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ANTHROPOLOGY

Hominids with a steady hand

Humans' early ancestors appear to have been more skilled as toolmakers than previously believed, according to a team of French and Kenyan anthropologists. The team uncovered a remarkably well-preserved site in northwestern Kenya that yielded a vast number of fragments, as well as smaller amounts of animal remains. They date back 2.34 million years. The researchers pieced fragments together to reconstruct the original stones from which the tools were knapped (stone striking stone). Conclusions? The hominids exercised a surprisingly high level of control over the force, frequency, and strength of the blows needed to flake sharp-edged tools from fine-grained lava stones - and apparently knew their materials well. According to the University of Southampton's James Steele, no one has ever found fragments so old that displayed such skill. He notes that researchers have yet to identify the creatures responsible. They demonstrated higher levels of motor and cognitive skills than previously assumed for early hominids. The work appears in today's edition of the journal Nature.

GEOLOGY

Portland's hidden river

SEATTLE - A team of researchers has uncovered evidence for an ancient river valley beneath Portland, Ore. Using a technique similar to ultrasound imaging, the team from the United States Geological Survey, the University of Washington at Seattle, and Portland State University estimate that the valley was 250 feet deep and a mile wide. The researchers speculate that the valley formed 15,000 years ago when an ice dam east of the Cascade Mountains burst, sending vast amounts of water into the Columbia River. As the flood receded, it left the valley it carved filled with silt. The work was conducted as part of an effort to determine the area's earthquake hazard. The work was reported this week at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America in Seattle.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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