Forget the wheel! Early man’s greatest invention was the HANDLE, study claims
- Study claims the greatest invention of early humans may have been the handle
- Our ancient ancestors started using tools like sharp stones 2.6 million years ago
- Adding handles to stone tools made them more energy-efficient when chopping
- Also increased the ‘force and precision’ that could be applied to bash and scrape
The wheel is often hailed as the most important invention of all time, having had a massive impact on transport, agriculture and industry.
But a new study claims the greatest creation of early humans may actually have been the handle, because it made stone tools much more energy efficient when chopping and smashing.
It did this by increasing the ‘force and precision’ that could be applied, according to researchers at the University of Liverpool.
Invaluable: A new study claims the greatest creation of early humans may have been the handle, because it made stone tools much more energy efficient when chopping and smashing. University of Liverpool recruited volunteers (pictured) to come to their conclusion
The emergence of tools with handles, known as ‘hafted’ implements, did not happen until about 500,000 years ago, while it would be another half a million years before the wheel was invented — around 6,000 years ago
WHAT IS HAFTING?
Hafting is the action of attaching a handle or strap to a tool.
Examples of these tools include scrapers and axes.
In 2016, the world’s oldest hafted axe was unearthed in Australia, which experts think may have been created by early Aborigines almost 50,000 years ago.
Archaeologist Professor Sue O’Connor of the Australian National University said the axe dated to between 46,000 and 49,000 years ago, shortly after people first arrived in Australia.
Researchers believe it would have been used as a tool to cut down trees and sharpen wooden spear heads.
The use of tools by our ancient ancestors dates back around 2.6 million years, when early humans created implements from pieces of flint and stone to acts as knives or scrapers.
However, the emergence of tools with handles, known as ‘hafted’ implements, did not happen until about 500,000 years ago, while it would be another half a million years before the wheel was invented — around 6,000 years ago.
‘The transition from hand-held to hafted tool technology marked a significant shift in conceptualising the construction and function of tools,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.
‘It is assumed that addition of a handle improved the (bio)mechanical properties of a tool and upper limb by offering greater amounts of leverage, force and precision.’
The University of Liverpool recruited 40 volunteers, 24 men and 16 women, and gave them a range of tools, including a chopping implement in the form of a hatchet with a steel head and a wooden handle.
They were also given a shavehook used for stripping paint as a scraping tool.
The participants were then told to use the tools with their handles, as well as after the handles had been removed.
They used the hatchet to chop thick wooden dowels, while the scraping tool was used to scrape away the fibres from a carpet that resembled the thickness of animal hide.
Each volunteer was given a track to wear which followed the motion of their upper arms and forearms.
Researchers also measured their muscle contractions and oxygen consumption, as well as the velocity of the tools being used.
‘Results show that hafted tool use elicits greater ranges of motion, greater muscle activity and greater net energy expenditure (EE) compared with hand-held equivalents,’ the authors wrote.
‘Hafting results in significantly different biomechanical strategies, that ultimately works to offer an energetic benefit compared with hand-held equivalent tools.
‘Most notably, during the chopping task it has shed light on the mechanism whereby the energetic benefit is achieved through increases in joint motions and muscle use which resulted in an increase in velocity and force that ultimately made the hafted tool used more effective per unit of energy applied to a task.’
The researchers concluded: ‘The energetic and biomechanical benefits of hafting [adding handles] arguably contributed to both the invention and spread of this technology.
‘These reductions in physiological and biomechanical demands, as well as demands on energy and time budgets, would enhance both individual and group survival.’
The study has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
WHEN DID HUMANS START USING TOOLS?
It is hard for scientists to say precisely when humans started making tools because the more primitive remains look like a natural object rather than a human artefact.
The oldest-known instruments are the Oldowan stone tools from Ethiopia, which date back about 2.6 million years.
The Acheulean tool technology period – up to 1.76 million years ago – featured large stone hand axes made from flint and quartzite.
Towards the end of this period, the tools became more refined and then followed the so-called Levallois technique, which saw the creation of scrapers, slicers, needled and flattened needles.
About 50,000 years ago more refined and specialised flint tools were made and used by Neanderthals and it is believed it was at this stage tools were constructed out of bone.
As human culture advanced, artefacts such as fish hooks, buttons and bone needles were used.
Cut marks have found on animal bones that have been dated to be 3.4 million years old – around the time that a squat ape-like ancestor called Australopithecus afarensis – known as Lucy – roamed Africa.
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