Language and tool-making skills evolved at the same time

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Research by the University of Liverpool has found that the same brain activity is used for language production and making complex tools, supporting the theory that they evolved at the same time.


Researchers from the University tested the brain activity of 10 expert stone tool makers (flint knappers) as they undertook a stone tool-making task and a standard language test.

Brain blood flow activity measured

They measured the brain blood flow activity of the participants as they performed both tasks using functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD), commonly used in clinical settings to test patients' language functions after brain damage or before surgery.

The researchers found that brain patterns for both tasks correlated, suggesting that they both use the same area of the brain. Language and stone tool-making are considered to be unique features of humankind that evolved over millions of years.

Written By: Science Daily
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  1. The bottom example looks remarkably like the Acheulean tool technology which was developed by Homo Erectus, Ergaster, Heidlebergensis (the debate is I think still open). This tool type is noticeably more advanced than the earlier Oldowan tools which are little more than broken stones. The earliest know examples are about 1.8 million years and at a time when the hominids responsible were thought to have been without language. I always thought this statement to be incorrect and that a primitive language capacity was around at the time and evolved apace. Acheulean technology has a wonderful symmetry, well balanced, fitting the clenched hand and with little resistance in the air making a fine weapon. It must have taken the workers a long time to make just one and that possibly indicates they had to balance that effort with the time and its use in hunting. I thought therefore that the tool makers may have had an ‘in demand’ skill and so have been involved in bartering which requires developed social and language skills.

    • In reply to #1 by Vorlund:

      The bottom example looks remarkably like the Acheulean tool technology which was developed by Homo Erectus, Ergaster, Heidlebergensis (the debate is I think still open).

      When the knappers made the simpler Oldowan tools, in an earlier study, there wasn’t so much overlap between language and tool making.

      But some experts think that the knappers in this study probably used Late Acheulan methods, which only began 500k y.a. They feel that future studies should make both early and late.

      There’s a good article at Wired Magazine. It gives a voice to the doubters as well.

      Chris

  2. …has found that the same brain activity is used for language production and making complex tools…

    The researchers found that brain patterns for both tasks correlated, suggesting that they both use the same area of the brain.

    This is extremely interesting considering most artists generally do not speak while painting or working on a piece of art. I have watched many demos; at some point in time, the artist comments that they need to stop speaking in order to proceed. Very few artists can do both tasks simultaneously; usually they are “talkers” rather than the more introverted type.

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