The Evolution of Technology from Stone Tools to Smart Phones

The Evolution of Technology from Stone Tools to Smart Phones

This exhibition takes you back in time to the origins of prehistoric humans and technology. We will explore how human technology evolved in Africa and continues to be a critical part of modern life all over the world. Ancestral humans developed technologies to adapt to the changing physical and social environments they inhabited. In turn, as they adapted their lifestyles to accommodate new technologies, biological changes occurred to better utilize these means of survival. The earliest humans were more morphologically adapted for arboreal existences and did not rely on technology as much as their descendants. As hominin existence became more terrestrial, technology was adapted to meet the needs of that lifestyle. The accelerating pace of human technological change following industrialization is allowing humanity to adapt and evolve in new dimensions, as witnessed by the unprecedented advancement in telecommunication including the use of mobile phones.

Pretechnology

6 to 3.3 million years ago

Late Miocene to Middle Pliocene

Before the advent of technology around 3 million years ago, the Eastern Africa climate was warmer and wetter than at present and tropical forests covered the landscape. There were numerous ape species living in the woodlands of Africa. Relative to monkeys, apes spend more time raising their young to maturity and had much more complex social systems. Paleo-anthropologists believe that these adaptations pre-positioned early hominids as a highly successful subfamily of apes when the climate transitioned to more variable conditions in the Pleistocene. Apes’ ability to teach culture to their young was a successful strategy for arboreal existence, but was invaluable for the grassland life that was to come.

Molar

indeterminate indeterminate

KNM-LU335

5 to 2.5 million years ago

One of the earliest hominins at about 6 million years ago, O. tugenensis had long, sharp canines like extant non-human apes. Presently only know from Kenya, there is considerable controversy as to whether O. tugenensis was bipedal as the fossil evidence remains relatively scant.

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Earliest Techology

3.3 to 2.6 million years ago

Changes in orbital precession induced a period of rapid fluctuations in climate across most of the world. Natural selection favoured highly social and problem-solving species, and early hominins filled this niche. The initial adaptation of hominins was one of bipedalism, but the first evidence for technological innovations also emerge at this time. Australopithecines were well positioned because they were free to use their gripping hands to perform tasks that demanded dexterity. Their tools were simple, but effective for extracting scant resources from a landscape in flux.

CLIMATE

Late Pliocene

3.3 to 2.6 million years ago

Australopithecines spent most of their time on the ground, but could still climb trees. They had smaller canines than the previous hominins, suggesting that they spent less time fighting and more time socialising with each other. Their brains were small—just a little larger than a modern day chimpanzee.

Skull
3D View

Homo rudolfensis

KNM-ER1470

1.8 to 2.5 million years ago

The brain size of H. rudolfensis was ~750 cc with less robust skulls and reduced brow ridges compared to earlier hominins. H. rudolfensis retained many Australopithecus features like a shallow palate, large molars and premolars, prominent cheekbones, thick tooth enamel and post-orbital constriction.

Worked block
3D View

Worked block

KNM-4409-1

Nuts and tubers were new resources that became available in grassland environments of eastern Africa. Large (>20 kg) mortar stones were essential tools to process starches that were hard for hominins to digest.

Worked block

Worked block

KNM-4409-2

For processing seeds and withering vegetal matter, smaller lithic tools were created. Hammer stones were used to remove flakes and the cores were utilised as the tool. Manipulating small tools in this manner required hand dexterity lacking in non-human extant apes.

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Early Techology

2.6 million to 300 thousand years ago

Increasing variability in Earth’s orbit produced greater extremes between the occurrences of open and closed habitats. Fully bipedal hominins emerged at this time and filled the niche as meat scavengers, using tools to improve efficiency for this task. Simultaneously, calories from meat fuelled brain growth, which was needed to outcompete more physically competent animals. A wide range of hominins lived in Africa at this time and it appears that technology was a critical adaptation in every environment they inhabited.

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Technology Rising

400 to 10 thousand years ago

As the earth continued to cycle between glacial and interglacial conditions, anatomically modern humans began to occupy a wider range of habitats, which required specific technologies to take maximum advantage of ecosystem potential. New tool technologies represented the progression of human cultural evolution as our minds and bodies became able to plan and execute more strategically. Eventually, the domestication of plants and animals would transform humans into a more sedentary species. The use of tools to extract, store and consume food, build shelter and modify environments has transformed the planet into an ecosystem dominated by human actions.

The Last 200 Years to Present

Since the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago, technology has advanced exponentially compared with previous human history. This technological advancement has changed how we interact with the environment and how we communicate with each other; from telegrams and televisions to the internet and smart phones to nanotechnology and artificial intelligence.

As we ponder about the future, humans will continue pushing the frontiers of the not well understood and/or the unknown, resulting in emergence of new technologies that demand adaptation in how we interact with ourselves, others and the ecosystem.

However not all is positive when it comes to phones; for instance, Some see it as a status symbol based on the kind of phone one has, the brand and the cost hence misplaced priorities. People have also become over dependent on cell phones leading to breakdown of human interaction in favour of online communication, they also emit radiation which be harmful to human health. Also, cobalt which is an essential mineral in smartphone manufacture has a huge impact on the environment by causing birth defects, lung infections and even death. More research on this is ongoing.

Smartphone

Smartphone

The smartphone, for example, has increased the magnitude and ease of access to information by combining all these features i.e. video cameras, web browsers, office Apps, GPS etc. It is pleasurable to note that in Kenya today, a Maasai warrior in possession of a smartphone has better mobile communication than President Reagan did while in office in the 1980s. Since 2007, Kenya has taken the lead in mobile money-transfer systems among other mobile-phone based software and services. With approximately 70% of Kenyan adults using phone based cash transactions, the country occupies first position in this cutting-edge money transfer system.