28 Days of Black Excellence

An ongoing series for the entire 28 days of Black History Month that showcases the inventions, the people, and culture that makes people of the African diaspora so excellent.

There is a fierce battle for the throne of “inventor of tools” that has been waged for generations between Kenya and Ethiopia. And this was something I never even really thoughts about as a kid. Where tools come from. Where they began. Who made what. All we learned back then was some hairy white men in caves, who said “ooga booga” fashioned the wheel from sweat, determination, and fire. No mention of tools or how they were formed or the progression of them. Public schools really need to evolve. Fortunately, we now know a lot more about where the genesis of technology happened: Africa.

The earliest known stone tools had been found at the site of Gona in Ethiopia and were dated to 2.6 million years ago. These belonged to a tool technology known as the Oldowan, so called because the first examples were found more than 80 years ago at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania by famous paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey. Then, in 2010, researchers working at the site of Dikika in Ethiopia—where an australopithecine child was also discovered—reported cut marks on animal bones dated to 3.4 million years ago; they argued that tool-using human ancestors made the linear marks.

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The claim was immediately controversial, however, and some argued that what seemed to be cut marks might have been the result of trampling by humans or other animals. Without the discovery of actual tools, the argument seemed likely to continue without resolution.

The tools were found, not too much later. However, not where researchers assumed they would be.  The oldest stone tools made by our human ancestors have been discovered in northwestern Kenya and they date back 3.3 million years—about 700,000 years before the oldest tools previously unearthed.


This is great news for Kenyans and Ethiopians (number 1 and number 2), but even better news for all of us. As a global web, these tools led to greater and greater tools. Your iPhone, my Android, the flat screen, and the video game you’ve been promising yourself you’d play for the past few months, were all made possible because of those early humans. A beautiful example of how far humans have come. We as an international community of people who still rely on tools today, no matter how advanced or primitive, are the truly lucky ones. We owe a huge debt to those ancient peoples and their black excellence.

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Alex Miller is a freelance writer living in Harlem. His work has appeared in Forbes, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other places.