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

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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  • And (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dimethylxanthine ( 946092 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `tiurf.rm'> on Thursday August 12, 2010 @05:43AM (#33226138) Homepage
    How long until we learn to use them properly, i.e. mindfully and responsibly?

    How tool are you today?
  • by transporter_ii ( 986545 ) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @08:07AM (#33226742) Homepage

    Off Amazon, order a book called the Hidden History of the Human Race (The Condensed Edition of Forbidden Archeology) . They have been discovering tool marks on bones older than they should be (think dinosaur) for many, many years . Some people even lost their jobs over it. Why? It seems that before Darwin, they went by the evidence and didn't need to make anything "fit" a timeline. After Darwin was firmly rooted, evidence was covered up, because it didn't fit the timeline. Some people who stood by their work, were just fired or blacklisted. There is case after case in the book.

    Now it seems that technology has made it hard to cover up. That's good.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 12, 2010 @08:44AM (#33226976)
    You'd more likely need a pack of feral children. One of the traits we share in common with much of the animal world is the ability to observe and replicate, which wouldn't require abstract thought. All it would take is just one person with some genetic aberration to be able to design these tools, and the rest of the pack could follow. They wouldn't necessarily know *why* they're doing it the way they are, but they know doing so would produce a desired outcome. Monkey see, monkey do.
  • by tophermeyer ( 1573841 ) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @09:02AM (#33227114)

    +1 Insightful

    Chimps might appear to be more primitive than humans, but they are just as evolutionarily distant from our common ancestor as we are. Looking to chimps for evidence of human-like behavior is interesting in that it shows behaviors like tool use are not unique to humans, but is not really indicative of the capabilities of our ancestors. There is nothing really "advanced" about humans, we have simply evolved different capabilities. Remember that pound for pound and average chimp is about 10x stronger than an average human.

    We use our language and thinking skills to develop elaborate cooperative societies. Chimps do this on a smaller scale, but are more than able to beat a human to death in an individual confrontation. You can't really label on as more advanced than the other without understanding the the completely different contexts of our separate evolutions.

  • by tarpitcod ( 822436 ) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @09:06AM (#33227168)
    The age that humans essentially similar to ourselves walked this planet is constantly pushed back. We now discover tool use nearly a million years earlier than previously thought. Yet for some it takes real temerity to suggest that possibly significant civilizations may have existed earlier in history. The best places to look would actually be in high orbit, the Moon or the Lagrange points between the Sun and Earth. The Moon is particularly good, due to lack of weather (We saw how the dust storms affected the Mars rovers!) If we were all (99%) killed by a viral epidemic next year and civilization fell, it would be extremely hard to find significant traces of us just 30K years later. I still think that survivors, even if they fell back to 'bash things with stones' tool use might re-achieve our level of civilization. Likewise, since I'll give future humans that chance, I'd entertain that maybe we aren't the first who had a significant globe-spanning civilization and something went wrong. Either of these possibilities really makes the argument that Hawking has been espousing much stronger. If we aren't the only civilization then we are rare. If we aren't then civilizations must rise and fall fairly frequently. Either way we need to get humanity established elsewhere, and someone should be thinking hard about what to send back to earth /leave here to help the lower level of civilization re-climb the ladder.
  • Re:Good god... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Evtim ( 1022085 ) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @09:26AM (#33227328)

    I disagree. What I see is that our civilization behaves like biology does not exists. All the numerous useful facts and predictions of evolution and ecology are constantly and often deliberately kept unintelligible to the general public. Biology is the queen of all sciences, hands down, and it is the most relevant to us as a species. Sure, physics, maths and inorganic chemistry are all very important and necessary foundation, but organic chemistry and biology are the real deal.

    Almost nobody understands evolution properly. I am just back from lunch with my fantastically intelligent colleagues-physicists and they definitely did not know evolution. I mentioned to them that during the domestication of wolves as much as we selected them, they selected us too. They were baffled.

    I said "Imagine that the wolves are coming closer to human settlement. The bravest wolves come the closest and try to pick some left overs. Eventually over time a mutually beneficial system emerges - we feed them, they help us hunting and guarding the settlement. We selected the wolves that are most-human friendly (least afraid of humans) and then encouraged their survival and procreation. All is well. Now, suppose that in the neighboring settlement a behavior "I hate/ I am afraid of wolves/dogs" occurs among the humans (genetically or socially determined or both). Well, this village will not have the benefit of guarding dogs against predators or other humans. They will suffer more casualties than the first village. Over time the difference becomes more and more significant until the "I hate/ I am afraid of dogs" behavior becomes negligibly small or vanishes. The net result - humans selected by wolves...even after this example which is quite clear IMO, I did not see the spark of enlightenment in the colleague's eyes. Even to this people - non religious, highly educated (from three different continents too), "selection" could only be a directed, conscious effort.

    Here is a small story to illustrate:

    The History of the Universe according to me (or why biology is the queen):

    In the beginning it was physics - a set of forces and rules and looooong time. Everything that could happen, happened, so we got stars and most of the elements and all the possible inorganic components between those elements and all the possible products and processes of nuclear physics. That was the first of the "phase spaces" the Universe explored.

    And among the elements there was carbon, which could chain with itself within certain limits of temperature and pressure. And it opened the second of the "phase spaces" - organic chemistry. And it was good, because the number of possible products and reactions was huge compared to inorganic chemistry and nuclear physics. Just the number of different chemical reactions between organic compounds in the "primal soup" of the Earth for a mere millions of years greatly exceeds the number of all atoms in the observable Universe. And since the time scales were still truly vast, anything that could happen, happened. And among the things that happened was the first immortal (but imperfect) replicator making copies of itself from components in its environment. And thus evolution began.

    And once the so-called "nervous systems" of the living beings became so complex as to allow conciseness to emerge, an Observer of the Universe, the third "phase space" was accessible - the "phase space" of the mind, which is not even a material thing (as atoms) but "merely" a process carried out by a living, evolved beings.

    And the complexity, intricacy and relevance (to us) of those phase spaces increases from the first to the second to the third. Thus biology, with its subsets like medicine, ecology, neurological sciences est. is the queen. And thus, it is no small matter at all when people are deliberately kept ignorant of it.

    So, until society smartens up enough, we must challenge ignorance given half a chance. Our very survival is at stake!

  • by gorzek ( 647352 ) <> on Thursday August 12, 2010 @09:58AM (#33227618) Homepage Journal

    And then you have species like dolphins, elephants, and pigs--all of which are very intelligent, they just lack the dextrous digits humans have so their ability to manipulate the environment is limited. Elephants are something of an exception due to their trunks, though--they can manipulate tools and perform complex tasks with them.

    We just hit the evolutionary lottery, as it were: opposable thumbs, high intelligence, complex vocal communication, abstract thought, and self-awareness. Those traits can all be found in other species. We're just unique for having the combination and for not losing those traits in favor of others.

  • by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @10:56AM (#33228238) Journal

    The earliest known tool use was to carve up a tasty critter. Hopefully this puts an end to the myth that the natural diet for humans is vegetarian.

    By all means make your personal choice for whatever reasons. Just don't pretend its the rest of us who are acting in a manner contrary to our nature.

  • Re:Good god... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hawkfish ( 8978 ) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @01:02PM (#33229790) Homepage

    I disagree. What I see is that our civilization behaves like biology does not exists.

    There is a quote that I thought was from Illuminatus! that goes:

    There are two rules of human behavior. Rule 1 is "Humans are primates" and rule 2 is "Most humans don't know rule 1."

    but I can't seem to track it down.

  • by the phantom ( 107624 ) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @04:43PM (#33232722) Homepage
    Yes, but neither the article nor the post that you responded to have anything to do with Stone Age people who are nearly identical to modern humans on a genetic level. Rather, the article refers to tool use by A. afarensis ("Lucy's" species). This is a rather extraordinary find, as not only was Lucy very different from modern humans (smaller, more gracile in general, smaller brain, &c.), but if Lucy was using tools, then the first evidence of any human ancestor using tools gets pushed back almost a million years.

    As to more primitive peoples having more know-how than modern societies, that depends upon what you mean by "know-how." A primitive hunter-gatherer would have to know how to do everything required by his or her society: hunt for game, gather wild resources, make tools from stone, wood, and other materials, preserve food, &c. They were generalists. Modern societies trade breadth of knowledge for depth of knowledge. Rather than working as jacks-of-all-trades, modern people specialize. They may not have the same breadth of knowledge or ability, but they are able to understand a narrower range of ideas or skills much more deeply. I see this as a qualitative difference in "know-how," rather than a quantitative difference.
  • by the_womble ( 580291 ) on Thursday August 12, 2010 @11:30PM (#33235610) Homepage Journal

    I agree. We know more, there are some things in our social organisation that are better (democracy, vs feudalism, bans on toruture, etc.).

    On the other hand, we can sometimes be worse: we can be cruel and uncarig - which is perhaps why 13th century England had only 188 suicides over a century [], whereas the UK currently has about 3,000 a year (a MUCH higher per capita rate even with the roughly 30 fold population growth).

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. -- John Kenneth Galbraith