An early human dropped a stone tool on a floodplain in what is now Turkey about 1.2 million years ago. Today, its discovery is helping scientists pinpoint when humans began their move from Asia to Europe. The quartzite flake, described in Quaternary Science Reviews, is "the earliest securely-dated artifact from Turkey ever recorded," and its discovery pushes back the presumed date of human migration into Europe, researcher Danielle Schreve says, per EurekAlert. Her eye just happened to be "drawn to a pinkish stone on the surface" while studying a sediment deposit in an ancient river bend near Gediz. "When I turned it over for a better look, the features of a humanly-struck artifact were immediately apparent," Schreve says.
Other hominin fossils were found in Turkey in 2007, but experts aren't confident about their age. Some say an ancient skull shows humans were in Turkey as far back as 1.3 million years ago, but others date it to about 500,000 years ago, LiveScience reports. In the case of the flake, researchers used high-precision radioisotopic dating on the ancient river deposit in which the artifact was found. They also used magnetic minerals within the regions' rocks to gauge the position of the magnetic poles around the time it was left. The data revealed a "secure chronology," showing humans were in the area between 1.24 million and 1.17 million years ago, experts say. (Find out why modern humans' bones are weaker than those of their ancestors.)