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Use of bone tools by hominins also producing Oldowan tools is known from Swartkrans, where a bone shaft with a polished point was discovered in Member (layer) I, dated 1.8–1.5 mya. It is unifacial if the edge was created by flaking on one face of the core, or bifacial if on two.The Osteodontokeratic industry, the "bone-tooth-horn" industry hypothesized by Raymond Dart, is less certain. Discoid tools are roughly circular with a peripheral edge. There are scrapers, awls (with points for boring) and burins (with points for engraving).

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To obtain an Oldowan tool, a roughly spherical hammerstone is struck on the edge, or striking platform, of a suitable core rock to produce a conchoidal fracture with sharp edges useful for various purposes. These techniques have now been duplicated many times by archaeologists and other knappers, making misidentification of archaeological finds less likely.Oldowan tools could also have been used for preparing hides.Hides must be cut by slicing, piercing and scraping it clean of residues. Lawrence Keeley, following in the footsteps of Sergei Semenov, conducted microscopic studies (with a high-powered optical microscope) on the edges of tools manufactured de novo and used for the originally speculative purposes described above.Heavy-duty tools could be used as axes for woodworking.Both choppers and large flakes were probably used for this purpose.There is a flourishing of Oldowan tools in eastern Africa, spreading to southern Africa, between 2.4 and 1.7 mya.

At 1.7 mya., the first Acheulean tools appear even as Oldowan assemblages continue to be produced.

Once a branch was separated, it could be scraped clean with a scraper, or hollowed with pointed tools.

Such uses are attested by characteristic microscopic alterations of edges used to scrape wood.

The different traditions may have been used by different species of hominins living in the same area, or multiple techniques may have been used by an individual species in response to different circumstances.

Sometime before 1.8 mya Homo erectus had spread outside of Africa, reaching as far east as Java by 1.8 mya In these newly colonised areas, no Acheulean assemblages have been found.

The term Oldowan is taken from the site of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where the first Oldowan lithics were discovered by the archaeologist Louis Leakey in the 1930s.