Our study showed that people could make stone tools without activating language-related brain circuits. That means, then, that we can’t confidently state at this point that stone tool manufacture played a major role in the evolution of language. When exactly language made its appearance is therefore still a mystery to be solved.
We also discovered that Oldowan tool-making mainly activates brain areas involved in visual inspection and hand movement. More advanced Acheulian tool-making recruits a higher-order cognitive network that spans across a large portion of the cerebral cortex. This Acheulian cognitive network is involved in higher-level motor planning and holding in mind multi-sensory information using working memory.
It turns out that this Acheulian cognitive network is the same one that comes online when a trained pianist plays the piano. This does not necessarily mean that early humans could play Chopin. But our result may mean that the brain networks we rely on today to complete complex tasks involving multiple forms of information, such as playing a musical instrument, were likely evolving around 1.8 million years ago so that our ancestors could make relatively complex tools to exploit energy-dense foods.
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