidence is fairly solid."

Brooks continued by suggesting the Kenya find proves that "technology played a major role in the emergence of our genus."

Thanks to Michael Balter (@mbalter) of newsciencemag.org.