MAKING SILENT STONES SPEAK by Kathy Schick

MAKING SILENT STONES SPEAK

Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 From the codirectors of Indiana University's Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology: a weighty report on paleoanthropological technology--the study of our earliest ancestors and their use of tools. What Schick and Toth don't know about ancient tools isn't worth knowing: These intrepid researchers have even spent time at bone-dry East African archaeological sites, butchering elephant carcasses with ultra-primitive stone flakes (``imagine cutting through a car tire with a razor blade'') that they fashioned themselves. From such gritty fieldwork and a hundred years of laboratory investigations, anthropologists have pieced together a solid portrait of early humans as ``profoundly technological creatures.'' Schick and Toth survey all the major controversies, including the key question of when tools first appeared (about 2.4 millions years ago) and whether Australopithecus robustus (a line that expired) or Homo habilis (which evolved into us) originated tool-use (the authors plump for Homo habilis). In lively textbook style, Schick and Toth cover the discovery of the Stone Age by 19th-century scientists; outdated theories about Stone Age people (Raymond Dart's killer-ape hypothesis); the dating of fossils; how to differentiate early stone tools from natural products; the nature of Stone Age sites (home base? scavenger camps?); the use of early tools (for hide-working, nut-cracking, bone-breaking, and all manner of hyphenated activity); even the future of technology (is ``self-induced extinction'' our inevitable fate?). What makes us human, the authors assert, is not tool-making per se--mud wasps, sea otters, and chimps make tools, albeit dinky ones--but the interplay of technology and culture, so that, unlike all other creatures, we can truly say that ``tools are us.'' Much like life at a paleoanthropological site: dry and dusty, with sudden eruptions of serendipity. For buffs of early human life, a gift. (One hundred illustrations.)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-69371-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993