Tools around 1 Million BC

The Globe



Scholars dispute whether any of the australopithecines used stone tools. Their remains have been found with such tools but the association is ambiguous. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Perhpas the best evidence for the early use of fire comes from temperate Africa, at Swartkrans in South Africa, in association with Homo erectus and dated to 1 million years ago, perhaps as early as 1.6 million years ago. Other possible evidence of fire comes from Chesowanya in Kenya, at about 1 million years ago. At sites of such great antiquity it is always difficult to show conclusively that people controilled the fire that is evident in the archaeological record. (Patterns in Prehistory)

The African finds that have most recently stirred the halls of science are roughly (very roughly) dated at the commencement of the Pleistocene or Ice Age, circa 600,000 BC; Dr. Raymond Dart of Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa, showed a convincing series of slides in which the implements of this pre-lithic (pre-Stone Age) culture were illustrated. These included the lower jaws of large antelopes, which had been cut in half to be used as saws and knives; gazelle horns with part of the skull attached, which showed distinct signs of wear and use, possibly as digging tools; and a great number of ape-man palates with the teeth worn down - human palates being used to this day as scrapers by some of the natives of the area. But the really sensational slides were those showing a number of baboon and ape-man skulls that had been fractured by the blow of a bludgeon of a certain specific type. All the fractures showed that they had been caused by an instrument having two nubs or processes at the hitting end; and it had required only a little thought on the part of Professor Dart and his collaborators for them to surmise that the probable cause of this double dent was the knob at the end of the leg bone of a gazelle. But apes do not use weapons; ergo, the culprit was a man - or at least some kind of proto-man. The animal remains found among the bones of these little fellows of about 600,000 BC have been chiefly antelopes, horses, gazelles hyenas, and other beasts of the plains - swift runners, so that the art of the hunt must have been considerably developed. Professor Dart, furthermore, has found abundant evidence of a practice of removing the heads and tails of certain of the animals killed...(Primitive Mythology)

The high center of human culture was still Africa. Here an incredible abundance of paleolithic tools have been found. Indeed, some excavations (for example, those of L. S. B. Leakey at Olduvai Gorge in the north of Tanganyika) have revealed in perfect sequence every stage of the evolution of the hand ax from the pebble tools of man's first beginnings to the finely finished, really elegant axes of the period of Neanderthal. As Dr. Carleton S. Coon has remarked: "During the quarter of a million years when man made these tools, the styles changed very little, but what changes were made are to be seen everywhere... This means that human beings who lived half a million years ago were able to teach their young skills that they had learned from their fathers in most minute detail, as living Australians and Bushmen do. Such teaching requires both speech and a firm discipline, and the uniformity of hand-ax styles over wide areas means that members of neighboring groups must have met together at stated intervals to perform together acts that required the use of these objects. In short, human society was already a reality when the hand-ax choppers of the world had begun to turn out a uniform product." Moreover, what is perhaps more remarkable still is that some of the most beautiful of the symmetrically chipped hand axes of this period are as much as two feet long, a size too cumbersome for practical use; the only possible conclusion being that they must have served some ceremonial function. Professor Coon has suggested that such axes were not practical tools but sacred objects, comparable to the ceremonial tools and weapons of later days, "used only seasonally, when wild food was abundant enough to support hundreds of persons at one place and one time. (Primitive Mythology)

In the course of his experiments Brain uncovered several hundred fossil hominids, mainly robust australopithecines and even some Homo erectus fossils. One of his most significant discoveries was the first use of domesticated fire, which he found at Swartkrans. Thin layers of burned material were found in the cave walls where the floor level would have been 1.1 million years ago. Their burning patterning suggested that they were not random but deliberate, making Swartkrans the site of the earliest documented evidence of the controlled use of fire. (In the Footsteps of Eve)

Acheulean sites were generally in valley bottoms or wetlands; they were terrain specialists, living in the riverine forests that traversed the plains. Acheulean tools are associated with Homo ergaster, erectus, and archaic sapiens, thus representing a tool type that spanned almost 1.5 million years of human evolution and three species of hominid. We classify the culture of the archaics as broadly within the Early Stone Age. The favorite implement was the hand ax, a technology that had existed virtually unchanged for the previous million years. Hand axes were in widespread use from Africa to southern Europe and as far east as India, indicating a widespread sharing of a basic knowledge. We believe that these large bifacial axes were handheld and were probably used as a butchering tool. (In the Footsteps of Eve)

Just south of Kimberley, Peter Beaumont of the Kimberley Museum has found what must be one of the world's largest accumulations of stone tools at a single site. In a space less than that of two football fields, he estimates that there are over 10 million hand axes and other stone tools. Further west, near Uppington. there are literally tens of thousands of hand axes, choppers, cores, and other elements of this culture lying scattered across almost every erosional surface you chance upon. While this sort of density of tools is not common, the number of artifacts that one can find from this time period illustrates the success of these archaic Homo sapiens. Surprisingly, there are relatively few sites anywhere in Africa with good, undisturbed archeological sequences that we attribute to archaic sapiens, so our understanding of their behavior is limited. (In the Footsteps of Eve)

Southwest Asia

Makers of a specific style of teardrop-shaped stone hand ax, flat-edged cleavers and other implements that originated in Africa around 1.6 million years ago reached South Asia not long afterward, between 1.5 and 1 million years ago, say archaeologist Shanti Pappu of the Sharma Center for Heritage Education in Tamil Nadu, India and her colleagues. "Acheulian tool makers were clearly present in South Asia more than 1 million years ago," Pappu says. "For now, it's enough to say that Homo erectus introduced Acheulian tools to India," Rightmire says. (153)



Indus Valley

Makers of a specific style of teardrop-shaped stone hand ax, flat-edged cleavers and other implements that originated in Africa around 1.6 million years ago reached South Asia not long afterward, between 1.5 and 1 million years ago, say archaeologist Shanti Pappu of the Sharma Center for Heritage Education in Tamil Nadu, India and her colleagues. "Acheulian tool makers were clearly present in South Asia more than 1 million years ago," Pappu says. "For now, it's enough to say that Homo erectus introduced Acheulian tools to India," Rightmire says. (153)


At the Chinese site of Zhoukoudian evidence suggests a significant improvement in stone tool-making between 700,000 and 230,000 years ago, so that toward the end of that period there were drills, gravers, points, choppers, and other tools that appear to be as efficient and "sophisticated" as the hand-ax complex in the west.(12)

Extraterrestrial events have recently been acknowledged as also playing a major role in the development of human culture in the very distant past. The March 3, 2000, issue of Science magazine includes an article on stone tools from southern China dated to approximately 800,000 years ago. What is particularly interesting about these tools is their association with tektites, glassy fragments of molten rock that resulted from a meteorite impact (the result of a comet or asteroid colliding with our planet). It seems that the impact scorched the landscape, dramatically altered the local environment, exposed the rocks from which the stone tools were ultimately manufactured, and paved the way for early human innovation. In the devastation of the impact and its aftermath, new opportunities for cultural development arose. (Forbidden History)

The first evidence of the use of fire was found about as far from South Africa as one could wish, in the now famous Choukoutien Cave, some thirty-seven miles from Peiping. Here, through a series of excavations extending from 1921 to 1939, there was unearthed an impressive assortment of stone tools, cracked skulls, split bones, and fireplaces in what had been the haunt of a sort of ape-man with a brain capacity of about 900 cubic centimeters; that is to say, midway between the men of today (1400-1500 cc. average) and the brainiest ape (600 cc.). The way some of the skulls were opened showed that someone had been knocking holes in them and lapping out the brains. In the cave were the remains, furthermore, of thousands of animals that had also been eaten by the inhabitant, or inhabitants; and the tools of stone were crude choppers and large flakes, such as must have been used for knives. The unwholesome cannibal of this chilly, fire-heated den, Sinanthropus Pekinensis, Peking Man (or, as we may term him, Prometheus the Great), was a contemporary of the celebrated Pithecanthropus erectus of Java - "the ape-man (pithecanthropus) who walks erect (erectus)," otherwise known as Java Man and Trinil Man - who, when his remains were found in 1891, was hailed by Haeckel and the other nineteenth-century prophets of evolution as the very figure of Darwin's "Missing Link." Choukoutien is unique in its evidence of fire. We have to think of the period in the vast terms of geological reckoning as falling somewhere in the Middle Pleistocene - about 500,000-200,000 BC, in the great ranges of the second glacial period (Mindel) and second interglacial (Mindel-Riss). (Primitive Mythology)

Outside Africa, evidence of the possible use of fire is problematic before about 500,000 to 250,000 years ago, when unmistakable hearths have been documented at a site called Locality 1 at Zhoukoudian in north China. (The First Americans)


A dramatic and wholly unexpected glimpse of the nondurable part of early Eurasian tool kits was recently recovered under exceptional preservational circumstances at Schoningen in Germany. There, in lakeside deposits nearly 400,000 years old, a series of carefully made wooden throwing spears (javelins) attest to the role that perishable artifacts must have played in the conquest of midlatitude Europe. (The First Americans)

Specimens incised in a manner similar to those of St. Prest were found by J. Desnoyers in a collection of bones gathered from the valley of the Arno River (Val d' Arno) in Italy. The grooved bones were from the same types of animals found at St. Prest--including Elephas meridionalis and Rhinoceros etruscus. They were attributed to the Pliocene stage called the Astian. This would yield a date of 3-4 million years. But it is possible that the bones could be as little as 1.3 million years old, which is when Elephas meriodionalis became extinct in Europe. (The Hidden History of the Human Race)

South America




North America

Another recent example of incised bones like those found at St. Prest is a discovery made by George Miller, curator of the Imperial Valley College Museum in El Centro, California. Miller reported that six mammoth bones excavated from the Anza-Borrego Desert bear scratches of the kind produced by stone tools. Uranium isotope dating carried out by the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that the bones are at least 300,000 years old, and paleomagnetic dating and volcanic ash samples indicated an age of some 750,000 years. (The Hidden History of the Human Race)