Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Human Tool Making

  • Arthur C. DurbandEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1838-1



Human manufacture of objects designed to achieve particular results.


A tool is an object that can be used to achieve a particular desired result. The use of tools and the tools themselves are referred to as technology. Tools may be relatively simple and unmodified objects, such as rocks or sticks, or may result from modification of raw materials, with chipped stone tools or metal objects as examples. It was long assumed that only humans were able to use tools, but subsequent observations of tool use in a number of species like chimpanzees, monkeys, otters, and several types of birds have changed that perception. Nonetheless, human tool manufacture and use is quite complex and has been an important contributor to human adaptation in a variety of contexts.

Human Tool Making

It is likely that the earliest use of tools by human ancestors incorporated organic materials that are unlikely to be preserved in the archaeological record and that these are similar to tools like sticks, leaves, and other objects used by chimpanzees today. After stone was adopted as a raw material, however, long-term preservation became much more probable. At present, archaeological evidence suggests that humans began manufacturing simple stone tools sometime prior to about 2.5 million years ago. These first tools were made through relatively simple flaking along the edge of a rock to create a crude chopping tool. Such tools are inconsistently manufactured and did not require much skill to make, but research has demonstrated that chimpanzees lack the coordination necessary to produce the flaked edges seen on these tools.

The most basic stone tools fall into a small number of categories: manuport, core, hammerstone, and flakes. Manuports (derived from the Latin for “carry by hand”) are unmodified stones that have been moved to a particular site by human agency. These stones are typically far removed from their source and could not have been moved to the site without human intervention. A core is a piece of stone that has had flakes removed from it. A hammerstone is used to remove flakes from the core. Flakes are small pieces of stone removed from a core, which can either be simple waste (debitage) or could also be used as tools themselves. The raw materials used to make stone tools were quite variable in the earliest examples, while more recent technological complexes show greater care in choosing higher quality stone that will flake more predictably.

The broad divisions of the Paleolithic (Stone Age) fall into the Early/Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic, and Late/Upper Paleolithic. The Early Paleolithic includes the Oldowan and Acheulian stone tool complexes. The Oldowan is the earliest stone tool culture and is characterized by simple choppers made from fairly crudely flaked stone cores, while the Acheulian is characterized by large, teardrop shaped bifacial handaxes. Unlike the more irregularly shaped choppers of the Oldowan, the Acheulian is more consistent in design and more skill is required to manufacture them. The Middle Paleolithic, sometimes referred to as the Mousterian, is typified by a variety of smaller tools struck from a prepared core. Typically multiple tools could be removed from a prepared core, greatly improving the efficiency of raw materials. The Late Paleolithic is characterized by stone blades, which require high quality stone and significant skill to produce. Additional tool types, such as points, scrapers, and awls, are present in the Late Paleolithic and incorporate a variety of raw materials besides stone, such as bone and antler.


Technology provided an important set of flexible adaptations to a variety of environments, allowing humans to range across the surface of the Earth. The evolution of tools throughout our history, continuing through our present day dependence on a variety of gadgets, serves to highlight our reliance on innovation as a strategy for dealing with a number of obstacles in daily life.


Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kansas State UniversityManhattanUSA