Evidence of humans engineering tools to improve their effectiveness has emerged 30,000 years earlier than previously thought.
A discovery at Pinnacle Point on the South African coast shows that early humans fire-treated stones to make tool making more efficient.
The find sugests tools were first engineered between 70,000 and 164,000 years ago.
Publishing his findings in the journal Science, “”, University of Cape Town archaeologist Kyle Brown explains how his team tried but failed to recreate tools made from silcrete - a type of flint - which were found at the site.
“We were having a really hard time coming up with [something] that looked like what we were finding at the site,” he said.
Research showed that the tools had to be shaped after they were heated up in a fire. Using available material, the stones needed to be stoked with between 20 kg and 40 kg of hardwood for almost 30 hours to create 300°C temperatures in silcrete to create the them.
“It requires a lot of planning,” said Brown. “It’s not the kind of thing people would do with an ordinary cooking fire.” Heating makes the stones easier to flake and shape into blades.
“This is a bridging technology between control of fire and the later production of ceramics and metalworking. There’s a long gap, but I think as people begin to look for heat-treatment they’ll begin to see it,” he said.