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Seven Discoveries that Changed the Course of Human Evolution


The best early evidence of a modern human voyage across large stretches of open water is the colonisation of Australia at least 50,000 years ago, navigating 50–90 km stretches of water where land could not be seen. Credit: Jamie Tufrey

By Paul Taçon

Seven discoveries made by our ancient ancestors were key cultural drivers that changed the course of human evolution in extraordinary ways.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

When we ask people what they think are the top discoveries or inventions that transformed human evolution we get an interesting range of responses. Many people focus on things from relatively recent times, from cars to computers, the discovery of electricity or maybe the atom, from agriculture to the cotton gin, and even sliced bread and bottled beer!

But there are much earlier discoveries that led to all of these, as well as to understanding who we are as 21st century modern humans who are distinctly different from our earliest ancestors and other creatures.

Human evolution has always been shaped by the environment and environmental change, but over the past few million years culture has played an increasingly prominent role. But what were the key cultural drivers that helped transform our archaic ancestors into us? I argue that seven pivotal discoveries by our ancient ancestors changed the course of their and our evolution in what would have been unimaginable ways.

1. Stone Tools

Our earliest human ancestors in Africa probably initially used a few basic wooden tools for foraging, primarily some form of stick. For instance, both chimps and gorillas have been observed using sticks to get food and for other purposes.

Unfortunately, early wooden tools do not survive in the archaeological record, but an early ancestral woman could...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.