Re: technology and intelligence

Mr J.M. Ottevanger (J.Ottevanger@LIVERPOOL.AC.UK)
Tue, 14 Feb 1995 19:56:52 +0000

In the last mail Todd N Nims said:
> One problem. Admittedly, the processes you describe seem to be valid but
> I think you are "progressing" tool manufacturing farther than it need
> be. Using a stick to dig up plant tubers is so much more logical to me.
> Hypothetical situation. Robust A. comes along and finds likely food
> source. He (gender neutral) looks around sees a nice stick or broken
> branch and goes to work digging up his find. After successfully digging
> up the tuber he discards the energy lost but much energy
> gained. The robust A. had no reason to carry around a stick that has
> been painstakenly fashioned and sharpened to a perfect point (if he
> wanted the stick he picked up to sharp, all that had to be done is rub it
> against the ground or a handy rock.) neither does he need to carry around
> a stone tool, as basic as it may be, that must be maintained and most
> importantly must be _carried_. Robust A. didnt have pockets or pouches
> to put it in. Well, thats my logic.....hope it makes sense and that Im
> not too far off. I would love to see a bibliography on the sources you
> used....I am always willing to be proven wrong.

I take your point here Todd, there may be less demand for tools as a veggie,
though I'm not convinced there's none. Somebody did mention that the robusts
were perhaps omnivorous, but it's perhaps more testing and stimulating to try
to construct a scenario of tool use under conditions less obviously rewarding
of this behaviour. To this end let's stick to the vegetarian view of the
critters. All I was saying was that, should an animal require a tool, although
rocks may be harder than sticks thay might be easier to fashion into durable
and effective instruments. Sticks might not always be available and it's a bit
difficult to say whether you need to be smarter to flake a pebble, or to deduce
that rubbing the business end of a stick at a certain angle on a rock will
sharpen it. I'm sure that both techniques might have occurred. They are both
within the cognitive range of chimps, though no chimp has come up with tools
made in quite the same way as Oldowan lithics (see Schick and Toth's book for
their exploration of a captive chimp's innovative powers). Chimps again, if I
may speculate once more without a shred of proof, crack nuts with hammers in
some populations, using hammers and anvils. They will use a branch as a hammer
and a root as an anvil, for example, if they cannot use a rock. But rocks are
highly prized and may be carried for considerable differences (hundreds of
metres I believe) to the site of use. This illustrates that if a tool is
good enough it will be transported by hominoids (for rather unrefined veggie
applications too), and also tempts us with the idea that the collision of
hammer and anvil may sometimes detach flakes from the rocks. With the well-
known tendency of chimps to improvise with objects (see the work of Kohler
onwards) it is imaginable that they might find ways of appplying the core or
flake to plant processing. As I said, totally unsupported and potential does
not equal realisation, but it seems conceivable to me that not only would
the robusts find a use for stone tools in a vegetarian diet, but they would
have had opportunities to "discover" them.
The transport thing is not too much of a worry. As I said, it may often have
been a case of using the nearest available resource. The tools from Swartkrans
are largely of local material with a few of lava that must have been transported
a mile or more (if I remember right). Who knows the area that the robusts may
have tramped in search of food, but whatever it would surely have been wise to
have tools available at all times, for this and for defence.
It's funny to be taking the side of the argument that I meant to be arguing
against, but the weakness of the paranthropus the toolmaker proposition as I
see it is not so much the problem of their potential benefits from that
behaviour as from the lack of hard evidence to support it. A bit of healthy
scepticism may burst the bubble of conviction, but there's nowt wrong with
considering the theory whilst awaiting the facts. It would indeed be nice if
I could prove you of me wrong or right, but there's little in this subject
that's wrapped up (thank God. Not that it will help my future prospects when
I start touting for work!)
Sorry if I haven't contributed much with this waffle. Where's my backup folks?
I'm out of ammo.