The stone hand axe is most popular tool ever made. For 2.4 million years it was the dominant technology for the vast majority of human history.
Stone tools, also known as lithics, and other artifacts offer evidence about how early humans made things, how they lived, interacted with their surroundings, and evolved over time.
Spanning the past 2.6 million years, many thousands of archeological sites have been excavated, studied, and dated. These sites often consist of the accumulated debris from making and using stone tools. Because stone tools are less susceptible to destruction than bones, stone artifacts typically offer the best evidence of where and when early humans lived, their geographic dispersal, and their ability to survive in a variety of habitats. But since multiple hominin species often existed at the same time, it can be difficult to determine which species made the tools at any given site.
Stone Age. Bronze Age. Iron Age. We define entire epics of humanity by the technology they use.
Homo habilis, whose name means handy man, or Homo erectus were thought to be the first makers of stone tools.
Between about 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, the pace of innovation in stone technology began to accelerate very slightly. Handaxes were made with exquisite craftsmanship, leading to smaller, more diverse tools, with an emphasis on flake tools.
One of the main innovations was the application of ‘prepared core technique,’ in which a core was carefully flaked on one side so that a flake of predetermined size and shape could be produced in a single blow. This technique allowed for more standardisation and predictability in stone technology.
Middle Stone Age tools included points, which could be fixed to shafts to make spears. When smaller points were eventually made, they could be attached to smaller, sleeker shafts to make darts and arrows. Stone awls, which could have been used to perforate hides, and scrapers that were useful in preparing hide, wood, and other materials, were also typical tools of the Middle Stone Age.
Homo erectus from Asia showed signs of symbolic thought. Researchers have discovered a freshwater mussel shell engraved with a geometric pattern at a Homo erectus site in Java. It dates to between 540,000 and 430,000 years ago and is at least 300,000 years older than the oldest previously known engravings which are from South Africa. Analysis suggests that the zigzag design was made using a shark tooth or other hard, pointed object.
H. erectus opened the shells to eat the mussels. One of the shells shows clear signs of having been modified to create a tool for cutting or scraping. It is the earliest known example of shell used as a raw material for tool manufacture and may explain the lack of stone artifacts from this time period in Java. It’s possible that in the absence of good sources of stone suitable for making tools, H. erectus used shell instead.
If civilization has risen from the Stone Age, it can rise again from the Wastepaper Age.
There are more people living in caves in China today than the entire population of the world in the Stone Age.
A billion seconds ago it was 1974. A billion minutes ago, Jesus had just died. A billion hours ago it was the Stone Age.
A little axe can cut down a big tree.