Stone Age humans needed more brain power to make big leap in tool design (w/ Video)

Nov 03, 2010
A variety of stone tools. Image: Wikipedia.

Stone Age humans were only able to develop relatively advanced tools after their brains evolved a greater capacity for complex thought, according to a new study that investigates why it took early humans almost two million years to move from razor-sharp stones to a hand-held stone axe.

Researchers used computer modelling and tiny sensors embedded in gloves to assess the complex hand skills that early humans needed in order to make two types of tools during the Lower Palaeolithic period, which began around 2.5 million years ago. The cross-disciplinary team, involving researchers from Imperial College London, employed a craftsperson called a flintnapper to faithfully replicate ancient tool-making techniques.

The team say that comparing the manufacturing techniques used for both Stone Age tools provides evidence of how the human brain and human behaviour evolved during the Lower Palaeolithic period.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Neuroscientist Dr Aldo Faisal, the lead author of the study from the Departments of Bioengineering and Computing at Imperial College London, says: "The advance from crude to elegant hand-held axes was a massive technological leap for our early human ancestors. Hand-held axes were a more useful tool for defence, hunting and routine work. Interestingly, our study reinforces the idea that tool making and language evolved together as both required more complex thought, making the end of the Lower Palaeolithic a pivotal time in our history. After this period, early humans left Africa and began to colonise other parts of the world."

Prior to today's study, researchers have had different theories about why it took early humans more than 2 million years to develop stone axes. Some have suggested that may have had underdeveloped motor skills or abilities, while others have suggested that it took human brains this time to develop more complex thoughts, in order to dream up better tool designs or think about better manufacturing techniques.

The researchers behind today's study say that their evidence, from studying both tool-making techniques, confirms that the evolution of the early human brain was behind the development of the hand-held axe. Furthermore, the team suggest that the advancement of hand-held axe production may have also coincided with the development of language, as these functions overlap in the same regions of the modern and early human brains.

The flintnapper who participated in today's study created two types tools including the razor-sharp flakes and hand-held axes. He wore a data glove with sensors enmeshed into its fabric to record hand and arm movements during the production of these tools.

After analysing this data, the researchers discovered that both flake and hand-held axe manufacturing techniques were equally complex, requiring the same kind of hand and arm dexterity. This enabled the scientists to rule out motor skills as the principal factor for holding up stone tool development.

The team deduced from their results that the axe-tool required a high level of brain processing in overlapping areas of the brain that are responsible for a range of different functions including vocal cords and complex hand gestures.

This is the first time that neuroscientists, archaeologists, anthropologists and flintnappers have teamed together, using cutting edge technology including data glove sensors and advanced modelling, to develop a deeper understanding of early human evolution.

In the future, the team plan to use their technology to compare tools made by Neanderthals, an extinct ancestor of humans, to glean insights into their brain development.

Explore further: Scientists seek more tombs at ancient Greek site

More information: "The manipulative complexity of Lower Palaeolithic stone tool making" PLoS One journal, Wednesday 3 November 2010.

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CSharpner
1 / 5 (6) Nov 03, 2010
an extinct ancestor of humans

If our ancestors are extinct, then we don't exist.

We're not descendants of neandertthals, therefore they're not our ancestors. They and we do share a common ancestor though.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (19) Nov 04, 2010
their brains evolved a greater capacity for complex though

Since evolution of the brain from simple to complex is not possible, it means that the whole article is fallacious. In fact the brain itself as such cannot evolve from any no-brain state whatsoever. If anyone wants to argue the point they of course need to falsify the statement by demonstrating that some kind of brain can evolve from one cell. Not just speculate how it might have happened.
The human brain was fully developed from day one, fully capable of complex speech, artistic expression and design and manufacture of tools etc. No evolution required. The idea that the human body evolved from another kind of non-human specie is just daydreaming and worshipping at the altar of evolution.

kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (14) Nov 04, 2010
A question to ask is how did the forerunners supposedly survive whilst their brains developed the ability to walk and search for just the right stone to bash into a tool? What did they do for food if they couldn't walk - or crawl for that matter?
CSharpner
5 / 5 (10) Nov 04, 2010
In fact the brain itself as such cannot evolve from any no-brain state whatsoever.


There is very strong, physical evidence in the abundance of ancient human fossils. The older they are, the smaller the brain cavity in the skull.

If anyone wants to argue the point they of course need to falsify the statement by demonstrating that some kind of brain can spontaneously pop into existence, fully evolved. Not just speculate how it might have happened.

Kevin, with all due respect from a fellow conservative, the theory of evolution is the result of intense study and thought, supported by an abundance of physical evidence. No scientist claims to know EXACTLY how it all happened, that's why it's an ongoing study. There is, however, so much physical evidence to support it and the idea of random cellular mutation, mixed with natural selection, over very large periods of time, that once one understands that, it's exceedingly difficult to argue against it. "Faith" in it is not required
CSharpner
3.3 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2010
Continued...

The study of evolution, therefore, is science, not religion. There's no supernatural necessity to explain evolution. There's nothing in it that requires a break in the laws of physics. Religion, on the other hand, is based on the supernatural, the breaking of the laws of physics. Since there's no strong physical evidence, it REQUIRES "faith" to accept, unlike scientific theory.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this proves religion wrong. God can still exist and the Christian Bible could still be right even within an evolved universe, as long as you consider the word "days" in Genesis to be symbolic for "phases". On top of that, consider how the order of events of creation in Genesis coincide with the order of events in evolution. They're practically the same, just the time scale is longer in evolution. Jesus was known to use stories to demonstrate an idea. Why would you consider Genesis to be any different?
CSharpner
4.8 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2010
Continued...

I grew up in the buckle of the Bible belt, attended Methodist & nazarine & 7th day Adventist & (oh, what's that one that LIKE Catholic, that isn't?) church and Sunday school, attended Baptist nursery school, Lutheran Grammar school, and Catholic high school. None of them preached against evolution, except for the Nazarines, my grandparents church. I was quite happy accepting evolution and Christianity growing up.

Today, I reject neither, but I constantly question both. I've also turned my early scrutiny of other religions onto myself and put the same standard of "prove it" onto my own fundamental beliefs. My results? I couldn't come up with an argument for my own religion that someone from another religion couldn't also use in support of theirs. In short, "stalemate". Therefore, I have no choice but to remain undecided not just on WHICH religion is the right one, but if ANY is. Therefore, the best label for me is "agnostic".
CSharpner
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
Therefore, I will not belittle your religious beliefs. I will, however, ask you to consider, "What IF?"
CSharpner
not rated yet Nov 04, 2010
A question to ask is how did the forerunners supposedly survive whilst their brains developed the ability to walk and search for just the right stone to bash into a tool? What did they do for food if they couldn't walk - or crawl for that matter?

I like your questions. You should apply that same scrutiny to everything, ESPECIALLY those ideas that make up your fundamental beliefs. It's fascinating what happens when you do. Play "devil's advocate" (no religious pun intended) for a while against any, random belief you have (doesn't have to be a religious one.)
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (7) Nov 04, 2010
Since evolution of the brain from simple to complex is not possible, it means that the whole article is fallacious.
Care to tell us how it isn't possible?
If anyone wants to argue the point they of course need to falsify the statement by demonstrating that some kind of brain can evolve from one cell. Not just speculate how it might have happened.
I'd suggest you take a look at cephalopods. Your evidence is swimming beneathe the seas at this very moment.
The human brain was fully developed from day one
Please define "day one" and the design process behind the brain in that instance. Also please inform us as to why all known examples of the brain in nature have similar design specifications.
CSharpner
5 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2010
A question to ask is how did the forerunners supposedly survive whilst their brains developed the ability to walk and search for just the right stone to bash into a tool? What did they do for food if they couldn't walk - or crawl for that matter?


Obviously, the first thing you should do to find an answer is to look at other life forms that fit your description, yet continue to survive. Then you've found your answer.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (6) Nov 04, 2010
A question to ask is how did the forerunners supposedly survive whilst their brains developed the ability to walk and search for just the right stone to bash into a tool? What did they do for food if they couldn't walk - or crawl for that matter?

What a poorly constructed question.

Kevin, do you really think that evolution implies that we were formless masses of meat that spontaneously grew the necessary components for survival? Are you really paying Ray Comfort to lie to you like this?
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2010
Jeez Csharpner, nice Wall-O-Text.

1 question to all the evolution doubters: Does your faith really require you to hold the stories in Genesis to be factually infallible? No one here is attacking Jesus, or Moses, or Joseph. All we are saying is that there is a massive pool of evidence contradicting the creation stories. So does your faith really require you to reject the observable world to uphold the accuracy of Genesis?
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Nov 04, 2010
Or rather, do you simply believe that the scientists are dumb, or maliciously deceptive, or both?
Ravenrant
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 04, 2010
If our ancestors are extinct, then we don't exist.


My grandparents are dead and I exist or am I a figment of your imagination?
fmfbrestel
2.5 / 5 (2) Nov 04, 2010
LOL Raven, i almost made the same comment. Its so funny when someone thinks they are making a logical argument, but they are really just showing how dumb they really are.
CSharpner
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
My grandparents are dead and I exist or am I a figment of your imagination?

Your grandparents are deceased. Their race is not extinct as evinced by the fact that YOU exist. Neanderthals are NOT our ancestors. Neanderthals are a branch off the same line as us. We and Neanderthals do share a common ancestor, but we're NOT descendants of Neanderthals. The neanderthal line died out (went extinct), therefore, they have no descendants now. That's what extinct means. Did you seriously not know that?
CarolinaScotsman
5 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2010
Creationists say that the Bible must be interpreted literally, that every word is the literal truth as revealed by God. They forget that this is the same argument the Catholic church used hundreds of years ago to uphold the Earth centered universe. Kevin, do you still believe the Earth is the center of the universe? Why do you disbelieve those portions of the Bible that say the sun circles the Earth but insist everything else is absolute. Your own arguments are so tangled in dogmatic thinking that you cannot/will not see shortcomings inherent in them.
arofibook
5 / 5 (2) Nov 04, 2010
Acheulean handaxes appear FAR earlier that Faisal says! He says they appeared at 600,000 years ago. He seems to have ignored Archaeological sites in Kenya: ie. Olorgesailie = 700K, Kariandusi = 900K, Kilombe = 1 million. Most important of all is Nariokotome at 1.7 million and many very early Acheulean sites at Koobi Fora, especially the Karari area.

The author is waaay off and clearly has not done his background research!
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
Really? They still have descendants, they are just extinct descendants. We also have extinct descendants. Also, there is compelling evidence that Humans and Neanderthals interbred, and 1%-4% of our genome came from Neanderthals. While they are not our direct descendant, they are indeed an ancestor of ours.

But that is beside the point. You said: "If our ancestors are extinct, then we don't exist." Which is just patently false. Both Humans and Neanderthals HAVE descendants that are extinct. A descendant does not need to be alive to be a descendant.

Donutz
5 / 5 (6) Nov 04, 2010
human body evolved from another kind of non-human specie is just daydreaming and worshipping at the altar of evolution.


Uh, huh. As opposed to belief in christian creationism, which is based on a collected set of fables and folk myths that don't even pass the test of internal consistency, let alone consistency with the external universe. Not to mention that creationism has never made any falsifiable predictions, and has in fact failed on every single comparison with observations. Might as well believe that Loosey Goosey created the universe. There's just as much evidence...

CSharpner
4.3 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2010
A descendant does not need to be alive to be a descendant.

I assume you meant "an ANCESTOR does not need to be alive to HAVE descendants."?
Also, there is compelling evidence that Humans and Neanderthals interbred

Oh yah! I had almost forgotten that I heard about that not too long ago. If that's true, then technically neanderthals aren't extinct. Or, it fuzzies up the definition.

Yah, it's not as clear as I was first thinking when I posted that. The statement itself though (that an extinct species has descendants) sounds ludicrous on it's face.

The next obvious question is, what's the definition of "species"? If they can interbreed, are they really different species or just races? This has been brought up on this site before with no clear answer.

I will, however, go along with the idea that we ARE descendants of them, if we do have some Neanderthal DNA from prior interbreeding. But then, it's hard to say that they're really extinct then... It gets fuzzy.
CarolinaScotsman
5 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2010
If our ancestors are extinct, then we don't exist.

We're not descendants of neandertthals, therefore they're not our ancestors. They and we do share a common ancestor though.

I understand what you're trying to say but you are incorrect. As an example, Homo heidelbergensis
is generally considered to be a common ancestor to both Homo Sapiens and Homo Neandertals. While we are descended from Heidelbergensis, we are Homo Sapiens. Homo Heidelbergensis no longer exists as a species so it is extinct. Heidelbergensis is extinct, Homo is not extinct. Do you see the difference?
CSharpner
5 / 5 (2) Nov 04, 2010
I do cede your point though. Thanks!
CSharpner
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
Both Humans and Neanderthals HAVE descendants that are extinct

Not sure what you meant hear, but from the literal meaning of your words, I agree 100%... IF the human race, in its short time (relatively speaking in evolutionary timescales) has had offshoots directly from it that didn't survive. I'm not aware of any, of hand, but it certainly could have been.
ArcainOne
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
an extinct ancestor of humans

If our ancestors are extinct, then we don't exist.

We're not descendants of neandertthals, therefore they're not our ancestors. They and we do share a common ancestor though.


Okay I believe this has been cleared up
CSharpner
3 / 5 (2) Nov 04, 2010
LOL Raven, i almost made the same comment. Its so funny when someone thinks they are making a logical argument, but they are really just showing how dumb they really are.

"Research shows what you say about others says a lot about you"
http://www.physor...319.html

Your comment not just shows a lot about you, but it rolls right off my back. I don't need confirmation from you. My own abilities, skills, education, and dare I say it? Yes, I think I will: My consistently high IQ test results prove the opposite of your poorly concluded opinion.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
lol, Sharpner. Yeah, that was a pretty mean spirited comment from me. However as already thoroughly hashed out, your original statement had a number of problems. But to then get all defensive and throw out IQ scores?? Come on, your better then that.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2010
And honestly, i thought you were an anti-evolutionist, young earther based on your first comment, so I miss judged your intent.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
However, on the topic of ancestors going extinct: Just because a descendant caries some genes from the ancestor, to me, does not make the ancestor still alive. Their contributions to evolution are still being used by new creatures, but they do not exist any longer.

It's kinda like the damaged boat analogy: If you replace 99% of the beams and structures that make up a ship, is it still the same ship? Comes a little down to philosophy at this point. On a similar analogy, i would argue that just because I like to read Wordsworth, the Romantic Period is not still active. It is influencing us, but the period is long gone.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2010
Species do not really exist at all, they are merely artificial classifications created by the mind. So if you view evolution as a fluid process, then deciding where a species starts and ends is a very artificial and rigid process that has very little to do with actual evolution.
CSharpner
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2010
Species do not really exist at all, they are merely artificial classifications created by the mind. So if you view evolution as a fluid process, then deciding where a species starts and ends is a very artificial and rigid process that has very little to do with actual evolution.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

again, my err in not thinking of cross breeding. If there's no crossbreeding, then an extinct species has no descendants. of course, that's now a moot point in this discussion, because there likely was. now the definition of extinction becomes fuzzy. to me, I've always accepted the definition to mean, stopped reproducing. with that definition, our ancestors (ignoring neanderthals for the mement), are not from an extinct species, but earlier members of an existing, evolved species.

in any case, I definitely agree that we very well could be descendants of neanderthals. I cede that point (again).
Slotin
1.1 / 5 (17) Nov 04, 2010
Species do not really exist at all, they are merely artificial classifications created by the mind. ...Couldn't have said it better myself.
Of course they're exist, as the mechanisms of reproductive isolation or hybridization barriers prevent the members of two different species that cross or mate from producing offspring, or which ensure that any offspring that may be produced is not fertile. This adaptive divergence is actually an evolutionary feature, which allows eukaryotic species to evolve faster, then the prokayrota with fast generation cycle.
Donutz
5 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2010
Of course they're exist, as the mechanisms of reproductive isolation or hybridization barriers prevent...


I think the point that CSharpener and others are trying to make is that it's not as clearcut as the difference between makes and models of cars. If you take (as one example I've read about) species of birds that live part of the year in the arctic circle (let's just pick geese for the halibut), the geese that regularly summer in Alaska can breed with the geese that summer in eastern Russia, but not with those 1000 miles farther west. However, the geese in Eastern Russia CAN breed with those. There are lots of examples of this, where one species flows smoothly into another over a geographic range, and individuals separated by more than THIS MUCH (holds hands out) can't interbreed. Sometimes there are visual differences, sometimes not so much. How do you cut it off?

Donutz
5 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2010
... and of course this puts the total kibosh on creationists' concept of 'kinds', where they're all distinct. Levels of ability to interbreed necessitates levels of relatedness, which is just one of umpteen actual observations that disprove the creationist fantasy.

On that basis, I guess I have to concede that the creationists ARE making falsifiable statements. Unfortunately for them, the statements always are proven false -- and it doesn't slow them down a bit.
PinkElephant
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 04, 2010
@CSharpner,
consider how the order of events of creation in Genesis coincide with the order of events in evolution
Um... I wouldn't go THAT far.

Arguably, Earth (in its present form, + Moon) emerged long after the Sun and its light. And it was a molten ball of magma; hardly dark. And there was no "deep" or "waters" on Earth yet. And certainly the first land surface did not emerge from beneath a global ocean. And the sky isn't blue with an inverted celestial ocean, either. Granted, none of that is "evolution"-related, but as goes the start, so goes the rest.

Certainly, grasses, seed-bearing plants, and fruit-bearing trees did not emerge before animals did. Nor did they emerge prior to the appearance of the stars, the Sun, and the Moon in the sky. And saying that whales and birds emerged simultaneously is a bit of ... erm... stretch. And "creeping things" (worms? snakes? insects?) certainly did not emerge only after all the aforementioned.

I mean, honestly. Come on.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Nov 05, 2010
Your grandparents are deceased. Their race is not extinct as evinced by the fact that YOU exist. Neanderthals are NOT our ancestors. Neanderthals are a branch off the same line as us. We and Neanderthals do share a common ancestor, but we're NOT descendants of Neanderthals. The neanderthal line died out (went extinct), therefore, they have no descendants now. That's what extinct means. Did you seriously not know that?
@CS

Hold on there buddy. Few things to understand about DNA, Neaderthal, and Human Evolution...

Humans are some of the most diverse organisms within a species. We see this elsewhere but typically in groups that diverged, evolved into almost seperate species, and then merged again. Example: Baboons. Neanderthals couldn't have been more than a million years diverged, while baboons are almost 2 million years diverged from each other. When baboons of different types breed, you see a huge explosion of novel traits...
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (4) Nov 05, 2010
Many of these traits are not found in either parent organism but are passed on to subsequent offspring.

It is very possible that as homo sapiens left Africa, that they interbred with the various other offshoots of the homo family tree and brought these massive diversification events upon us. We've found that neanderthals have a closely constructed malfunctioning NCR1 gene for pigmentation that we have. The have an exact, and I mean EXACT, match for the FOXP1 gene which is related to group communication.

There is a very strong possibility that we are not purebred. We are very likely to be a mongrel species. The article above indirectly lends support to this hypothesis and creates a strong case for neaderthals being an integral part of our heritage.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (3) Nov 05, 2010
If anyone wants to argue the point they of course need to falsify the statement by demonstrating that some kind of brain can evolve from one cell. Not just speculate how it might have happened.


Burden of proof Kev. I believe they have demonstrated it, now you must analyze and refute their data. Have you found Dr. Russell's teapot yet?
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2010

It is very possible that as homo sapiens left Africa, that they interbred with the various other offshoots of the homo family tree and brought these massive diversification events upon us.

There is a very strong possibility that we are not purebred. We are very likely to be a mongrel species. The article above indirectly lends support to this hypothesis and creates a strong case for neaderthals being an integral part of our heritage.


Agreed, SH.

As an aside, I don't know how closely all of you have looked at the facial/body reconstructions of our precursor species, but, I have noticed, upon occasion, living people that bear almost identical features- both facewise and buildwise. I've always thought, that, even if not outright mongrels, then we must at least be carrying forward our(more or less entire) genetic heritage, even if only from a morphology perspective.

DamienS
5 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2010
As an aside, I don't know how closely all of you have looked at the facial/body reconstructions of our precursor species, but, I have noticed, upon occasion, living people that bear almost identical features- both facewise and buildwise.

Funny you should say that because I've had the same thought ever since seeing tennis player Marcos Baghdatis, who, IMO, has strong Neanderthal features (and I don't mean that in a disparaging way).
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2010
They actually did a study where they put makeup and latex masking on an individual and had him ride the subway all day for a month appearing exactly as a Neaderthal reconstruction appears to us in the natural history museum.

No one gave him a second glance. It is very possible that we didn't even recognize them as a different species when we encountered them. They would have simply appeared as a larger group of humans to us, different, but still human.
JES
3 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2010
Gosh what a grumpy discussion. Nothing at all said about the article itself. Lastly, a person with literal religous beliefs would not change those beliefs even if evidence (as it many times is) is right in their face - that goes for most religions with possible one exception, Budism (if considered a religion in the first place of course).
otto1932
3 / 5 (4) Nov 07, 2010
I like your questions. You should apply that same scrutiny to everything, ESPECIALLY those ideas that make up your fundamental beliefs. It's fascinating what happens when you do. Play "devil's advocate" (no religious pun intended) for a while against any, random belief you have (doesn't have to be a religious one.)
You should not coddle the religious deceptionist. His lies are evil in their intent.
No one here is attacking Jesus, or Moses, or Joseph
Speak for yourself. These cartoon characters did not exist as the evidence or lack thereof PROVES.
There is a very strong possibility that we are not purebred. We are very likely to be a mongrel species
-In addition to 1000s of yrs of domestication, selecting for the affinity for religious insanity, for example. Which explains kevins thorough self-deception and denial of reality.
otto1932
4.3 / 5 (3) Nov 07, 2010
No one gave him a second glance. It is very possible that we didn't even recognize them as a different species when we encountered them
-Only as a different tribe and thus competition, to be conquered, hunted, eaten, the women 'assimilated'.

As neanderthal reproduction had most likely become seasonal like most other temperate species, they could not recover battle losses as quickly as the tropical cromags. So their distinction faded and was lost.
otto1932
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 07, 2010
Gosh what a grumpy discussion. Nothing at all said about the article itself. Lastly, a person with literal religous beliefs would not change those beliefs even if evidence (as it many times is) is right in their face - that goes for most religions with possible one exception, Budism (if considered a religion in the first place of course).
But they need to be countered and their lies exposed at every opportunity. The disease is not benign, and is extremely dangerous. It threatens the pursuit of science and the existance of civilization. It is the obligation of all rational people to resist religion. It will not die by itself.

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