History of Science – Stone Tools

Stone tools

Welcome to a new feature of Matilda’s Lab; the History of Science.

Why a history of science?

The ultimate aim of this blog is try an explain science in a way that is not scary. I try to do this by following my child as she makes the most simple of scientific discoveries and then build up from there. Hopefully it will provide a consistent line of progress that people can follow.

But this isn’t the only way to build up our knowledge. An alternative to following the progression of a little girl is to follow the progression of our own species. This also allows us to start with very simple ideas before advancing to more complex ones.

Where to start?

There is no correct place to start with a project such as this but I have chosen the earliest evidence of stone tools.  Funnily enough, the evidence for this is not the discovery of carefully crafted stones. Instead it comes from bones that bear the marks of stone tools on them.

This evidence does not tell us exactly what kind of tools these were or even who was using them, but thanks to techniques like radiometric dating, we can work out how old the bones are.

The thing about this date is that it is older than humanity. The oldest evidence that we have for humankind is just under 200,000 years old. This means that our first step along the line of scientific discovery started before we were even human. Unfortunately, we do not know what species to credit with this advance.

Why start here?

It’s a fair question. Humans (and our direct ancestors) are not the only species to use tools. It is a skill that has been seen in other apes, birds and even fish; so this particular landmark is not anything special within itself.

However, what is different is what our species has gone on to achieve. The discovery of 3.4 million year old bone damaged by a stone tool is the earliest trace of evidence that we have of our ancestors starting out down this road.

You may argue that using a sharp stone to cut is not science. I would argue that this evidence shows the presence of minds that are capable of seeing how the world works. Minds that can then manipulate those rules of the world and find a way of making it work for them.

Using a sharp stone to cut something may be a very simple thing to do but the only thing that has really changed in all of this time is the complexity of the tools that we are making and the difficulty of the issues that we are trying to solve.

Matilda’s Lab ©2018. https://twitter.com/matildaslab.

Matilda’s Lab tries and help adults explain complex science to children. Efforts are made to keep the content as accurate as possible but sometimes it is necessary to oversimplify things. If you think that anything here is categorically wrong then please get in touch so that a correction may be made.


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