On May 24th, 2015 we learned about

Australopithecus may have created humanity’s first tools

The human species is quite young, only going back 2.5 million years or so. Our species has made a huge impact on the world since then, spreading to every continent on the planet. As such, we often like to tout our accomplishments as a species, like we’re proud of being such prodigies. However, new discoveries in Kenya are showing that crafting tools may not be yet another feather in the cap of Homo sapiens, having instead been invented before we even existed as a species.

The tools were dated at being 3.3 million years old, predating modern humans by hundreds of thousands of years. This would mean that they predate even early proto-humans named Homo habilis, which means “handy man,” for their tool use. Instead, these tools would have been crafted by a much more apelike species, Australopithecus. The most famous specimen from this era, Lucy, was only 4 feet tall, and probably was part of our ancestors’ transition out of the trees to the ground.

The Stone Age’s first factory

Now, simply using tools isn’t thought to have been an invention of humans, as many other animals are known to do so. But the tools in question here are much more sophisticated than a found stick, and in fact seem to be an entire tool kit or primitive workshop. One stone appeared to have been the table or anvil that was used to support the “core” stones. The core stones were the sort of raw material that sharp flakes of stone were chipped off of, and those flakes were the final product to be used for cutting or stabbing. The number of components in this small knife-factory alone shows that their creator could plan and gather components needed for an unseen and thus conceptualized end-product. (Modern humans still struggle with this!)

Difficulties of the early adopter

Despite this impressive toolkit, it doesn’t mean that Homo habilis added nothing to human evolution. Later variations on this kind of kit have been found to be much more refined and sophisticated, and more widespread. It’s quite possible that while someone like Australopithecus could produce these tools, they were not widely adopted. Part of that may have been ergonomics— at this time, hands were still better suited for tree branches than tightly gripping and manipulating rocks. It may have been a case of early brains who could come up with these ideas waiting for evolution to provide the thumbs to use them.

Source: Chipping Away At The Mystery Of The Oldest Tools Ever Found by Chris Joyce, NPR