Shared brain lateralization patterns in language and Acheulean stone tool production: a functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound study

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 30;8(8):e72693. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0072693. eCollection 2013.


Background: The popular theory that complex tool-making and language co-evolved in the human lineage rests on the hypothesis that both skills share underlying brain processes and systems. However, language and stone tool-making have so far only been studied separately using a range of neuroimaging techniques and diverse paradigms.

Methodology/principal findings: We present the first-ever study of brain activation that directly compares active Acheulean tool-making and language. Using functional transcranial Doppler ultrasonography (fTCD), we measured brain blood flow lateralization patterns (hemodynamics) in subjects who performed two tasks designed to isolate the planning component of Acheulean stone tool-making and cued word generation as a language task. We show highly correlated hemodynamics in the initial 10 seconds of task execution.

Conclusions/significance: Stone tool-making and cued word generation cause common cerebral blood flow lateralization signatures in our participants. This is consistent with a shared neural substrate for prehistoric stone tool-making and language, and is compatible with language evolution theories that posit a co-evolution of language and manual praxis. In turn, our results support the hypothesis that aspects of language might have emerged as early as 1.75 million years ago, with the start of Acheulean technology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Volume / physiology
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Cues
  • Echoencephalography*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Speech / physiology
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Tool Use Behavior / physiology*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Transcranial / methods*
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

This work was partially supported by an ESRC award (North West DTC ES/J500094/1). N. Uomini was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the British Academy centenary project “Lucy to Language: the Archaeology of the Social Brain” and a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship number 0298. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.