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Discovery of Early Human Tools Hint at Earlier Start 109

SternisheFan writes in with a story about early humans passing down their tool making skills. "Sophisticated bladelets suggest that humans passed on their technological skill down the generations. A haul of stone blades from a cave in South Africa suggests that early humans were already masters of complex technology more than 70,000 years ago . The tiny blades — no more than about 3 centimeters long on average — were probably used as tips for throwable spears, or as spiky additions to club-like weapons, says Curtis Marean, an archaeologist at Arizona State University in Tempe who led the team that found the bladelets. Twenty-seven such blades, called microliths by archaeologists, were found in layers of sand and soil dating as far back as 71,000 years ago and representing a time-span of about 11,000 years, showing how long humans were manufacturing the blades. Clever crafters The find lends credence to the idea that early humans were capable of passing on their clever ideas to the next generation of artisans, creating complex technologies that endured over time. John Shea, a palaeoanthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, says that it also suggests that 'previous hypotheses that 'early' Homo sapiens differed from 'modern' ones in these respects are probably wrong'."
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Discovery of Early Human Tools Hint at Earlier Start

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:44AM (#41915861)

    More food for thought on the evolution of language.

  • Mmmmnnn... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:54AM (#41915905)

    Wikipedia has an interesting article on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_modernity [wikipedia.org] , which indicates that there are two schools of thought on this, which I'll call the gradualists and suddenists. The suddenists think Something Wonderful Happened ~50,000 years ago, so this discovery will make them have to move their date earlier. However, the gradualists think there are signs of modern behavior much earlier, so this news won't make them rethink anything. (Most likely they'll just say ITYS.)

    IMO the suddenists are following the same kind of thinking that made people think Neanderthals were dumb brutes, that we're a lot more different than animals than we really are, etc. ISTM that there has always been some kind of ... prejudice? conceit? ... that makes a lot of people assume that we're a lot more special than we actually are.

  • Re:Clever crafters (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:59AM (#41916343) Journal

    The find lends credence to the idea that early humans were capable of passing on their clever ideas to the next generation

    Why is that so surprising ?
    Many other types of animal regularly pass on "knowledges" from one generation to the next - humans are not the only one capable of doing that.
    I've seen little sparrows squatting on sand so to trap fine grain sand with their down feather and then carrying the sand back to their nests.

  • Time perspective (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RedBear ( 207369 ) <redbearNO@SPAMredbearnet.com> on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:28AM (#41916457) Homepage

    More and more in the last decade or so I have seen things that lead me to believe that humans have been basically modern humans for approximately 200,000 years. That's how far back our ancestors have been traced through our mitochondrial DNA. I have no doubt that in coming decades there will be new discoveries that will keep pushing the dates of "modern" human behavior further and further back.

    This is a fascinating concept to me because it means the human race and basic forms of human civilization have been around for an incredibly long time. Basic concepts like languages, writing systems, trading, counting, money, philosophy, astronomy, martial arts and many other things have probably been invented, forgotten and reinvented hundreds of times by individual geniuses over the course of those 200,000 years. All the sci-fi stories I've ever read where it's seen as some amazing thing that an alien race has been around for more than a hundred thousand years... Well, the human race proves that's really not that amazing. Or, conversely, that the human race is equally as amazing as those "ancient" alien races. In fact, we could be considered one of those "ancient" alien races, from the perspective of an alien race.

    When I was younger, the concept was that just a few thousand years ago we were retarded cave men, and then suddenly civilization happened. Nowadays what I picture is more like endless millennia of fairly intelligent people living like Native Americans in many different ways, with pockets of even more modern cultures that rose and fell through the ages, until finally a few thousand years ago a few things like writing and math were (re)discovered and remembered and propagated to enough other humans that modern civilization exploded into being and had enough momentum and population to finally stick around, where it hadn't been able to "stick" before. I think it was basically luck that things didn't develop either ten thousand years earlier or ten thousand years later. All the basic elements seem to have been there for a looooooong time.

    Just my pet theory. I am not an anthropologist, obviously, just fascinated by the things that may have happened during early modern human history, which seems to extend much further back than what I was taught in grade school.

  • Re:Time perspective (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Coisiche ( 2000870 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @06:18AM (#41916861)

    Yes, I have often made the point about oil to friends making this claim because it seems unlikely that the civilizations could reach, or as some claim exceed, current technology levels without using fossil fuel.

    Those speculative civilizations also don't seem to have used nuclear fission for energy. Not just because there's no evidence of uranium sources being depleted before we discovered it, but it doesn't seem that the by-products from it have ever found as "naturally occurring".

  • by Zorpheus ( 857617 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @07:55AM (#41917195)
    According to wikipedia the oldest stone tools are 2.6 to 1.7 million years old: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldowan [wikipedia.org]
    So what is so special about this?
  • by foma84 ( 2079302 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @08:24AM (#41917295)
    After reading TFA there is one thing that leaves me mighty confused.
    The only hypothesis made for these artifacts is that they were weapons or parts of bigger weapons, and that they led to a military advantage over neanderthals.
    TFA doesn't even consider any other possibile use for the bladelets, like being tools for skinning, carving or sculpting. Even the requirement of having developed complex language is secondary to the craftsmanship necessary for the bladelets.

    I've seen it is common among some anthropologists to consider the history of humanity in the same terms as the most recent history (last 6.000 years): in terms of war and contending parties. Is there anyone informed enough (more than me) about this topic that can tell if it is actually a trait of human history or an ideological bias?
    Thanks in advance.

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