Stone Tools Take Brains

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Stone tools take brains, according to reports in PLoS ONE and e!Science News 3 November 2010, and ScienceDaily 4 November 2010. Stone tools come in two main types: razor sharp flakes of stone used for cutting and hand held axes used in defence and hunting as well as cutting. The sharp flakes are considered more primitive and anthropologists believe it took two million years for early humans to progress from flakes to axes, and so they have speculated whether it was due to evolving development in manual dexterity and/or brain power.

Researchers at Imperial College London have worked with a flintknapper, a craftsman who works with stone, to compare the techniques involved in making the different kinds of tools. Using measurements of hand movements collected from a data glove worn by the craftsman as he made accurate replicas of the different tools the researchers worked out how much manual dexterity was needed for each kind of tool. They found that manual techniques used in making flakes and hand-held axes were equally complex, requiring the same kind of hand and arm dexterity.

Previous studies of brain activity involved in tool making indicated different brain areas are used in making the different tools. The researchers concluded it took development in brain function before humans could make stone axes, and suggested the development of language was involved, as the stone axe making used brain regions that overlap with those involved with language.

e! Science News, ScienceDaily

Editorial Comment: Try it yourself and you will find there is nothing primitive about flintknapping, whether it is practised by people living in caves or those working in 21st century laboratories. It is a highly skilled craft still used today to work with stone, and in the 17th century it was used to make strikers for flintlock firearms. The research done using ‘data gloves’ and brain scans described above only confirms that stone tools are the product of humans who were already clever and creative, using whatever materials they had to hand. So don’t be surprised Genesis 4 reminds us it was the created man Adam’s grandchildren who produced the first metal age and even shaped their alloy discoveries into musical instruments. (Ref. technology, flints, tools)

Evidence News 15 December 2010

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