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The evolutionary neuroscience of tool making

Stout, D; Chaminade, T; (2007) The evolutionary neuroscience of tool making. Neuropsychologia , 45 (5) pp. 1091-1100. 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.09.014. Green open access

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Abstract

The appearance of the first intentionally modified stone tools over 2.5 million years ago marked a watershed in human evolutionary history, expanding the human adaptive niche and initiating a trend of technological elaboration that continues to the present day. However, the cognitive foundations of this behavioral revolution remain controversial, as do its implications for the nature and evolution of modern human technological abilities. Here we shed new light on the neural and evolutionary foundations of human tool making skill by presenting functional brain imaging data from six inexperienced subjects learning to make stone tools of the kind found in the earliest archaeological record. Functional imaging of this complex, naturalistic task was accomplished through positron emission tomography with the slowly decaying radiological tracer (18)flouro-2-deoxyglucose. Results show that simple stone tool making is supported by a mosaic of primitive and derived parietofrontal perceptual-motor systems, including recently identified human specializations for representation of the central visual field and perception of three-dimensional form from motion. In the naive tool makers reported here, no activation was observed in prefrontal executive cortices associated with strategic action planning or in inferior parietal cortex thought to play a role in the representation of everyday tool use skills. We conclude that uniquely human capacities for sensorimotor adaptation and affordance perception, rather than abstract conceptualization and planning, were central factors in the initial stages of human technological evolution. The appearance of the first intentionally modified stone tools over 2.5 million years ago marked a watershed in human evolutionary history, expanding the human adaptive niche and initiating a trend of technological elaboration that continues to the present day. However, the cognitive foundations of this behavioral revolution remain controversial, as do its implications for the nature and evolution of modern human technological abilities. Here we shed new light on the neural and evolutionary foundations of human tool making skill by presenting functional brain imaging data from six inexperienced subjects learning to make stone tools of the kind found in the earliest archaeological record. Functional imaging of this complex, naturalistic task was accomplished through positron emission tomography with the slowly decaying radiological tracer (18)flouro-2-deoxyglucose. Results show that simple stone tool making is supported by a mosaic of primitive and derived parietofrontal perceptual-motor systems, including recently identified human specializations for representation of the central visual field and perception of three-dimensional form from motion. In the naive tool makers reported here, no activation was observed in prefrontal executive cortices associated with strategic action planning or in inferior parietal cortex thought to play a role in the representation of everyday tool use skills. We conclude that uniquely human capacities for sensorimotor adaptation and affordance perception, rather than abstract conceptualization and planning, were central factors in the initial stages of human technological evolution.

Type: Article
Title: The evolutionary neuroscience of tool making
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.09.014
Keywords: stone tool, hominid, cognition, palaeolithic, evolution, oldowan
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/2459
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