The ideas behind modern tools and weapons, ranging from a big harvester to a Tomahawk missile, date back to the Stone Age. It was in the Stone Age that, for the first time, our forefathers sharpened a simple stone into a sharp edge. Tools and weapons set early humans apart from other animals. Tools of stone – which was available in plenty - helped them in their constant fight for survival.
The Stone Age started 2 million years ago.
The Stone Age of human history can be divided into three distinct periods - Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age and Neolithic or New Stone Age. At the start of the Paleolithic era, about 2 million years ago, our earliest ancestors, Homo habilis, lived mostly as hunters and gatherers. Their successors, Homo erectus, used sharpened stones for hunting. About a million and a half years ago, humans added the Acheulean -- a more refined double-edged oval shaped stone tool - to their collection. Modern humans, Homo sapiens, developed the double-edged stone tool of their ancestors into a hand-held axe.
In the Mesolithic age, humans continued to shape, sharpen and modify stones as they needed for hunting and gathering. They came up with jagged throwing rock and club-like weapons. Towards the end of the Stone Age, humans started to build armor to defend against weapons. Early armor was simple and not very strong. An example was slabs of metamorphic rocks used as shields.
In addition to hand axes, the Homo Sapiens of the Neolithic period also made spear heads and shears. They also started agriculture, and began farming grains and vegetables, the same foods we eat today. Plows, pestles and mortars are some of the tools man invented to help his farming. The early plow (which looked more like a shovel) was used to dig up the soil to plant and harvest such as rice, wheat, and potatoes. Mortars and pestles were used to separate the grains of rice and wheat from the sheaves and also to grind herbs and to flatten the sinew in meat. Hand axes were also useful for shearing and chopping firewood, in addition to hunting.
In the Stone Age, people in different parts of the world made different types of weapons. Those in South America relied on hand axes to catch smaller prey like fish and wild cats from close quarters. In Africa, the prey were bigger: wooly mammoths and bison. To hunt these animals, humans could not go too close to them, so they made weapons like spears and jagged rocks.
Also, all parts of the world did not develop the same tools and weapons at the same time. At the time when many African tribes were living their Mesolithic age, American Indians had moved on to the Neolithic life. Even when the Europeans discovered Australia merely two hundred years ago, they encountered natives who were still using some Old Stone Age tools and weapons.
Scientists do not agree about when we actually started hunting for meat on a regular basis. It is possible that, early on, we were mainly scavengers of carcasses, especially those of larger animals like mammoths. If this is true, then ancient tools might have come before weapons. It was only when early humans started to eat more meat, and started to fight amongst themselves, that the use of weapons became common.
In any case, towards the end of the Stone Age, man discovered metals. The first to catch his eye was gold, around 6000 BC. The brilliance and flexibility of gold led humans to look for more gold and gold-like metals. Soon, they found copper and silver, two other metals that can be found in their native state (i.e. as elements).
Aitcheson, Leslie. A History of Metals. Volumes 1 & 2. 1960. Interscience, New York, USA.
Cramb, Alan W. A Short History of Metals. Published online, <http://neon.mems.cmu.edu/cramb/Processing/history.html> accessed on 11-March-2009.
Habashi, Fathi. Principles of Extractive Metallurgy. Volume 1, Chapter 1. 1969. Gordon and Breach, Science Publishers, Inc., New York, USA.
Hartmen, Paul V. Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. An online history essay, <http://www.naciente.com/essay88.htm> accessed on 11-March-2009.