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KUALA LUMPUR Malaysian archaeologists have announced the discovery of stone tools they believe are more than 1.8 million years old and the earliest evidence of human ancestors in Southeast Asia.

The stone hand-axes were discovered last year in the historical site of Lenggong in northern Perak state, embedded in a type of rock formed by meteorites which was sent to a Japanese lab to be dated.

“We received news from Japan two weeks ago which said it is 1.83 million years old, so this find shows the existence of human beings there 1.83 million years ago,” archaeology team leader Mokhtar Saidin told AFP.

“This is the earliest evidence of Paleolithic culture in the Southeast Asian region,” said Mokhtar from Malaysias University of Science, who said he believed the hand-axes were used by homo erectus, an extinct early human.

The archaeologist said that the oldest homo erectus fossil discovered in the region is from Java in Indonesia, and dated at 1.7 million years old.

Internationally, the two oldest fossils are from Georgia (1.8 million years old) and China (between 1.7 and 1.8 million years), he said.

“This new find in Malaysia is actually older than those in Georgia and China, but the difference is that what we found was the tool, and we have to continue to look for the human bones,” he said.

According to AFP, the oldest human skeleton ever found in Malaysia is the 11,000-year old Perak man, discovered in 1991.