A series of Stone Age geniuses invented a range of technologies that shaped human evolution and laid the foundation for our world.
F or the first few million years of human evolution, technologies changed slowly. Some 3 million years ago, our ancestors were making chipped stone flakes and crude choppers. Two million years ago, hand axes. A million years ago, humans sometimes used fire, but with difficulty. Then, 500,000 years ago, technological change accelerated, as spear points, fire-making, axes, beads, and bows appeared.
T his technological revolution wasn’t the work of one people. Innovations arose in different groups—modern Homo sapiens, early sapiens, possibly even Neanderthals—and then spread. Many key inventions were unique: one-offs. Instead of being invented by different people independently, they were discovered once, then shared. That implies a few clever people created many of history’s big inventions.
A round 500,000 years ago in Southern Africa, archaic H. sapiens first bound stone blades to wooden spears, creating the spear point. Spear points were revolutionary as weaponry and as the first “composite tools”—combining components.