Humans, the Tool Makers

by edstorm

Human beings - Homo sapiens - have come a long way from our ancestors, most importantly in our ability to create and use a variety of tools.

There’s little doubt our early ancestors’ ability to craft rudimentary tools propelled the species to the top of the food chain, a position we have comfortably retained for millions of years.

The debate however rages on whether it was access to a nutritious protein rich diet that led to the development of a larger brain and associated dexterous skills, or tool making that enabled hominids to harvest more varied food types which in turn triggered a significant spark of intelligence.

Oldowan Period

Oldowan tools
Oldowan tools

What we do know is the earliest tools, known as Olodwan tools, were crafted by hominids known as Homo habilis over 2.6 million years ago. Simple worked pieces of stone were discovered in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania during a period known as the Early Stone Age. These tools were probably crafted on an ad hoc basis or on the move so to speak!

For the first time ever we could chop, dig and crush wood, bones, bulbs, roots and seeds and kill small prey more efficiently.

Acheulean Period

Acheulean tools
Acheulean tools

It took us almost a million years to improve on the Oldowan tool making technology. Instead of simply grabbing and working a stone at the spur of the moment; hominids, now in the form of Homo erectus, began creating more sophisticated tools by striking flakes off all sides of the base material.

Versatile hand axes accompanied by the sharp slivers of stone became the first implements in the Acheulean tool kit. Now we could also slice, dice and scrape to our heart’s content. Penetrating pelts of large animals was enabled with ease.

Late Stone Age Revolution

Indian cave painting
Indian cave painting

About 50 000 years ago there was an enormous leap in tool making skills. The Late Stone Age Revolution witnessed a sudden emergence of modern behaviour. Specialist tools such as fish hooks, knife blades, piercing tools and bone needles took pride of place together with the first art forms. Cro-Magnon man had emerged!

Tool making developed in tandem with the advent of agriculture. Stone tools were replaced by durable metal tools in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Advanced mechanical devices such as waterwheels and Archimedes’ screw were innovated and developed in Ancient Greece and Rome.

The Dark Ages are characterised by windmills, the heavy plough and the first mechanical clocks together with more efficient weaponry in the form of long swords, armour and crossbows. It was the Industrial Revolution and later the Information Revolution that paved the way for intelligent tooling and machine design.

Industrial engineering and the Information Revolution

CAD - Computer Aided Design
CAD - Computer Aided Design

Today, complex tools and machines are operated by computer numerical control, robots are becoming fully integrated into production streams, lasers create precise cuts and 3D design and manufacture is enabled by sophisticated computer software. Industrial engineering has fine tuned tool making and machine design into a fast, flawless and efficient process.

Humans, the tool makers have emerged as the most dominant species on earth and are likely to dominate for millions of years to come!

Updated: 02/26/2013, edstorm
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