Re: Tool use in australopithicenes

Gerrit Hanenburg (
Mon, 17 Jul 1995 20:36:28 GMT (J Sharpe) wrote:

>Did the Australopithicenes use stone tools (ie, the Oldowan tool industry),
>or did they not come around into H. habilis showed up?

There is no concensus on this point.Traditionally,early Homo has been favored
as the more likely candidate for tool use.There are no tools found with the
earlier (gracile) australopithecines but it is possible however that the
robust australopithecines made at least some of the stone artifacts.
R.L.Susman (1988) argues in favor of the robust australopithecines on the
following grounds:

-They tend to be more numerous than the gracile forms (Homo) at the East and
South African localities where the early artifacts are found.
-The hand bones found at the site of Swartkrans are strikingly similar to a
modern human hand.Since most of the skull and tooth material from this site
represent A.robustus ,he argues that most of the hand bones do as well.
-The robust australopithecines show a slight increase in brain size over the
earlier australopithecines and over modern apes.

So the robust A. may have had a hand suitable for accurate manipulation but
it isn't certain however whether the hand bones can be definitely assigned to
The small increase in brain size does not necessarily parallel an increase in
intelligence and manipulative skill.

Tools are only found contemporaneous with the robusts at about the time the
genus Homo shows up in the fossil record.This makes the use of tools by the
robusts less certain.
The robusts are an anatomically specialized species with a massive
masticatory apparatus (very large cheek teeth). Their teeth show the signs of
heavy grinding and crushing of tough,gritty foods.This suggests that they
were not relying heavily on tools to process food.
Although it is at present not possible to establish with certainty that the
robust australopithecines were tool users,the more generalized Homo seems to
be the more likely candidate.

Reference:R.L.Susman (1988) "Hand of Paranthropus Robustus from Member
1,Swartkrans:Fossil Evidence for Tool Behaviour". Science 240.p781-784.

Other source:K.D.Schick and N.Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak.
Simon and Schuster,1993.