Humans and Technology

Because evidence of tools accompanies evidence of humans, it is difficult to decide if humans preceded tools or if tools were created by pre-human primates. In his book The Artificial Ape, archaeologist Timothy Taylor (2010) claims the question cannot be answered because the human species and the technology we have created cannot be separated. He concludes, “key aspects of our biology would be impossibly dysfunctional” (Taylor 2010, 27) without the advantages of technology, and it is only though our technology that our species with its weak muscles, thin skin, and small teeth (all deficits that make human survival dubious in any ecosystem) could have adapted to survive in any environment. Humans’ first technology involved simple manipulation of materials that were found (for example making stone hand tools), and it proceeded to very complex manipulations of the environment (for example smelting ores to extract metal). Modern humans create their own materials and many technologies familiar to 21st century populations have little connection to the natural world compared to the technologies developed by ancient humans. Taylor (2010) approached a tautology when he suggested that “the intelligence that makes us inventive was enabled by inventions: the baby sling, the stone blade, and the cooking hearth” (194), but he continued “these are not the same as inanimate, natural things. They are artificial and form the nonbiological aspect of the artificial ape” (194). Without such body-extending technologies, Taylor argued, the artificial ape would not survive to form the complex social structures that define humans. The baby sling adds extra arms so that a mother can hold her child and still work. The stone blade allows the human hand to break what otherwise would be unbreakable (rocks, hard-packed clay, nuts, or an enemy’s skull). Cooking extends digestion outside our bodies. Taylor concluded that human biology and technology cannot be understood in isolation.


Taylor, Timothy. 2010. The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution. New York:. Palgrave Macmillan.