Cognitive demands of lower paleolithic toolmaking

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 15;10(4):e0121804. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121804. eCollection 2015.

Abstract

Stone tools provide some of the most abundant, continuous, and high resolution evidence of behavioral change over human evolution, but their implications for cognitive evolution have remained unclear. We investigated the neurophysiological demands of stone toolmaking by training modern subjects in known Paleolithic methods ("Oldowan", "Acheulean") and collecting structural and functional brain imaging data as they made technical judgments (outcome prediction, strategic appropriateness) about planned actions on partially completed tools. Results show that this task affected neural activity and functional connectivity in dorsal prefrontal cortex, that effect magnitude correlated with the frequency of correct strategic judgments, and that the frequency of correct strategic judgments was predictive of success in Acheulean, but not Oldowan, toolmaking. This corroborates hypothesized cognitive control demands of Acheulean toolmaking, specifically including information monitoring and manipulation functions attributed to the "central executive" of working memory. More broadly, it develops empirical methods for assessing the differential cognitive demands of Paleolithic technologies, and expands the scope of evolutionary hypotheses that can be tested using the available archaeological record.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Tool Use Behavior / physiology*

Grant support

This research was funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust (http://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/), “Learning to Be Human: Skill Acquisition and the Development of the Human Brain,” F/00 144/BP to BB and DS. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.