November 17, 1998
Since people first appeared many years ago, we have been either unwilling or unable to get along with our fellow people. Disagreements often turn into physical violence. When early people fought each other, they used their own bodies as weapons because their bodies were the only things available to them. Eventually one person picked up a stick and struck his opponent with it. The person with the stick one the fight but later lost a different fight to another person with a bigger longer stick. The hunt was on. Each person looked for longer, bigger, and more powerful sticks to beat each other with. One person attached a rock to the end of a stick and the mace is born. Since then, people have struggled to make better and more efficient tools and weapons. Now as the year 2000 approaches people proudly displays our great accomplishments. In the past, a man had to physically overpower another man to kill him. Now a combination entered on a keypad can destroy a city, state, country, and ultimately and entire planet. But how did we get so advanced ? Also how does the drive for better tools affect societies?
For a large part of human history, people had no way to accurately estimate how old the Earth was or how long people had exited on earth. Until the 1800s most people believed humankind was no more than 6000 years old. These people drew their information from a calendar at St. John s College. The calendar stated the species Homo sapiens began on March 23, 4004 BC (A strangely exact date, but I suppose if I was the very first man on earth I would probably make a note of the day I spontaneously appeared). However, begging in 1797 scientists began discovering bits and pieces of tools that appeared more than 6000 years old. The scientists who discussed the possibility that the tools they found were made by men of prehistoric times were at best ignored. Their findings were not accepted by the society, and were especially not accepted by the church. The church maintained that man and writing were both created at the same time.
Yet, some scientists persisted with the idea that people have lived without writing far longer than we have lived with writing. Since scientists cannot learn about prehistoric times through writings, they study early societies through the tools that the society left behind when it died out. Scientists often study and classify societies according to the tools the society used. Also, we can track the development of individuals within a society and the development of a society as a whole through the development of the tools that the people of the society use.
Tool use was not an entirely physical development. Although the physical changes that led to tool use, such as increased cranial capacity and bipedalism, are easier to distinguish from archeological finding, they are no more important than the behavioral changes that accompany tool use. Tools are arguably the most important factor that shapes societies. From the earliest ape-like ancestor to modern humans, the people that hold the biggest, fastest, and most efficient tools are considered the most fit to their environment. Although anthropologists argue that they minimize their ethnocentrism, the fact is that the societies that lack knowledge of tools or refuse to use certain tools may not survive long enough to be anthropologically studied. Therefore, the term fit can be associated with survival. Tools are not the only factor that determines the development of a society; however, people are greatly affected by the tools they use.
Genetically, anatomically behaviorally, and socially we [humans] have been shaped through natural selection into tool makers and tool users. This is the net result of 2.5 million years of evolutionary forces working upon our biology and behavior (Schick and Toth 18). Tool usage affects human behavior and changes entire societies. Our ancestors were not in a position to physically compete with other animals. Humans are not as strong as many animals half our size; however, we do have the highest intelligence of any animal. It is this intelligence that moved us into new evolutionary niches that allowed humankind to become enormously successful.
One of the first tools to move humans into a new evolutionary niche was the stone tool. There is strong proof that stone tools were being produced as early as 2.5 million years ago. It was in this time period, that one of the earliest races for human survival was won and lost because of the ability to make and use tools. The race had two participants: Australopithecus Robustus and Homo Habilis. A. Robustus and H. Habilis coexisted in Africa around 2.5 million years ago. The groups were competing for food sources and both groups evolved different physical features to maintain their respective species.
A. Robustus developed large strong teeth with massive chewing muscles. By looking at the fossilized teeth of A Robustus, anthropologists have found that A. Robustus used this adaptation to eat a diet of tough gritty vegetables. H. Habilis did not have massive jaws for chewing and grinding food. However, the members of H. Habilis did have a larger cranial capacity and a more varied diet. Large numbers of stone tools have been found with H. Habilis remains and with the remains of the animals that served as food sources for H. Habilis. By contrast, relatively few stone tools have been found in sites containing the fossil remains of A. Robustus. Therefore, one can confidently say that Homo [Habilis] was definitely a stone toolmaker and, in our view, probably the dominant stone tool maker (Schick and Toth 104).
We can also confidently say that A. Robustus died out and H. Habilis lived to evolve further. Since A. Robustus and H. Habilis inhabited the same geographic area at the same time, A. Robustus could not have died out from a great catastrophe because a large-scale catastrophe would have killed both groups. The most logical explanation of why H. Habilis lived and A. Robustus became extinct is that, unlike A Robustus, H. Habilis was able to change with the changing environment. H. Habilis had the tools and the knowledge to use them so he was able to conquer whatever adversity afflicted the two groups. Thus, Darwin s survival of the fittest theory can be applied to societies according to their skills as toolmakers.
Aside from shaping societies by determining which societies live and which societies become extinct, tools also affect the infrastructure of a living society. When looking back on major technological breakthroughs, one finds that they are commonly followed by lifestyle changes in a society. Tools are commonly known to revolutionize industries. A new type of weapon may render useless a style of fighting or a development such as agriculture may revolutionize a society.
The development intensive agriculture, for example, radically changed many aspects of human culture. It directly affected society by increasing crop harvests because it providing a faster, easier, and more efficient way to provide nutrition for groups of people. The greater crop output created a surplus of product that led to changes in the society. People reacted to the increased food supply by having more children because of the greater value of children in herding and farming economies (Ember and Ember 167). Thus, the development of agriculture led to changes in human populations. In essence, new technology can equate to a new lifestyle for a society. In contemporary times, people are becoming accustomed to rapid changes in society; however, human society did not always evolve quickly.
Millions of years passed between the emergence of early tool making humans and what are considered modern humans. This time of human history had relatively small technological developments. However, about 20,000 years ago, new technologies started changing human culture. Developments such as art, religion, and warfare helped shape somewhat isolated early man into the highly social animal he is today. 10,000 years ago, the ice sheets that covered much of the world began retreating back to the poles and behind them they left fertile soil with abundant plant and animal habitats. People recognized the new resources and began exploiting them. Individual people began specializing in the exploitation of certain resources. These individuals relied on other members of the group to provide for them what they did not specialize in themselves. Increasingly larger groups of people began to live closer to one another as a matter of convenience. The resulting group of interdependent individuals formed into villages. Villages had higher population densities than man had ever lived in before.
Village life developed partly because of tools. Developments in agriculture produced a surplus of food. Therefore, each individual did not have to hunt and gather his or her own food. Without the constant strain of hunting for food, people had time to do other things. People exchanged ideas on how the group should function. Common ideas became rules and the rules then solidified the structure of the society. Soon the society became complex. The complex society somewhat complicated humans lives. Instead of only worrying about having food and living essentials, people had to work towards the good of the newly created state. Also, new social organization caused social stratification among the members of the society. Bureaucracy was born. Some people became leaders and some people became followers. Instead of each member of the village having an equal access to all the resources available, some people were limited or completely denied access to what was before fundamentally shared to all members of the group.
Village life also increased the rate of population growth among humans. Tools and farming techniques provided a surplus of food available for people who were temporarily unable to actively hunt and gather their own food. Pregnant women did not have to move from place to place in search of food. They could survive within a society where as they may have starved if they were forced to fend for themselves. Agricultural tools also helped to decrease infant mortality rates because they indirectly provided improved nutrition for both mother and child.
Soon villages grew to a point that they began to compete with each other for resources. The competition evolved into larger warfare than the world had ever seen before. Warfare like many aspects of society was greatly influenced by tools. About 8,000 years ago, people started perfecting metallurgy. Metal was formed into daggers, swords, shields, and other implements. Any development in offensive weaponry was soon countered by developments in defense. This led to the beginning of an arms race that continues to this very day (Schick and Toth 310).
The last ten thousand years of human history have brought about more scientific discoveries than the previous million years. People have formed into complicated social animals within equally complicated societies. Technology is expanding exponentially. Each new decade contains technological tools that pale the previous decade s tools by comparison. No one knows if cultural and mental human evolution will catch up to the frenzied pace of technological development that is the industrial revolution. However, we can say with confidence that if we as humans do not learn to how to control the development of our technology so that it doesn t outstrip our ability and that of the planet s other organisms to respond to it (Schick and Toth 311) the world as we know it will change forever.
Ember, Carol R, and Melvin Ember. Anthropology. New Jersey: Prentince Hall,
Schick, Kathy D. and Nicholas Toth. Making Silent Stones Speak. New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1993