How a handful of archaeologists opened up the human technological revolution

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Clovis Spearhels. Credit sharp wikimedia, CC BY-SA

During the first few million years of human evolution, technologies gradually evolved. Three million years ago, our ancestors used to make cut stone and crutches. Two million years ago, hand axes. A million years ago, the ancients sometimes used fire, but with difficulty. Then, 500,000 years ago, technological advances accelerated, with spears, firearms, axes, beads, and bows.

This technological revolution was not the work of one nation. Innovations originated in different groups — the modern Homo sapiens, the primitive sapiens, and perhaps the Neanderthals — then expanded. Many key innovations were unique once. Instead of inventing things on their own, they came together once and then shared. That means a few talented people have created many great inventions of history.

And not all modern people.

The tip of the spear

500,000 years ago, in ancient South Africa, the ancient Homo sapiens first waged war by attaching stone slabs to wooden spears. Spearpoints were revolutionary as weapons and as the first “integrated weapons” – combining units.

The war broke out 300,000 years ago in East Africa and the Middle East, and 250,000 years ago in Europe and the Neanderthals. According to this practice, the war gradually spread from one nation to another, from Africa to Europe.

A blazing fire

Fireworks, including coal and burnt bones, became commonplace in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa over 400,000 years ago. It occurs almost simultaneously everywhere — in places where they are interrupted by randomness — indicating creativity, then rapid expansion. The fire utility is clear, and the fire is easy to maintain. Starting a fire, however, is much harder, and perhaps the main obstacle. If so, the widespread use of fire may be a sign of the invention of fire extinguishers.

Interestingly, the earliest evidence for the use of regular fire came from Europe – then living in Neanderthals. Did Neanderthals first set fire to it? why not? Their minds were as big as ours; Use them for something and during the winter in Europe, Neanderthals need more fire than the African Homo sapiens.

How a handful of archaeologists opened up the human technological revolution

Serengeti Spear Point. Credit Writing Nick Longrich, author presented

The ax

Handicrafts began to disappear in Central Africa 270,000 years ago, replaced by new technology, Core-Ax. The Core-Ax looked like small, thick hand axes, but there were basically different tools. Microscopic scratches indicate that core axes were attached to wooden handles — a real and intertwined ax. Axes spread rapidly throughout Africa, then to modern-day peoples of the Arabian Peninsula, Australia, and finally to Europe.


The oldest beads are 140,000 years old, and originated in Morocco. They are made by digging out shellfish shells and then tying them to ropes. The ancient Homo sapiens lived in North Africa at the time, and their makers were not modern humans.

Beads were then worn by Neanderthals in Europe 115,000-120,000 years ago, and were finally adopted by modern humans in South Africa 70,000 years ago.

How a handful of archaeologists opened up the human technological revolution

Intuitive Fire Extinguisher. Credit Writing Nick Longrich, author presented

Bow and arrow

Some 70,000 years ago, the oldest archery in South Africa was discovered, possibly by Bushman’s ancestors who lived for 200,000 years. Arrows entered South Asia 48,000 years ago, 40,000 years ago in Europe, and finally 12,000 years ago in Alaska and the United States.

Neanderthals have never received arrows, but the expansion of the bow may have been used by Homo sapiens against them.

Marketing Technology

It is not impossible for people to invent the same technologies in different parts of the world at the same time, and in some cases this has to be the case. But the simplest explanation for archeological information we have is that instead of re-inventing technologies, many advances have been made only once and then widely disseminated. After all, imagining a few inventions requires a few assumptions.

But how did technology spread? Prehistoric individuals traveled long distances through enemy lands (although there was a great deal of migration in generations) African people probably did not find Neanderthals in Europe or vice versa. Instead, technology and ideas spread – from one group to another, and so on, connecting the modern Homo sapiens of South Africa with the ancient peoples and Neanderthals of Europe in North and East Africa.

How a handful of archaeologists opened up the human technological revolution

Condos beads. Credit Writing Nick Longrich, author presented

Conflict could have led to the theft of people or the seizure of weapons and equipment. For example, Native Americans found horses in Spain. But perhaps people often traded in technology because it was safer and easier to use. Today, modern-day hunter-gatherers are traded – savage hunters, for example, replace the honeycomb with the iron bow made by neighboring tribes.

Archeology shows that such trade was ancient. The ostrich shell, up to 30,000 years old, is found some 200 miles[300 km]from South Africa. 200,000 – 300,000 years ago, the ancient Homo sapiens in East Africa used instruments derived from the Obsidian at a distance of 50-150 km, much more than modern hunters collect.

Finally, we should not neglect human generosity – some exchanges can also be gifts. Mankind’s history and history are undoubtedly fraught with conflict, but as of now, tribes have had peaceful relations – agreements, marriages, friendships – and can easily give technology to their neighbors.

Stone Age wise men

The pattern here: the origin of the singular, then the spread of creativity – has another wonderful implication. Rather than the inevitable outcome of large-scale cultural forces, progress may be more dependent on individual individuals.

Think of the arrow. It is so important that the creation seems clear and inevitable. But if it is really clear, we will see repeated arrows in different parts of the world. But the Native Americans did not invent the bow – the Aborigines of Australia or the people of Europe and Asia.

  • How a handful of archaeologists opened up the human technological revolution

    Hadabe Archer. Credit Writing Nick Longrich, author presented

  • How a handful of archaeologists opened up the human technological revolution

    Archery and arrow distribution from Africa. Credit’s library Wikipedia (Map) and Nick Longrich

Instead, it looks like a clever Bushman invented the bow and then everyone accepted it. That savior’s creation will change the course of human history for thousands of years, and will determine the destiny of nations and empires.

Prehistoric design is similar to what we see in historical times. Some inventions are repetitive: farming, civilization, calendars, pyramids, math, writing, and beer are created independently around the world, e.g. Some innovations may be obvious in order to respond to people’s needs in a predictable way.

But many key inventions – rubber, gunpowder, printing, stirrer, compass – seem to have been created only once before their expansion.

And a number of individuals: Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, Wright Brothers, James Watt, Archimedes – played an important role in driving the evolution of technology, which has shown great potential for creativity.

This indicates that the potential for major technological innovation is low. They may have been present when there were fires, spears, axes, beams, or arrows.

Then, as it were, one can really change the course of history without having to go beyond imagination.

Homo sapiens road outside Africa

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