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Stone Tools

You don’t need to be human to carve a stone!

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If there is anything that gets my back up in human origins research, it is scientists, or reporters for that matter, who refuse to accept that species that preceded modern humans (Homo sapiens) were not just a bunch of primitive brutes. How many studies does it take and over how many decades before humans stop putting themselves on a pedestal as the only species which has ever been capable of ‘advanced’ or complex behaviours?

Discovery News has reported on a new study in PLoS ONE which announced the finding of stone-tipped spears at an Ethiopian Stone Age site known as Gademotta, which date back 280,000 years – that is, they predate the earliest known fossil of a Homo sapien by 85,000 years.  Could it be, Discovery News asks, that “a predecessor species to ours was extremely crafty and clever, making sophisticated tools long before Homo sapiens emerged”?  They continued: “Could a Steve Jobs-like innovator… have come up with this useful tool and production process?”

Well firstly, that question – which could quite easily be answered with a little common sense – has already been affirmed by previous studies. And in fact, research has shown that it was those so-called ‘primitive, sub-humans’ the Neanderthals who taught humans how to use tools .

Secondly, it is known to science that many animal species are quite capable of making and using tools, so why not the ancient human ancestors? 

Bonobo apes have been seen creating flint tools to prise open logs, chimpanzees are capable of fashioning spear-like weapons from branches for hunting and using stones as hammers and anvils in the wild, and orang-utans use tools made from branches and leaves to scratch, scrape, wipe, sponge, swat, fan, hook, probe, scoop, pry, chisel, hammer, cover, cushion and amplify. But if an ancient human has been found to make a tool, we should suddenly drop our jaws in surprise?

What is it about human nature that makes us feel threatened by the achievements of our ancestors? Is it easier to consider Neanderthals and other ancient species as evolutionary failures so that we can feel self-assured that we are ‘God’s greatest work’?  Well time will tell whether we too are so-called ‘evolutionary failures’. At least our ancestors had the common sense to realise that destroying the very resources upon which they depended was a bad idea…

By April Holloway

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