By using highly advanced brain imaging technology to observe modern humans crafting ancient tools, a neuroarchaeologist has found evidence that human-like ways of thinking may have emerged as early as 1.8 million years ago.
“This is a significant result because it’s commonly thought our most modern forms of cognition only appeared very recently in terms of human evolutionary history,” said Shelby S. Putt, a postdoctoral researcher with The Stone Age Institute at Indiana University, who is first author on the study. “But these results suggest the transition from apelike to humanlike ways of thinking and behaving arose surprisingly early.”
“The fact that these more advanced forms of cognition were required to create Acheulean hand axes — but not simpler Oldowan tools — means the date for this more humanlike type of cognition can be pushed back to at least 1.8 million years ago, the earliest these tools are found in the archaeological record,” Putt said. “Strikingly, these parts of the brain are the same areas engaged in modern activities like playing the piano.” Paper. (paywall) – Shelby S. Putt, Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar, Robert G. Franciscus, John P. Spencer. The functional brain networks that underlie Early Stone Age tool manufacture. Nature Human Behaviour, 2017; 1: 0102 DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0102 More.
Of course, that’s so long ago that one can only wonder what humans were doing in the meantime, that meant that thought didn’t evolve faster.
See also: Stasis: When life goes on but evolution does not happen