How Homo Erectus Made His Tools

PalaeolithicIranEver wonder how those scrawny protohumans without claws, sharp teeth or thick skin survived the likes of Sabertooth? Me too, so I researched it and ended up with a dashing tale, full of suspense, drama, and the appealing characters that we moderns can relate to. What didn’t kill them made them stronger, and isn’t that what Darwin predicted when he labeled heevolution ‘survival of the fittest’?

Early man, especially by 1.6 million years ago when Homo erectus first arrived on the planet, learned that they couldn’t survive without weapons to balance the odds. Prior to H. erectus, it was a simple primitive rock, sharpened at one end for cutting and chopping. By the time of  Erect Man, he used stone tools to break, crush, split and cut up difficult vegetable and animal foods. His tools replaced his flimsy fingernails, his small dull teeth, and allowed him to cut through thick animal skins. They took the place of the Sabertooth’s powerful jaws and enabled Man to crush long bones and extract the nutritious marrow.

We know something more about Homo erectus from the stone tools–the handaxes, picks, scrapers, awls and cleavers–he left behind: He was highly intelligent. Not only did it require good eye-hand coordination and a precision grip to strike core with hammer stone and create these tools, but their three-dimensional symmetry reflects a Euclidean sense of space and an ability to follow a plan over a prolonged period of time to create the beautiful, well-knapped handaxes they created by the thousands.

Consider this: Handaxes, called the Swiss Army Knife of our predecessors, were hand-sized, teardrop-shaped multi-use tools. They were bifacially knapped with a standard length, breadth, thickness, displaying a remarkable similarity despite the wide variety of geographic locations where they have been found. This consistency shows a well-defined mental image of the desired end-product, showing that H. erectus had an accurate sense of proportion and could impose this on stone in the external world–without pen, paper or ruler, mathematical transformations were being made.

These are the fundamental preconditions for math and art. What’s amazing is that many individuals got that mental image.

Who among us would be so brave in the face of superior enemies, when all we have are stone tools to fight tearing canines, deadly claws and thick-skinned powerfully-muscled opponents? It brings to mind what Colin Powell once said,

“Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.”


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