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The Science of Tool Making

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The Science of Tool Making

Somewhere along the road of human civilization, scientists have concluded that the ability to create and use tools belongs to humans, as is the ability to think. We people know how to develop and use tools in order to accomplish certain needs. It all began with tools to gather food, to create shelter, in the end, tools to make our life easier.

Scientists also use tools to develop their scientific activities. The equipment in a lab helps scientists to observe, measure, gather and combine all data related to their object of quest.

Any task takes at least a tool to be accomplished (but usually takes more than one). You can’t fulfill a task without knowing how to use the specific tool. Specific investigation requires specific tools and it’s a basic thing to know what are the tools available for your area of research.

Is there more to it?

Getting to understand the science behind the making of tools needs more science and, why not, some fun play into the workings of the mind just as well. As it is funny to investigate the neuroscience behind wheeling carts made of rocks, seeing they are the beginning of human tools.

Some experiments also included volunteers to chip away at hunks of stone, transforming them in a knife or an axe. Even though it seems incredible for us, chopping properly a stone might take over 200 hours, but it also brings out the insights into our ancient selves with the help of scans into the brains of modern humans who executed the stone chopping.

It’s a funny thing how the sculpting of the surrounding world of the ancients actually helped to shape what’s inside our skulls today.

An important conclusion is that both manual and language skills may rely on related brain structures. It seems that early forms of communication (including gestures and vocalizations) got rewired with the neural circuits of tool making. The experiments got further and this is how the idea of having “rocks in our heads” got born.

It’s no news for anyone that brains are considered to be our mental “computers”. Synthetic biologists are actually working on how to put living cells to work as bio computers. A very small computing logic in a living cell could help identify a disease in a patient. This principle may also be applied in pharmaceutical manufacturing and agriculture also.

What makes the human brain more special than others is its ability to wonder, not only think. Each one of us is wondering and if for some the questions relate to how the universe works, for others it might be related on how cosmetic works, how drugs work on you and so on.

Take a thought on the life of a neutron. Inside an atomic nucleus, a typical neutron has to suffer for long time. But, taken outside of that, it will take only 15 minutes to decompose. It seems that no experiments so far got to the same conclusion on how long a neutron actually lives. So, it this because some measurement errors or there’s something else involved, that we can’t see with today’s scientific tools?

A fair conclusion so far

Even though science has come so far in explaining the world around us and the world within our brain, there are still some big facts it can’t agree upon.

Science today can’t agree on how and why stone tools appeared, around 3.40 million years ago. Some consider it to be entirely related to butchering the prey, whereas some consider that hominids could have easily used sharp rocks for that.

So, we don’t even know today when the making of stone tools became reality for hominids, but we do know that big brains were not needed for that. It was only a million years afterwards that a bigger brain was in need for a more complex tool, like the Oldowan toolkit.

From chopping rocks to modern research and development

Most scientists tend to agree that humans looking like us appeared at least 130,000 years ago and their brain reached today’s size. When and how these humans evolved from chopping stones to creative tools and, even more, research and development in order to get better results in all activities, it remains still quite a big question.

It seems that modern behavior is quite new (40,000 years ago) and is related to Homo Sapiens arriving to Europe. The “creative explosion” is at the base of this conclusion. As always, it only takes a few rebels to agree on something, and several recent discoveries in Africa and Middle East give evidence on older, more gradual evolution of modern behavior, not centered in Europe.

But getting to the bottom of this it’s not today’s conversation. The point is that, as humans never cease to wonder how they have begun to wonder (there’s irony in this one), somewhere along the way we got used to always wonder and seek for better ways, better methods in order to get better results.

In time, humans have managed to develop not only tools to get things from the tree, but also tools to develop better tools for an easier life. These future new tools have become the main subject of modern research and development and they are the living proof that we’ve taken quite some steps from chopping rocks to better sales strategies.

Modern research and development is a general term related to corporate or governmental innovation. Both modern research and development are parts of Innovation and are placed at the front end of the Innovation life cycle.

You can’t talk about innovation without saying a word about modern research and development (see our case study).

Each company establishes for itself which activities are considered to be related to modern research and development, but there are two basic models that apply. Modern research in the development department is in some cases regulated by engineers as they are directly responsible for developing new products. In other situations, this department is coordinated by industrial scientists that have to apply research in scientific or technological fields, created to help with future product development.

No matter which case we pick, modern research and development stand out from any other corporate activities as they are not intended to produce immediate profit. As a plus, they also bring some risks and there’s always the unfortunate chance of not returning the investment, making them in this case less efficient, when results are negative or useless.


Cunnar, G. 2007. The Production and Use of Stone Tools at the Longshan Period Site of Liangchengzhn, China. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven.
Dubreuil, L. 2004. Long-term trends in Natufian subsistence: a use-wear analysis of ground stone tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 1613–29.
Fullagar, R. 1991. The role of silica in polish formation. Journal of Archaeological Science 18:1–25.
Fullagar, R. and Wallis, L. In press. Usewear and phytoliths on bedrock grinding patches, Pilbara, north-western Australia. The Artefact 35(2012).