Ancient Humans May Have Developed Language Capabilities From Tool Use

Some things just go together: Cookies and milk. Peanut butter and jelly. Language and tools. Wait a minute…language and tools? Yes, according to the Guardian, scientists are now saying that language development and tool use went hand in hand as humans evolved.

The tools made by the earliest humans were quite simple-really just sharp flakes of stone used for cutting. As time went on, though, early humans began to develop tools that were both more useful and more complex to make, like hand axes. Scientists were not sure whether the improved tools came into being because humans became smarter or because they became more dextrous. Now, a study from the Imperial College in London may have provided an answer.

The scientists fitted a modern toolmaker with brain-scanning equipment and a special glove fitted with electronic sensors. The results showed that crafting the more complex stone tools did not require any more or less manual dexterity then crafting simple tools did. However, different areas of the brain lit up in the brain scans. As it happens, some of the areas that light up when toolmakers work on more complex tools are the same areas that help us process language.

So, did learning to make more complex tools help our ancestors develop the brainpower required to learn to talk. It’s definitely a possibility!

Study leader Aldo Faisal told the Guardian:

“The advance from crude stone tools to elegant handheld axes was a massive technological leap for our early human ancestors. Handheld axes were a more useful tool for defence, hunting and routine work. Our study reinforces the idea that toolmaking and language evolved together as both required more complex thought, making the end of the lower paleolithic a pivotal time in our history. After this period, early humans left Africa and began to colonise other parts of the world.”

2 replies
  1. Robert Derbyshire
    Robert Derbyshire says:

    Hi Caroline,

    Interesting and pertinent language content as ever! My suspicion is that we can add the development of music to the pile as well as tools and language, as music learning seems to mirror the learning of a new language.

  2. Caroline Mikolajczyk
    Caroline Mikolajczyk says:

    Hey Robert! Thanks a lot for your comment 🙂 I think you might be right concerning learning music, it definitely has its own rules, characteristics and “alphabet” if you see what i mean. It should actually be considerate like any other language as it’s quite hard to learn as well and it requires a big commitment too.


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