DB: For the first few million years of human evolution, technologies changed slowly. Some three million years ago, our ancestors were making chipped stone flakes and crude choppers. Two million years ago, hand-axes.
A million years ago, primitive humans sometimes used fire, but with difficulty. Then, 500,000 years ago, technological change accelerated, as spearpoints, fire making, axes, beads, and bows appeared.
This technological revolution wasn’t the work of one person. Innovations arose in different groups – modern Homo sapiens, primitive sapiens, possibly even Neanderthals – and then spread. Many key inventions were unique: one-offs.
And not all of them were modern humans.
The tip of the spear
500,000 years ago in southern Africa, primitive Homo sapiens first bound stone blades to wooden spears, creating the spearpoint. Spearpoints were revolutionary as weaponry, and as the first “composite tools” – combining components.
The spearpoint spread, appearing 300,000 years ago in East Africa and the Mideast, then 250,000 years ago in Europe, wielded by Neanderthals. That pattern suggests the spearpoint was gradually passed on from one people to another, all the way from Africa to Europe.
400,000 years ago hints of fire, including charcoal and burnt bones, became common in Europe, the Mideast and Africa. It happened roughly the same time everywhere – rather than randomly in disconnected places – suggesting invention, then rapid spread. Fire’s utility is obvious, and keeping a fire going is easy.
Starting a fire is harder, however, and was probably the main barrier. If so, widespread use of fire likely marked the invention of the fire drill – a stick spun against another piece of wood to create friction, a tool still used today by hunter-gatherers. Read more…
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