An investigation into what appears to be a nearly 2 million-year-old site in China's Hebei province suggests the spot served an important purpose: fun. The South China Morning Post compares the dig site to a "playground" for ancient hominids, noting that it was home to some 700 stone objects and 20,000 fragments; some may well have been kids' toys, believes lead researcher Wei Qi. He speculates that the objects, most less than two inches long, were made by children and their mothers. "You can almost feel the maker’s love and passion," says Wei of one piece he describes as "beautifully shaped." The other bits of evidence supporting his playground theory: The remains of animals or large tools in the area are scarce, suggesting it's not where hominids lived and a limited number of adults toiled there.
The site is part of the Nihewan basin, which has been the source of a vast trove of ancient discoveries since 1921, Ancient Origins reports. What's also relatively new is the dating of the site, carried out by studying its magnetic properties. Results suggesting it dates to between 1.77 million and 1.95 million years ago could make it older than the Dmanisi site in Georgia, which UNESCO calls the "most ancient" in Eurasia. But outside researchers have their doubts about the playground theory: "It is difficult to rule out the possibility that (the objects) were just stone fragments created by natural forces," says one. If the discoveries really were made by hominids more than 1.8 million years ago—when the first hominid is though to have left Africa—it could change the story of human origins, the Week notes. (A recently discovered jawbone is also challenging such conceptions.)