The oldest evidence of human presence in the Congo Basin finally dated


Tool cut on pebble from the alluvial terrace of Elarmékora in the historic Epona complex of the Lopé-Okanda World Heritage Site in Gabon © Richard Oslisly

The Lopé National Park in Gabon is a site inscribed on the World Heritage List since 2007 under the name "Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda".

It is described as mixed (nature/culture) because of its remarkable forest-savanna landscapes and its many vestiges of past cultures. Initial research in the 1980s led to the discovery of carved stone tools, revealing very ancient human presence estimated at nearly 400,000 years according to geomorphological and palaeoclimatic criteria.

In order to obtain a more precise date of this presence, a new scientific expedition to the alluvial terrace of Elarmékora in the Lopé National Park was carried out in 2019 by researchers from the Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux (ANPN) and the Centre de Recherche et d'Enseignement de Géosciences de l'Environnement (CEREGE) with the support of the Central Africa World Heritage Forest Initiative (CAWHFI) and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). This expedition enabled to collect new samples which could then be dated using innovative technologies, the cosmogenic nuclides produced in-situ (Aluminium 26 and Beryllium 10) using ASTER, a large accelerator mass spectrometer.

Preliminary results show that these tools are at least 620,000 years old and at most 850,000 years old, representing the oldest evidence of human existence in the Congo Basin in Central Atlantic Africa. These results thus show a tremendous advance in our knowledge of the evolution of our ancestors that could not only upset the models established on the history of our origins but also contribute to a better understanding of ancient climate change.