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Stone Tools

Ancient Tools

Image of illustration of Homo erectus group butchering a dead elephant

Stone tools and other artifacts offer evidence about how early humans made things, how they lived, interacted with their surroundings, and evolved over time.

Spanning the past 2.6 million years, many thousands of archeological sites have been excavated, studied, and dated. These sites often consist of the accumulated debris from making and using stone tools. Because stone tools are less susceptible to destruction than bones, stone artifacts typically offer the best evidence of where and when early humans lived, their geographic dispersal, and their ability to survive in a variety of habitats. But since multiple hominin species often existed at the same time, it can be difficult to determine which species made the tools at any given site.

Most important is that stone tools provide evidence about the technologies, dexterity, particular kinds of mental skills, and innovations that were within the grasp of early human toolmakers.

Early Stone Age Tools

The earliest stone toolmaking developed by at least 2.6 million years ago. The Early Stone Age began with the most basic stone implements made by early humans. These Oldowan toolkits include hammerstones, stone cores, and sharp stone flakes. By about 1.76 million years ago, early humans began to make Acheulean handaxes and other large cutting tools. Explore some examples of Early Stone Age tools.

Middle Stone Age Tools

By 200,000 years ago, the pace of innovation in stone technology began to accelerate. Middle Stone Age toolkits included points, which could be hafted on to shafts to make spears; stone awls, which could have been used to perforate hides; and scrapers that were useful in preparing hide, wood, and other materials. Explore some examples of Middle Stone Age tools.

Later Stone Age Tools

During the Later Stone Age, the pace of innovations rose. People experimented with diverse raw materials (bone, ivory, and antler, as well as stone), the level of craftsmanship increased, and different groups sought their own distinct cultural identity and adopted their own ways of making things. Explore some examples of Later Stone Age tools.