The ability to intentionally create a tool for a specific purpose seems to be one of those traits that set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. One of the first human species that made tools is Homo habilis. H. habilis lived about 2 million years ago. In 1960, Mary and Louis Leakey discovered the first H. habilis fossils at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The Leakeys had been working at Olduvai Gorge for several years. They had found many simple tools that had been chipped out of stone. When they finally found fossil bones to go with the tools, Louis was convinced that he had found the remains of one of the earliest toolmaking humans. At the suggestion of another scientist named Raymond Dart, he gave the species the name Homo habilis, which in Latin means “handy man.” Many scientists question whether Homo habilis was truly the first toolmaker or even a direct ancestor of modern humans. In any case, there is evidence that humans have been making tools for a very long time.
Homo habilis was one of the earliest toolmakers. This species made simple tools out of stone. In fact, H. habilis’s remains in Tanzania and Kenya are often found buried near primitive stone tools these primates crafted.
Based on the archaeological record, it appears that the first manufactured tools were simple choppers created from rounded, fist-sized stones. Making a chopper is a fairly easy process. Hitting one edge of a stone with another stone of equal or greater hardness creates a jagged edge that could be used for cutting animal hides, sinews, small tree branches, and vines. Experiment 1: The Wedge Design of a Stone Chopper shows how effective a stone chopper is at cutting natural materials.