Out of Africa and Into the Future: Oldest Tools on Earth Captured Using Cutting-edge Technology

A momentous scientific discovery was recently uncovered in Kenya – the oldest stone tools known to man.  The tools date back to 3.3 million years ago and push back the beginning of the archaeological record by more than a half million years.  These historical findings are detailed in an article published last week in Nature Magazine  (May 20, 2015).  Now, through the power of Autodesk technology, people all around the world will have the chance to share in this major scientific discovery.

Dr. Louise Leakey, in collaboration with Autodesk, used Memento technology to create high quality 3D digital replicas of the stone tool artifacts, for preservation, education and further research. Memento is Autodesk’s cutting-edge free software that enables users to convert photos or scans into 3D models to be optimized for the web or mobile viewing, or 3D printing.  Have a glimpse of the 3.3 million year old tools via Autodesk Viewer:

1One of the oldest tools known to man. Discovered by scientists in Kenya, the stone tools date back to 3.3 million years.  Click here to view and interact with the stone tool in 3D.

 Another of the archaeological finds, discovered by scientists in Kenya.  Using Autodesk Memento technology to prepare the models, the stone tools were digitized, enabling everyone in the world to view and interact with them online. Click here to view and interact with the stone tool in 3D.

 The discovery of the stone tools pushes the archaeological record back 700,000 years, a significant scientific milestone. Click here to view and interact with the stone tool in 3D.

   4Click here to view the excavation site in Kenya where the 3.3 million year old tools where discovered. The site was captured with a Sony camera mounted on a kite and converted into a 3D model in Memento.

 Click here to view video of how scientists pieced the stone tools together. 

“Autodesk Memento has been instrumental in my work, allowing me to share fascinating evidence of human evolution with people around the world,” Leakey said.  “Memento is powerful, yet simple enough for a non-CAD expert to use.  It has allowed me to operate everything on my own, without relying on a team member or CAD expert, which suits my hands-on style of working.”

 Dr. Louise Leakey pictured at her laboratory in Kenya. 

“Powerful technologies are accessible to everyone today, but due to complexity often people can’t use the tools themselves, unless they’ve had extensive training or have a software background,” added Tatjana Dzambazova, product manager and technology whisperer at Autodesk.  “Memento is a tool for digitizing real objects that any professional can use.  It combines multiple technology tools in one single workflow.  It’s easy and fun to use, scalable and has a toolset to prepare high definition 3D digital models made from reality for many different use cases and purposes.”

Using a variety of capture devices and Autodesk Memento to prepare and present the digitized artifacts, Leakey is spearheading an initiative to place digital models of key fossil collections in a virtual laboratory, African Fossils, where scholars and enthusiasts can explore, interact with online, download and 3D print the models. The site also offers an opportunity for scientists to get an overview of the available fossils and to enter scientific research discussions with the Turkana Basin Institute and Leakey’s team.  To date, more than 100 fossils are available for experiential purposes, with additional specimens being added regularly.

Leakey began working with Autodesk in 2011 when she was awarded a grant to digitize a number of fossils from the collection of the National Museums of Kenya.  Since that time, Autodesk has been helping Leakey by further developing technologies to help digitize, fabricate and make her discoveries available to everyone on, and at the same time learning from her and her team how to make this technology even more accessible to wide audiences of users.


  Some of the many fossils in Leakey’s laboratory that have been digitized using Memento and posted online in the virtual laboratory.

  8 provides models of fossils for download and 3D printing.  The cardboard model (right) was made using the free modeling app, Autodesk 123D MAKE, to print patterns from the downloadable files. PDF templates are also available for download to print on a home printer to glue the pattern on recycled cardboard and cut the pieces for assembly. Center photo credit: Robert Clark @robertclarkphoto.

Leakey’s archaeological work and Autodesk’s technology are enabling people from all over the world to examine and interact with ancient fossils, which previously were available only to a select few.

To learn more, visit:

Major Discovery in Northern Kenya Featured in Nature Magazine

Into Africa: How Autodesk is Helping Create Archaeology 2.0 by Gonzalo Martinez

Autodesk Octo-Copters supporting Louise Leakey in Kenya