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Science

Tool Use By Humans Pushed Back By 800,000 Years 189

Posted by samzenpus
from the oldest-spoon dept.
gpronger writes "The journal Nature reports that newly discovered tool marks on bones indicates that we were using tools at minimum 800,000 years earlier than previously thought. This places the start of tool use at 3.4 million years ago or earlier. The most likely ancestor in this time frame would be Australopithecus afarensis. The researchers, led by palaeoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged of the California Academy of Science, San Francisco,and Shannon McPherron, (an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany) state that cut marks on the bones of an impala-sized creature and another closer in size to a buffalo, indicate butchering of the animals by our distant ancestors. However, they do not believe that they were in fact hunters, more likely scavenging the remains left behind by large predators."
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Tool Use By Humans Pushed Back By 800,000 Years

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  • by CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @04:36AM (#33226118)

    Turns out we're not the only animal that uses tools [wikipedia.org] so there's no reason why it would have appeared recently in human evolution. What's more impressive is our ability to design tools to attain a certain objective by using only our imagination (abstract thought) rather than the ability to pick up a rock from the vicinity to carve up a carcass. That's likely much more recent.

  • WELL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ciderbrew (1860166) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @04:58AM (#33226188)
    I think we all agree here that this is "just a theory". Despite all that MumboJumbo you call "Science".
    It's only a theory. Like gravity and maths.

    +6 flamebate on other sites, this sort of talk is you know...
  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:03AM (#33226196)
    You may be correct, but you have not the slightest evidence to back up that claim. There are many, many other issues to consider, such as environmental pressure or the lack thereof, and the difficulty of abstract thought before there were any abstractions - the bootstrap problem. Our present ability to think of new tools in an environment surrounded by them is not, perhaps, that impressive. The first person to think of trimming a sharp rock for better performance was a genuine innovator.
  • Re:Good god... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:05AM (#33226204)

    Actually it makes you wonder, if the progress to get there took 800000 years, then what happened in the past 10000 is really incredible.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:10AM (#33226228) Homepage Journal

    I can put up a shelf. But I can't butcher a carcass. Evolution in reverse eh?.

    The other day I was sitting in a release planning meeting, listing to a discussion about our version control system and related tooling. Suddenly I had this thought that we were all just a bunch of apes, manipulating abstractions of abstractions of tools ultimately designed to help us catch our dinner. Now I don't know how we do it at all. It all seems so unlikely.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by delire (809063) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:43AM (#33226338)

    Suddenly I had this thought that we were all just a bunch of apes, manipulating abstractions of abstractions of tools ultimately designed to help us catch our dinner.

    The real abstraction you're talking about is post-industrial capitalism. Meat eaters often consider themselves somehow kin to the Great Hunter, that by eating a bloody steak they are somehow closer to the earth and it's mortal realities yet they couldn't be further from it. Rather, they cowardly pay another to kill a sick beast - stoned on antibiotics so that it can actually live and eat corn - on their behalf. I say that as someone that grew up on a farm and often ate what I killed with my own hands.

    Unlike our hunter forebears, people caneat meat every day because of the abstraction of late capitalism. I encourage every meat eater to take the life of the thing they want to eat, at least once in their lives. Look at the beast in the eyes, take its life and then eat parts of its body. A highly valuable dietary - and somehow even spiritual - reality check.

  • by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @06:08AM (#33226444)

    Actually, abstract thought might not be as recent or require as much evolutionary development as is often thought either.

    While I agree that this is a possibility, I think it's rather funny that you're using the behavior of a modern-day chimp as evidence. You do realize that the chimp in that video has had just as much time and "evolutionary development" as we have, don't you?

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @06:16AM (#33226482) Homepage Journal

    Good link. I was sitting here thinking about all the tool using animals I've ever heard of. That page pretty much covers them. And, of course, primates pretty much lead the list. There was a story in the last couple years about a band of primates discovering a newer, better way to catch termites from a termite mound. I think they frayed the bit of straw or stick, giving the termites more area to grab hold of. The chimp got more termite chow for the same effort with the improved stick. The interesting bit was, they taught another band how to do the same thing.

    Man may be the most prolific tool user, but he certainly isn't unique.

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @06:40AM (#33226598)

    Turns out we're not the only animal that uses tools so there's no reason why it would have appeared recently in human evolution.

    The only surprise would be if the most recent common ancestor of ourselves and chimps *didn't* use tools, some six million years ago.

  • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @07:59AM (#33227076)

    sharpens Occam's Razor

    Or, perhaps, they misinterpreted toothmarks left by serrated predator teeth as toolmarks, chose to stick with their hypothesis in the light of an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary, thereby planting themselves firmly in the crackpot camp, and THEN lost their jobs?

  • by m.ducharme (1082683) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @08:06AM (#33227166)

    Maybe they're not being dishonest; maybe they're being mindful of the fact that setting up precise boundaries between these different species is not as simple as you think. What precisely makes for a different species? The human-like species would have been very closely related genetically, and in some cases may have been able to interbreed naturally. So are they different species, or sub-species of the same species? Don't be fooled by the simple nomenclature system into thinking that species taxonomy is a simple thing.

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @08:09AM (#33227204)

    Concluding that a mark on a dinosaur bone was from butchering would be suspect without evidence of the tools themselves in the same strata, would it not?

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Thursday August 12, 2010 @08:18AM (#33227262) Journal
    Is it just my imagination or has there been a sharp increase over the last decade in the number of people willing to swallow anything that comes in the form of an anti-science conspiracy theory.
  • by chichilalescu (1647065) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @09:10AM (#33227716) Homepage Journal

    "real scientist"? I know them. they're the guys with intelligent design and "LHC is gonna kill us all", right?

  • Re:And (Score:3, Insightful)

    by couchslug (175151) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @09:43AM (#33228050)

    "How long until we learn to use them properly, i.e. mindfully and responsibly? "

    Until Evolution selects for those behaviors.

  • Re:Depressing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday August 12, 2010 @10:14AM (#33228514) Homepage Journal

    Is it just me or is this a bit depressing. Before it was look at all we've accomplished in the past 2.5 million years, now it has become: it's taken 3.4 million years to get to where we are?

    But look at how fast we're preogressing now. I'm 58, looking back at my childhood, things were really primitive back then. A computer was a multimillion dollar building sized machine that your cell phone is now more powerful than. All telephones had cords and dials, there were no microwave ovens, color TV was a rarity, no VCRs, No GPS, no ABS or air bags in cars, no remote controls (some TVs had them, but they were likewise rare and expensive). Medicine was incredibly primitive; they used automotive starting fluid as an anasthetic, and let me tell you, that stuff is nightmarish.

    No lasers, no integrated circuts (TVs still used tubes), no fuel injection except in race cars, no satellites except the moon; no space travel at all (I remember when the Russians scared the hell out of us by shooting Yuri Gagarin into space). No robots, no cordless tools... the list is seemingly endless.

    I'm living in a push-button science-fiction world. It's just that there wasn't that much progress in times past.

  • Re:Evolution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Urkki (668283) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @10:40AM (#33228810)

    I can put up a shelf. But I can't butcher a carcass. Evolution in reverse eh?.

    Sure you can. If you were put naked into the wilderness, surrounded with carcasses and no other food in sight, you'd probably be digging into them with a makeshift stone knife in a matter of hours, especially if you were aware that your life depended on it.

    Don't underestimate the power of knowledge, even if it's just knowledge that something can be done, but not knowing how.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @11:04AM (#33229084) Homepage

    Man may be the most prolific tool user, but he certainly isn't unique.

    But perhaps mankind is unique in our ability to consider ourselves unique, and to be off-put by the revelation that we aren't.

    Also, we may be unique in contemplating the idea of wiping out those other pesky tool-using animals to restore our uniqueness.

    Or maybe that's just my uniqueness. :)

  • by L3370 (1421413) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @11:59AM (#33229744)

    You do realize that the chimp in that video has had just as much time and "evolutionary development" as we have, don't you?

    Yeah something like six thousand years. :P

    *removes flamesuit*

  • by dan828 (753380) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @12:15PM (#33229952)
    It's something people don't seem to get-- mostly I think because our education system is full of little stories about how "stupid" people of the past were for believing something we see as foolish now, or because they didn't have electricity or some such (like knowing how to flip a light switch somehow makes you a genius). People genetically indistinguishable from us lived in the stone age, and their technological know how involved use of natural materials to create what we consider to be crude tools, yet, all in all, those people probably had a great deal more know-how then most people around today. They could make tools, hunt or gather their food, build a fire to cook it, and fashion a shelter to protect themselves from the elements. Most modern people only know how to use tools that others have created and haven't a clue how any of them work.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

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