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Hand Tools

Earliest Stone And Metal Tools

Technology begins in human history when the first stone flints or spear tips were deliberately cut, which are known as Oldowan tools or eoliths. It is very difficult for archaeologists to prove that the sharpened edges of some stone artifacts are the work of human hands rather than the result of the shearing of one stone against another over eons. However, certain improvised tools such as pebbles and animal bones, show clear signs of the wear and tear associated with deliberate use. Chipped quartz tools are identified as such because of the situation in which they were unearthed, accompanying human remains in areas clearly definable as settlements.

About one and a half million years ago, an improvement was made upon the basic carved tool, with the aid of better raw materials. The newer tools fall into three categories of standardized designs; mainly handaxes, picks, and cleavers. These Acheulian tools are the work of humans with larger brains than previous incarnations of the genus Homo. They first appeared during the Paleolithic or early Stone Age period. Handaxes from this period are flaked on both sides and often shaped carefully into teardrops. Picks are long tools, with either one sharp edge or two. Cleavers are smoothed into U-shapes with two sharp points on one side. With these inventions, humans began to consider how an object would fit the hand, and how it might be designed for optimum impact.

Acheulean tools were made in great numbers across much of Africa and Europe, as well as India and the Near East. They were produced over thousands of years but led to no modern counterparts. Archaeologists therefore have a long list of possible uses for these artifacts, which may have served more than one purpose. Butchering animals, digging for roots or water sources, and making other tools are the most common suggestions. More inventive ones include the "killer Frisbee" projectile, a use for disc-shaped objects proposed by two researchers at the University of Georgia. Iceman, a fully preserved human over 5,000 years old, was found with articles of clothing and tools and weapons on his person. This fortunate occurrence has given archaeologists a chance to theorize about the uses of particular tools, rather than piecing together scattered remains and surmising about possible uses for artifacts.

The later periods of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages saw further developments in metallurgy and design. Axes were made in two pieces, a head and a shaft bound together by plant or animal fibers. Metal alloys like bronze were deliberately crafted to improve the durability and efficiency of hand tools. Smithing was an art as well as a science, well into the Iron Age. Handcrafted knives were important for nomadic peoples who hunted to survive, and swords especially became crucial tools in warfare. The invention of the metal plow brought agriculture a huge step forward, since it made systematic planting over wide areas possible. This was a great improvement over digging holes one at a time.


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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHand Tools - Earliest Stone And Metal Tools, Development Of Modern Tools, Modern Technology