The History of Tools: Millions of Years of Making Life Better
The ability of human beings to make and use tools date back millions of years to the eeliest eras of our family tree. In fact, many scientists like to point to our nearest ancestors, the chimpanzee, to create spear-like weapons to hunt for food as well as to devise more specialized tools to forage for ants and other food sources. In fact, according to most scientists, the use of tools by humans as well as our more animal-like ancestors may have used stone and wooden tools as far back as four million years.
It is thought that stone tools had their beginnings in Gona in Ethiopia about 2.6 million years ago. Known as Oldowan, fist-sized rocks were kept by users to pound against stones of other types such as quartz, obsidian, and other stones in order to create and keep an edge, which could be used to cut, probably for butchering animals. Scientists say that despite their small brains, these early humans figured out that by using these sharpened rocks they could efficiently cut through animals hides and bones to get to the meat and marrow they wanted.
Scientists estimate that for nearly one million years, this was the extent of the technology, which probably served purposes well since after a hunter created his tool and used it, he could simply drop it and make a new one when he needed one again. This type of use is generally thought of as beyond the realm of what more primitive animals such as chimpanzees would normally do, but it’s a start in the right direction.
Interestingly, a drying period that is thought to have occurred in Africa between 2 and 3 million years ago is what most scientists attribute a move by our ancestors beyond their normal habitat, thus creating a need to further refine and develop tools as they were needed to exploit other food types in the new area. Not only that, but tools and the ability to adapt them to the needs at hand probably played a role in the ability of humans to be more adaptable wherever it was they decided to settle.
Moving ahead in time about 1.8 million years, we see another big step in the development of tools, from the use of virtually any type of stone to create a cutting edge, to a more specific oval and pear-shaped stone tool that could be better held and used by humans. By this time the Homo erectus had evolved, who had gone from spending a lot of his time in trees to not climbing trees at all. Another characteristic of this era was that Homo erectus could not only access and digest meat better, but he also use and keep tools with him to profit by their use on a more frequent level.
It is also thought that during this Homo erectus period the female of the species began baring young that were less mature than earlier periods, which made it necessary that females assist the males in finding food, thus nictitating the use of tools by both to make food gathering more efficient. It is also logical to presume that this ability made it possible to move further distances from where original ancestors originated from, and as they moved they were forced to evolve the tools and methods they used to do their work.
This naturally points to more specialized work that needed to be done on homes and farms, gradually evolving into industrialized society, which led to even greater leaps in the need for not only generalized tools, but those that were designed for more specific uses. This could most noticeably be seen in such civilizations such as early Egypt where tools such as levers were used to heave huge stones for use in the construction of the pyramids, looms used in the creation of cloths, yokes and harnesses for use with animals and much more.
One of the most noticeable tools, the wheel, was created about 3,000 B.C., and led to some of the most important developments of civilization. From this common origin springs such diverse uses as the potter’s wheel, the cart wheel, and much more, spreading throughout Europe and eventually to the New World.