Archeologists have discovered a very old stone tool at a prehistoric gateway of Asia to Europe. The discovery is shedding light on when and how human ancestors first arrived in the continent from Asia and Africa.

The tool, a quartzite flake, was found in an ancient site on the Gediz River in Anatolia, Turkey and its discovery is hailed as crucial for establishing the timing and route of early humans when they dispersed into Europe.

The team of researchers from U.K., Turkey and the Netherlands that reported the discovery in a study published in the Quaternary Science Reviews on Dec. 20, said that the stone tool, the oldest to be discovered in Turkey, reveals that humans passed through the gateway about 1.2 million years ago, much earlier than previously believed.

Using radioisotopic dating and palaeomagnetic measurements from the site's lava flows, Danielle Schreve, from the Department of Geography at the Royal Holloway University of London, and colleagues were able to date the ancient artifact. They also determined the timeframe on when humans occupied the area with the results suggesting that the area had human presence between 1.24 million and 1.17 million years ago.

"Hominin occupation of the valley occurred within a time period spanning ∼1.24 Ma to ∼1.17 Ma, making this the earliest, securely-dated, record of hominin occupation in Anatolia," the researchers wrote in their study.

The earliest human remains that have been found in Europe are bone fragments from the now extinct Homo antecessor that were found in Atapuerca, Spain and date back 1.2 million years ago. The discovery of the prehistoric stone tool in Turkey suggests that another species also migrated into Europe at almost the same time.

Schreve noted that the artifact, a pinkish sharp stone described as "humanly-struck," was likely dropped by an early hominin on the flood plain more than one million years ago and that the maker of the tool was likely a Homo erectus based on the age of the artifact.

"The dating of the flake suggests that the maker would have been Homo erectus, which is widely believed to have evolved in Africa and then spread into Eurasia by 2 million years," Schreve said adding that a partial skull of Homo erectus was also found at the Kocabas site in Turkey, which was dated from about 500,000 to over one million years old.

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