Our earliest ancestors used tools.
Image via Wikipedia
When, in 1974, archaeologists unearthed “Lucy” in Ethiopia, they were quite properly excited. Lucy, after all is “an almost complete hominid skeleton estimated at least 3.2 million years old.” But that (it turns out) is not the only thing that’s exciting about her. It turns out that Lucy and her newly-found “daughter”, Selam used tools to cut up their meat.
This is an amazing discovery. For Lucy was not a Homo Sapien. She was not a Neanderthal. Indeed, she was not even a Homo Erectus. She was a member of one of our earliest ancestors, the Australopithecus afarensis. Lucy was a hominin. And she used tools.
Now, the tools she used were not knives and chain saws; they were stone. Further it is not clear whether Lucy and Selam made their tools or found them. (It is at least possible that A. afarensis found sharp rocks which they then used to carve the meat their tribe had hunted.) Nonetheless, the discovery by the Dikika Research Project revolutionizes the way we think of our hominin ancestors.
For even if Lucy didn’t make her own tools but merely found them (and scientists are now looking for evidence that our hominin ancestors did indeed make those tools), the very use of tools would have revolutionized pre-humanoid society. By enabling Lucy to get the extra protein from meat relatively quickly (it’s a lot easier to cut up a goat than to bite it up), Lucy and her tribe would have been better able to survive. And their new dependence on the protein found in meat would have made them more dependent on team-work, more so than the other hominin species who were around at the same time.
And, of course, tool making and tool use is something we (modern day humans) do today, every day: when we use (or make) our I-Phones, when we use the computer’s keyboard to type essays such as this one. Tool use, in short, is a fundamentally human activity.
And it turns out our hominin ancestors engaged in it just as we do today. More than three million years ago.