Friday, January 11, 2013

On making tools: what would mankind be without tools?

Just look around you and try to discover something that is not - or has not been produced without - a tool. There is the tree, a cloud, the bird...But everything else is or requires a tool: the house you live, the car you drive, the food you eat, the work you do, and so on....

So, I was just wondering, what would mankind be without tools?
When did the first tool entered our lives?

Yes, in the stone age, we know that, but stone age is such a big period of time...Stone age covers a little less than 3 million years! It’s beginning has been dated back 2.9 million years ago and it ended about 5.000 years ago.

In this time, the humans have created tools that now, we regard them as “primitive”. They would be like the first computers that took up a whole room, comparing it with a tablet. Or like the first chubby mobile phones...But we know that without these beginnings, we wouldn't have now the tablets or the smartphones, right?

So, someone, 3 million years ago, started the trend and we follow it till today.
I was trying to imagine how did he/her did it. How a person, if I can say so, or a hominid, more likely a Homo Habilis, have come up with the idea of creating a tool? 

The first tools were made out of stones. You think is easy to pick up a stone and smash a coconut and drink its milk. Then do it again, and again, and there you go, you have a tool. But aren't monkeys doing the same thing and even more and yet they did not passed the picking stage? So, it must be more. Must be that primordial thought that ran through those stone agers mind.  “What if?” -  they must have said and then experiment it for as long as they need it. They were not in any hurry. In a little less than 3 million years they transformed a river stone into a deadly weapon.

Here is a list of tool producing techniques from the paleolithic period, in its chronological order:
1. Oldowan technique - from river stones;  stones have one sharp edge or one sharp point.

2. Acheulean technique - a sharp edge obtained by chipping a stone to make concave surfaces, known as biface or hand axe.

3. The lithic reduction process discovered by Neanderthals, or Levallois technique - all edges sharp, also smaller stone tools

4. Aurignacian technique - produced sharp, long stone tools intended to be blades (for killing?)

5. Microlithic technique - produced small sharp core stones that were used to be attached to a spear, or later as arrow points.

From this point, humans discovered metals and the rest is history. So, are we smarter than an Australopithecus? Maybe. But for sure we have more knowledge that we inherited from our stone agers ancestors.