From the very first Stone Age tools used in prehistory to today’s best screw extraction pliers, hand tools are seen by anthropologists as a way of understanding humanity. The way we created and used tools developed with human skill and how we operated as a society, and this rings true to this day. Tools tell us a lot about the societies that developed them, and a more advanced society will use more tools.
From hammering in a nail to cutting through animal skins, hand tools are and have been essential for millions of years and we are dependent on them far more than we realize.
Even animals use tools in many ways, with the primates being most advanced; chimpanzees make and use weapons like spears for hunting and use tools they make to forage for ants. It is only humans however who have created and made use of complex tools.
Here is what we hope will be a fun and informative look at some of the history of hand tools…
The World’s First Tool
Stone tools are believed to date back to more than two and a half million years ago, in Gona (which is in modern-day Ethiopia). The first human hand tool was the Oldowan. It was a cutting tool made by striking a rock (hammerstone) against another rock (cornerstone), using materials such as quartz, flint, or obsidian at an angle; this resulted in a sharp edge. The tool was then used to slice meat, chop wood, and crack things like nuts and oysters. The Oldowan could very effectively remove meat from bones and break bones open to access marrow.
Progress in hand tools wasn’t made for more than a million years. A close ancestor of modern humans devised Acheulean tools one and a half million years ago and these were in use until just two hundred thousand years ago. They have been found from Africa to India, Europe and the Americas. These tools are characterized by stone axes which were pear-shaped or rounded in their outline and at least one surface was flaked. Acheulean tools were used for butchering and skinning, cutting wood, digging in soil, and cutting open fruits and vegetables where these were present. They were also used for scraping.
These tools (unlike the Oldowan which was made, used, dropped, and made again when necessary) were carried and kept by their users. Man at this point knew that technology was crucial to life and lifestyle – which was a major cognitive development. It also reflected how important meat was in the diet.
The first spears appeared half a million years ago. They incorporated a wooden shaft with a flint or obsidian tip, i.e. an Acheulean tool mounted on a handle.
Next time in the history of hand tools we’ll look at some major developments in man’s use of tools – from the bronze razor to modern day tools like screws and linesman pliers.