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Tiny tools are uniquely human: We have gained advantage from miniature weapons since the Stone Age


Many animals, like the great apes, are known to use tools to accomplish certain tasks. And so, contrary to popular perception, what makes humans truly special is not the utilization of tools in general, but the practice of creating and using small tools. This is according to a study published in the Evolutionary Anthropology.

“When other apes used stone tools, they chose to go big and stayed in the forests where they evolved,” said co-author John Shea, professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University in New York. “Hominins chose to go small, went everywhere, and transformed otherwise hostile habitats to suit our changing needs.”

Miniature tools helped early humans survive many adversities

Researchers from different institutions looked at artifacts that were used by hominins or early human species during the stone age. They hypothesized that miniaturization of tools goes back to at least 2.6 million years ago.

The researchers identified three waves of miniaturization during human evolution. The first inflection happened two million years ago when early humans started using stone flakes for cutting, slicing, and piercing. The second inflection occurred approximately 100,000 years ago. During this time, early humans had started to develop high-speed weaponry, which needed lightweight stone inserts, like the bow and arrow. The last inflection point was identified to have occurred about 17,000 years ago when the Ice Age was about to end.

The rapid change in climate, rising sea levels, and high population densities forced early humans to adapt quickly. These factors led to the creation of tools using rocks and minerals that would help conserve resources. These included small quartz flakes that early humans used to hunt and cut.

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“The making and use of small tools was a key part of our ancestors’ adaptive suite of behaviors,” said lead author Justin Pargeter, an anthropologist at Emory University, in an interview with Inverse. “The ability to deploy technologies across wide geographic ranges and environments certainly contributed to our global spread.”

These miniature tools indeed contributed to the survival of early humans. It eliminated the need to lug around heavy tools when small tools were easier to carry and make. However, in order to make small but strong tools, one key aspect was important – the dexterity of the human hands.

“Miniaturized technologies require a level of manual dexterity that is a uniquely evolved trait in hominins,” explained Pargeter. “This dexterity is built on the shape of our hands and especially our finger morphology. Non-human animals are creative with the tools they use, but most, if not all, lack the manual dexterity to make and use such small tools.”

Humans have not lost interest in making miniature tools. Modern tiny technology, like microchips, help many people accomplish everyday tasks.

The researchers explained that the invention of nanofibers and nanoparticles is the natural inclination of humans to provide “small” but modern solutions for pressing problems. They also suggested that the fascination of inventing small useful tools are associated with humanity’s overall enchantment with miniatures. (Related: Nanotechnology Breakthrough Produces Metal Rubber; Flexible Metal Sheets Snap Back To Original Shape After Being Crumpled.)

“I think humans have an innate fascination with miniaturized worlds,” Pargeter said, “with seeing the real world as through a magnifying glass.”

Just as the invention of tiny tools transformed the lives of early humans, current modern tiny tools are also transforming the lives of modern humans. With the help of these tiny modern technologies, arduous tasks that would take days to finish can now be done in a snap of a finger.

Sources include:

ScienceDaily.com

DailyMail.co.uk

Inverse.com



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