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Early Tools

Around 2.5 million years ago, something new appears in the record: stone tools. These early tools are not much to look at--just sharp-edged flakes of rock. Yet their appearance marks a major advance in human evolution. They signal the beginnings of basic technological thought, as our ancient relatives needed insight into which stones made better tools and how best to knock off cutting flakes. Having tools to cut meat from animal bones also opened up new possibilities for these hominids in their struggle for survival.

Daily Life, 1.8 Million Years Ago

Making their home on the open grassland of southern Africa, early members of the species Paranthropus robustus may have used the interiors, or cores, of antelope horns as tools. Several hominids can be seen in this image digging with such tools.


© AMNH Exhibitions

Tools From Olduvai Gorge

Scientists named the most primitive kind of stone tool after Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, where many such implements had been found. Most of these tools seem to have been simple sharp-edged flakes knocked off larger stone "cores." Many cores were also used as tools.

Early Stone Toolmakers

The invention of stone tools represents a significant advance in human evolution, signaling that our ancestors had developed mental capacities beyond those of modern apes. For many years, researchers linked the first stone tools with the relatively large-brained species Homo habilis, or "handy man." But a number of other hominids lived in Africa around 2.5 million years ago and should also be considered possible toolmakers. Indeed, it now seems quite likely that the first toolmakers had small brains and archaically proportioned bodies.

"Handy Man"

Paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered a lower jaw at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Additional cranial fragments suggested that this individual had a slightly larger brain than other early African hominids known at the time. Reasoning that this larger-brained species was capable of making the stone tools previously found at the site, the Leakeys named it Homo habilis, or "handy man."


© AMNH Exhibitions

How to Make a Stone Tool

Turning an unformed stone into a sharp tool requires hitting the stone at just the right angle and in just the right location.

1. Using a stone for a hammer, strike the surface of a rock at one end to remove a flake.

2. Turn the rock so the broken surface faces up, and strike again to leave a sharp edge and a flake that can be further shaped for different uses.

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