Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Stone Age humans needed more brain power to make big leap in tool design

Date:
November 4, 2010
Source:
Imperial College London
Summary:
Stone Age humans were only able to develop relatively advanced tools after their brains evolved a greater capacity for complex thought, according to a new study that investigates why it took early humans almost two million years to move from razor-sharp stones to a hand-held stone axe.

A stone ‘core’ (A) is struck with a hammerstone (B) in order to detach sharp stone ‘flakes’. In Oldowan toolmaking (C, top) the detached flakes (left in photo) are used as simple cutting tools and the core (right in photo) is waste. In Acheulean toolmaking (C, bottom), strategic flake detachments are used to shape the core into a desired form, such as a handaxe. Both forms of toolmaking are associated with activation of left ventral premotor cortex (PMv), Acheulean toolmaking activates additional regions in the right hemisphere, including the supramarginal gyrus (SMG) of the inferior parietal lobule, right PMv, and the right hemisphere homolog of anterior Broca's area: Brodmann area 45 (BA 45) (Imaging data adapted from [6]).
Credit: Image from Aldo Faisal, Dietrich Stout, Jan Apel, Bruce Bradley. The Manipulative Complexity of Lower Paleolithic Stone Toolmaking. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (11): e13718 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013718

Stone Age humans were only able to develop relatively advanced tools after their brains evolved a greater capacity for complex thought, according to a new study that investigates why it took early humans almost two million years to move from razor-sharp stones to a hand-held stone axe.

Researchers used computer modelling and tiny sensors embedded in gloves to assess the complex hand skills that early humans needed in order to make two types of tools during the Lower Palaeolithic period, which began around 2.5 million years ago. The cross-disciplinary team, involving researchers from Imperial College London, employed a craftsperson called a flintnapper to faithfully replicate ancient tool-making techniques.

Reporting in the online journal PLoS ONE, the team say that comparing the manufacturing techniques used for both Stone Age tools provides evidence of how the human brain and human behaviour evolved during the Lower Palaeolithic period.

Neuroscientist Dr Aldo Faisal, the lead author of the study from the Departments of Bioengineering and Computing at Imperial College London, says: "The advance from crude stone tools to elegant hand-held axes was a massive technological leap for our early human ancestors. Hand-held axes were a more useful tool for defence, hunting and routine work. Interestingly, our study reinforces the idea that tool making and language evolved together as both required more complex thought, making the end of the Lower Palaeolithic a pivotal time in our history. After this period, early humans left Africa and began to colonise other parts of the world."

Prior to this latest study, researchers have had different theories about why it took early humans more than 2 million years to develop stone axes. Some have suggested that early humans may have had underdeveloped motor skills or abilities, while others have suggested that it took human brains this time to develop more complex thoughts, in order to dream up better tool designs or think about better manufacturing techniques.

The researchers behind the study say that their evidence, from studying both tool-making techniques, confirms that the evolution of the early human brain was behind the development of the hand-held axe. Furthermore, the team suggest that the advancement of hand-held axe production may have also coincided with the development of language, as these functions overlap in the same regions of the modern and early human brains.

The flintnapper who participated in the study created two types tools including the razor-sharp flakes and hand-held axes. He wore a data glove with sensors enmeshed into its fabric to record hand and arm movements during the production of these tools.

After analysing this data, the researchers discovered that both flake and hand-held axe manufacturing techniques were equally complex, requiring the same kind of hand and arm dexterity. This enabled the scientists to rule out motor skills as the principal factor for holding up stone tool development.

The team deduced from their results that the axe-tool required a high level of brain processing in overlapping areas of the brain that are responsible for a range of different functions including vocal cords and complex hand gestures.

This is the first time that neuroscientists, archaeologists, anthropologists and flintnappers have teamed together, using cutting edge technology including data glove sensors and advanced modelling, to develop a deeper understanding of early human evolution.

In the future, the team plan to use their technology to compare tools made by Neanderthals, an extinct ancestor of humans, to glean insights into their brain development.

The study also included researchers from the Department of Anthropology, from Emory University; Department of Archaeology and Osteology, Gotland University College; and the Department of Archaeology, Exeter University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Imperial College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Aldo Faisal, Dietrich Stout, Jan Apel, Bruce Bradley. The Manipulative Complexity of Lower Paleolithic Stone Toolmaking. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (11): e13718 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013718

Cite This Page:

Imperial College London. "Stone Age humans needed more brain power to make big leap in tool design." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 November 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103171451.htm>.
Imperial College London. (2010, November 4). Stone Age humans needed more brain power to make big leap in tool design. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103171451.htm
Imperial College London. "Stone Age humans needed more brain power to make big leap in tool design." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101103171451.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A couple found love letters from World War I in their attic. They were able to deliver them to relatives of the writer of those letters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

AFP (Apr. 16, 2014) Explicit Chinese art works dating back centuries go on display in Hong Kong, revealing China's ancient relationship with sex. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) Parisians and local historians are fighting to save one of the French capital's iconic buildings, the La Samaritaine department store. Duration: 01:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bee Fossils Provide Insight Into Ice Age Environment

Bee Fossils Provide Insight Into Ice Age Environment

Newsy (Apr. 12, 2014) Archeologists have found many fossils in the La Brea Tar Pits, including those of saber-tooth tigers and mammoths. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins