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Question Your World: Who Was The First Maker?

stone tools

Our built world is a pretty remarkable byproduct of humanity. From door wedges to the International Space Station, we’ve become pretty good at making stuff. More recently the maker culture has exploded into many niche categories around the world, everything from custom made knives to walls that display vital health stats. Where did all this begin? What was the first thing that got the world of making going? Perhaps more importantly, who was the first maker? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

Us humans are scientifically categorized as Homo Sapiens, the only species still around in the genus Homo. Some of our now extinct, but closest relatives on the family tree would be Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, and a few others. One unique aspect to our lineage is the ability to make stuff. All those jet planes, video games, smart phones, and other common created items are all rooted in the ability to make stuff for our use.

Stone tools are the oldest remains of our built world. This is where we took a part of the natural world, shaped it to meet a certain need, and then used it to make life a little easier. In terms of stone tools, the task of hunting is made a lot easier when you have a stone tool to help kill a future meal or crack open nuts and so on. The oldest tools we have studied seem to be from about 2.6 million years ago. These creations were the first things to be made for human use and are credited to our earliest relative in our genus, Homo habilis. That’s what we’ve thought until recently that is. A few weeks ago there was a new discovery that calls all of our previous knowledge on the process of making into question.

Archeologists in Kenya have found a simple stone tool that dates back 3.3 million years! This discovery pushes the concept of inventions back by nearly 700,00 years. What’s more remarkable about this is that it predates our oldest inventing relatives, the Homo habilis. So, the big mystery now is trying to figure out who made these tools? From all the fossils we’ve studied over time there has been no evidence of inventions by the likes of Australopithecus, which is the species that would have been around about 3.3 million years ago. There’s another theory that it could be one of the other species in that time frame like Kenyanthropus. With that said, these species also have no prior evidence of tool making. There’s another chance that it could be a species that we have not even discovered yet. Regardless of who the first stone tool maker is, this discovery shows us that the process of inventing may not be only be in our genus alone. Monkeys and other animals use tools all the time, so perhaps there is an earlier overlap of using items from nature to changing natural objects for human use.

The story of humanity continues to get more interesting as more discoveries like this get unearthed. Perhaps Homo habilis lived much earlier than we thought, maybe another species before our genus could make tools, there are many different explanations for this. Currently scientists are looking into the bacterial remains on the tool and the surrounding dirt to see if there are any clues there to help us see a more clear picture of what that environment could have been like as well. Of course there is another theory being presented here as well, so, in the words of a famous TV scientist, we’re not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens!