Throwing Makes Us Human

The Hand Axe was humanity's technology for more than two million years. Today Dr. Josh Stout discusses what these objects were, and why they were so important to our survival and evolution.

Throwing Makes Us Human
North African hand axe circa 1,000,000 years bp - Californian hand axe circa 10,000 years bp

Eric 0:10

It's still Friday, June 7th, and we're going to do another one here. And we're going to talk about something that's been long a passion of yours. 

Dr. Josh Stout 0:19

Yeah, I've been really interested in this topic again. I sort of fell into it. It wasn't something I was planning much, much like the dopamine. It was just something that became obvious to me very quickly. So I was teaching a human evolution class and I enjoy talking about the stone tools and I just follow the general description of them. And so these were the very first stone tools are understood as sort of a kind of like a Swiss Army knife. It was something you could slice with or you could chop with, and it was what one was called a hand axe. It's about the size and size of your hand, and it's sharp all the way around. And so these things started by Homo Erectus around 2 million years ago. 

Eric 1:11

These are these triangular. 

Dr. Josh Stout 1:13

The triangular are ish. Some people call them teardrop shape. I think they look sort of like the outline of Africa personally. Some people call them symmetrical. I think they look like Africa. If you call Africa symmetrical, I don't call that symmetrical. 

Eric 1:26

It doesn't look symmetrical. 

Dr. Josh Stout 1:28

So there's a lot of there's a lot of discussion on on what they are and how they are. And I thought this was all well-established when I was reading the textbooks. But as soon as I started reading papers on them, I realized that there was a lot of opinion and that it was getting into sort of meta philosophy about what these things were for. It was it was really weird. There were people who thought that one of the problems with hand axes is if you do Edgware analysis, you don't find any Edgware on several of them, on a lot of them. So even if they were, they were being used for slicing and chopping, as we said, you would find Edgware. 

Eric 2:08

You mean that that the the edge shows signs of wear. 

Dr. Josh Stout 2:14

On only a few of them. 

Eric 2:16

But when you say Edgware, um. That that you would expect. 

Dr. Josh Stout 2:20

Looks like it was used. 

Eric 2:21

Yes. If these were used for scraping and cutting, yeah, they would have signs of wear on the edge. Right. Which would reveal this. 

Dr. Josh Stout 2:28

Right. And sometimes they do it so you can find ones that were used for cutting meat and bones. You'll see little chips, little microchips along the edge. You can see ones that were probably used for taking bark off a stick, and those will look polished at the edge. And so you can actually tell what things were used for. Looking at the at the micro where a lot of these show no microwaves at all. And so people were like, what could possibly be being done with something that doesn't get used? Why would you make so many of these? And these tools are so common. There is there is literally millions of them in some places. They're littering the ground. So in a place where there was a factory, essentially these happening, people would go to that spot and make lots and lots and lots of them. And you just see them littering the ground. You know, one every half meter there'd be another hand axe just sitting on the surface of of sort of a desert, you know, open grassland. So they were very, very common. They're often not used. 

Eric 3:24

So these were these were stone object that a million years ago, 2 million or 2 million years ago. 

Dr. Josh Stout 3:31

And a million years ago. 

Eric 3:32

For a million years, our precursor were making from stone. 

Dr. Josh Stout 3:40

Making from stone. 

Eric 3:41

One after another. After another after another after another. 

Dr. Josh Stout 3:44

Exactly. And then often not using them, which is sort of strange. And they'd replaced an earlier technology which was much simpler and very useful. You can slaughter a a goat they have, and then take it apart and take the hide off and, you know, take off all of all the meat and all this using something that's just a rock with a chip out the side. So now you have a sharp chip, you take that sharp chip and that's everything you need. So these were complex tools. They took a lot of planning and forethought to create that. Even that's up for discussion. But anyway, they took a lot of work to make and they are everywhere over over millions and millions of years. So one of the the hypotheses was that while these were because this is what women are attracted to and that men would be making these hand axes to attract women and as a display by a thing like the peacock's tail or the the the, the, the horns of a of a bighorn sheep that these were just to display for the females and, and that that's why they weren't used and that they could be tools and that they were useful as tools. But we made so many of them because the person who could make the best ones and the most of them would attract the females. Um, I have a couple objections to this one. 

Eric 5:11

Having worked stone yourself. 

Dr. Josh Stout 5:12

Yeah, well, what It's difficult to work with too. It's not a particularly attractive shape. No one I've ever talked to has said, Oh, that really makes me interested in you, that you're standing next to this rock. You know, that just never, ever happened. And the other thing is, usually if something is that kind of social attractive item, fashion is involved and fashion tends to change. And so this is an artifact that didn't change over almost 2 million years. 

Eric 5:43

Well, that's fascinating. 

Dr. Josh Stout 5:44

So it remained the same. There were some improvements over time. It got a little thinner in some cases, taking a little bit more skill to make. As people got smarter, brains were improving over this entire time as well. But at the beginning there was this transition of what they called least effort tools, which were just basically a chip to then this fully formed, planned tool that seems to have a particular shape. 

Eric 6:09

Yeah, I mean, I. 

Dr. Josh Stout 6:10

Have you. 

Eric 6:10

You, you, you have a bunch of them and I've held some of them and it does feel like it. 

Dr. Josh Stout 6:14

Well, see, that's the thing that happened. I had gone along with they're just Swiss army knives and I have been teaching this and then I met someone online who was a mercenary in Oman during the 1970s.

Eric 6:30

That's somebody you only want to meet online. 

Dr. Josh Stout 6:32

Well, it sounded like an interesting person. He was he was former British Special Forces and he'd been a mercenary in in Oman, working at the level of roughly a colonel. So a high level person organising their air force, I think. And he'd been given access to forbidden zones that only the military could go could go into. And so he went driving round, picking up hand axes off the ground because there was a lot of them.  [wow]. And he was getting on in life and needed to do something as collection. So I bought his collection. 

Eric 7:07

You bought his entire. Oh, I thought you got a couple of pieces from him. You got his entire collection. 

Dr. Josh Stout 7:12

I wanted the whole thing because I wanted everything he picked up. I wanted to see the whole ones. I wanted to see the broken ones. I wanted to see the variablility. 

Eric 7:19

And was he willing to just part with it on? Yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 7:22

And. And I said I wouldn't, you know, we, we agreed on a price. I said I wouldn't haggle with him if you gave me a dot on a map. So you give me a treasure map as well. Oh I know where he got them. And so I was, I was really excited for these things. 

Eric 7:36

I didn't know how you got the location. That's interesting. You made it a part of the deal. 

Dr. Josh Stout 7:40

I like. Definitely part of the deal. Yeah. Yeah. He's like, Oh, you know, it's been a long time. This is the best of my recollection, but it's here. And he drew a circle on a map, and I'm like, I just wanted it online. You actually mailed me a map, but fine. 

Anyway, so he. He found this stuff. I got it in my hands, and as soon as I picked it up, I'm like, This isn't a Swiss army knife. This is a weapon. And, you know, someone who has experienced in martial arts and has held a lot of different kinds of weapons. I've collected antique weapons. As soon as I held it, I realized this is not something that you were making merely to cut meat off of a leg or taking bark off of a stick. This is someone's, you know, KA-BAR marine fighting knife. This is a tool that can be used for all of those things, but it is very clearly a weapon. So, for example, if I had a knife, a knife can be used for a lot of different things. But if I see a guard across piece on a knife just above where the knuckles go on where you're holding it, I know I'm also looking at a weapon because you don't need a guard on a kitchen knife. Kitchen knives don't have that fighting knives do. 

Eric 8:55

In fact, it would kind of get in the way of what you're doing with the kitchen knife.

Dr. Josh Stout 8:59

In many cases. But you could still use one that had a guard. You had a. 

Eric 9:01

Tool. Oh, of course. 

Dr. Josh Stout 9:04

If you look at a fighting knife, the edge is going to be thicker than it would be on a on a kitchen knife. The kitchen knife is going to be there for slicing. A fighting knife can go through heavy meat. So be very useful as a tool. If you wanted to chop up, say a turkey. And that's certainly what hand axes would be used for. If you want to chop up big pieces of meat, a hand axe is going to be useful for it. But there's differences in design between what you would be using on a sort of everyday slicing context. So that was the original chips. Those chips were fine edges. They were thin edges. They were they're very sharp. The edge of a hand axe looks like an M or a W. It goes up and down. It's not just like a serrated plate, but up and down side to side. It's not a straight edge. Very it's it's much, much more rough. And it's part of how it how it gets made. But it's still pretty good for cutting. But it wouldn't be that great for cutting it in straight line. Like you'd normally use a knife. A chip is better for that. Chip has a single straight edge, and if you want to slice something that's what you want. The way Hand Axe has made, it's not so good. The whole point. The point is very broad. It's not great for making a hole in something. It's not great for drilling. It would be good for stab make. Let's say it's very thick. It's not going to break off easily. 

Eric 10:19

It might be good at flying through the air. 

Dr. Josh Stout 10:22

It's well, see, that's the next thought I was having. I picked it up and immediately I felt that it was weighted in a way that if I held it at the tip, the other end was heavier and would act as a sort of lever arm for throwing, and that it was sharp all the way around the edge. So it became sort of a ninja throwing star. And as soon as I realized this, I realized this is this is a weapon, this is something that can be thrown. It is not for attracting the opposite sex and it is also definitely a tool. I wasn't denying it's tool, but it's not made the way you would have wanted to make this. 

Eric 11:05

Yeah, it's it's fascinating that your first thought when you picked it up was that, Oh, if I hold it at the narrow end, this will fly really well and I throw it. And what I was going to say is that when I picked it up, the way that it the way that the the base of it, the wider part fit into the palm of my hand, made it feel like I could thrust. 

Dr. Josh Stout 11:24

Absolutely grab it as well. Yeah. So. So this was your personal defense weapon, in my opinion. So I then started doing research, having had this thought, Oh my, oh my God, are all the textbooks wrong? And I found there are other people who thought this. I was not the only person who had thought this. And I found that there was actually quite a long history of people thinking this. Going back to the very first, people talking about these things really, really, really. So the very first descriptions of stone tools found by people who had no idea what they were, were that these were elf darts, that the elves would hide in the bushes and throw these things at you, and that this was some sort of weapon that would be thrown at you. And so we saw them that way. But that was mythology. So we didn't worry about it. And plus it was included a lot of things we didn't classify. Everything was an elf dart Yeah, yeah. Or to a lightning bolt again, something that flies through the air, maybe thrown by God. But something thrown through the air was definitely an idea that a lot of these stone tools had. Yeah, some of them probably had been arrowheads thrown through the air, some of them of the spirit thrown through the air. Some of them were hand axes, but also included in things that were thrown through the air. 

So I started doing some research and I found out that the earlier people who had thought about it had not really left any. There was there was no there was no there was no science being done on these ideas. But there was an early science fiction of H.G. Wells of Time Machine fame who called them Hannibal. And so he had people back, you know, he thought 10,000 years ago was pre-history of the earliest humans, because they didn't know that these things were millions of years old at that time. And so he was looking at people in prehistoric France and throwing hand bolts at each other. And so he had them had thrown weapons. 

Eric 13:26

Could you imagine being hit in the chest by one of those flying through the air? A hit in the head would kill you. 

Dr. Josh Stout 13:36

People started thinking about this. And so there's there's actually a talk by Leakey back in the 1960s and he thought that there were some particular shapes that would be better for throwing. They're there. They're about the size of your hand. They're they're shaped like an S, So they have a sort of eye, almost like a like the shape of a fan blade, which you can imagine spinning through the air. And as he called it, the S-shaped hand axes. He thought that there was a particular group that could be used in this way. And the problem is, is archaeology tended to started to go in a different direction. After that we started not thinking about tools in a way where you would classify them by use in that same way. And so they were all just starting to be called not even hand axes, but bifacial tools. And we weren't going to speculate about what they were used for other than let's try an experiment and we can cut with them, or they could be cut, they could be used for slaughtering or they could be used for polishing a stick. 

Eric 14:36

It seems like we consciously turned away from it using our imagination. 

Dr. Josh Stout 14:42

Something like that. I'm still unclear about what was happening. 

Eric 14:46

It was I mean, we were just having conversations about being able to imagine the universe and that as a as a legitimate path towards knowledge. And you're saying that these people literally turned away from that. 

Dr. Josh Stout 14:56

The problem is, is any time you start putting your ideas on pre-history, you're speculating and you're adding bias to something. And so trying to avoid bias, we try and say we don't know what these things are. All we know is that they were pieces of stone, worked on two sides. So they're bifacial tools. 

Eric 15:14

And when I pick it up, I really feel like throwing it for some reason reason. 

Dr. Josh Stout 15:19

So there's only been a couple of papers and articles written on it. It was one guy who thought it was used for hunting. He wrote an article entirely speculative, and he actually showed one landing on a zebra and a zebra arching its back and therefore falling over and therefore being able to be killed. 

Eric 15:37

HARDY Ha ha ha. 

Dr. Josh Stout 15:39

Exactly. I pick up one of these things, and if I threw it to zebra, the zebra would then come over and kill me. Yeah, Yeah. Same. Same with any lodges around me. Same with Cape Buffalo or even a wildebeest. There's really nothing out there that isn't just going to be pissed at you more. 

Eric 15:54

Maybe if you have 100 guys all throwing in at the head at the same time - time on target. 

Dr. Josh Stout 16:00

You could use it for some smaller things, smaller game. It would work. It certainly would work on a rabbit, but so does a rock. You don't need to make a tool for some of the smaller things. And so a lot of that sort of hunting could probably be done with a rock and not needing as, as, as, as much as well. 

Eric 16:19

On the other hand, a rock could be a thrown weapon against another. Absolutely, too. 

Dr. Josh Stout 16:23

And so I started looking into what the archaeology says. And so at the same time as these tools developed, we also developed the physical ability to throw. We developed a scapula that moved differently. We developed wrists and elbows that move differently at the same exact time. These tools are arrows, so we're now pretty sure that things started being thrown then. We just don't know if it was these tools and I would maintain that they were. There was an experiment where someone took a very large one, a one kilo, one, and turned it into a fiberglass model and was throwing it like a Frisbee. And every time they threw it, it landed edge on. I tried doing this myself and I found replicated none of those results. I what? I threw it. It stayed pretty much the orientation I would throw it at. I made cement models that I weighted same as the originals and I used a baseball as my control. And it turned out that they that my mid range hand axe weighed exactly as much as a baseball. And I don't think that's a coincidence. 

Eric 17:25

No, of course. And how could it be? 

Dr. Josh Stout 17:26

And it threw just as well as a baseball it would use as fast as is accurate. So anything you could do with a baseball, you could do with a hand. So this is definitely a precision throwing thing like a baseball is but designed sharp all the way around. So the idea of it being used to hurt something is possible. But why wouldn't it have been used much? And why don't we find broken ones? The answer is we do find broken ones and it's the tip's broken off, just as you would expect, particularly from throwing. It's the same thing that happened to my reproduced once the tips broke off. And it looks just like the ones that I got from this guy in a mod with the broken tips and I started to think about what what we do with weapons in our world. And I started to try to picture the early world of Homo Erectus as a confrontational scavenger. So you see the birds flying over a kill and you start running to this kill and you butcher it and you take on the stuff. And that works great for your little your little chips that you can use to butcher something. 

Eric 18:32

And that you can carry with you as you run into the kill. 

Dr. Josh Stout 18:35

Right? But then your population does well because now you've got a new source of food. You can you can slice through an elephant's hide with your chip tools that nothing else can get into. But now there's more of you and you're all trying to get that same thing. And so you need a weapon. And so you make this thing that you can use to cut through your elephant. You can break it, break a bone with it, and you can throw it really well. And if you see another person and you're both starting to jump up and down and scream at each other, holding your hand axes and there's six of you with hand axes and the other guys don't have any, they're going to leave. And if they don't, they're going to get a hand axe to the chest and it's going to cut them. It might not kill them, but if you're naked, getting a sharp rock, spinning at 60 miles an hour to the chest, you're never coming back again. You're done. And so people started having to carry these things as personal weapons. They were their personal knife, but they were also their personal defense competing for a particular resource. Probably there was this long transition from this confrontational scavenging. We use rocks and dirt clods to get rid of buy ins or hyenas, but we use our hand axes to compete with cons, specifics, other Homo erects. There was probably a transition to the persistence hunting where we would just chase things down. Now the hand axe is also useful because I can use it to do the killing blow. I've got this pointy thing in my hand. Once I've chased something down, I need to finish it off. The hand axe can be used for that. But if I need to compete with someone, I have a way of defending or we have ways of doing. 

Eric 20:10

But you can only carry one well. 

Dr. Josh Stout 20:12

You can only carry one. And you better be carrying it with you. And throughout human history, our main like the most dangerous thing to a person is another person. Yeah. And so very quickly we started being the dominant things on the Serengeti because we could throw stuff. Everything's afraid of getting a rock to the head. And so it was defense. You're carrying a rock at all times. If something does come at you, a lions coming at you, you might not kill it and it might kill you, but it's now gotten a rock to the head. It's not going to get the next guy because it knows that guy's got a rock. And so as soon as a lion sees you raising your hand above your head, everything's going to run from you. I learned this in Indonesia well before I was doing biology because I was being surrounded by monkeys coming from everywhere. They had completely tactically beaten me. I reached down to pick up a rock. By the time I was standing up again, all the monkeys were gone. This is something that every animal learns. They might not know it in this country, where no one throws rocks at them anymore. But every animal will learn that if you pick up a rock, you'd better run. And I think the animals in the Serengeti knew this very well. 

Eric 21:20

We have powers they cannot conceive of. 

Dr. Josh Stout 21:24

And our brain developed in relation to this as well. The left side of our brain dedicated to language is actually based on movement. Motor neurons that decide very precise movements and decide the portions of our temporal lobe where it comes together with our parietal lobe and governs motions is also the seat that of the area that can actually figure out where a target is. So as we got better at this, the left side of our brain got larger in the exact same areas of the brain that became language. And so the same throwing areas, those same motor control areas needed really large brains to get them to work, but would give you incremental benefits as you get better at throwing, your brain gets slightly bigger. You need a bigger brain because a single neuron isn't precise enough to be accurate enough to hit something or throw it. You need you need microsecond precision to throw something accurately and neurons fire at millisecond speeds. So you need hundreds of neurons working together to give you an average that is precise enough to actually hit something. But even tens of neurons working it together will be more precise than one. So as you keep adding more neurons, you're going to get better and better at targeting. So you get better and better at targeting. You're going to be surviving more in competition or to getting more food. Yeah, you can hit that rabbit with a rock. So, yes, we were throwing everything at everything. Throwing was our big specialty as humans. Our brains grew because of it. And one of the things we threw was our primary tool. The hand axe was the tool from about 2 million years ago to about 300,000 years. 

Eric 23:20

Basically, you're saying it's the only thing we made for 2 million years. 

Dr. Josh Stout 23:24

If the only thing we made for 2 million years. 

Eric 23:25

I mean, you brought to mind, you showed me you showed me images of rows and rows of hand axes in the ground. Yeah. Sticking with their points up. 

Dr. Josh Stout 23:34

I do not know about that. I read a paper about that. And I saw one thing where it looked like they'd been up. But then. 

Eric 23:41

But it seems like that's like. Like a that's an armory like that. 

Dr. Josh Stout 23:45

Well that's, that's the thing is so. 

Eric 23:47

You just pull them up, throw, bend down, stand up, throw. 

Dr. Josh Stout 23:50

Why we made so many of them. What have we stockpiled in the world? Yeah, over time, as we stockpiled weapons. Yeah. And so why have things that you don't actually use? Why are so many of these tools showing nowhere on the side? 

Eric 24:02

Because they make me strong. 

Dr. Josh Stout 24:03

Yeah. So you have piles of these things. The last place thrown weapons like this were used in historical periods was Vanuatu, there was something called a Kawas, and they were often just a sort of a club made of coral. And so it could be useful as a club, but you could also throw it like a throwing stick. But there were other versions of them that looked much more like a Paleolithic hand axe. They were they were sharp all the way around. They had a point. It would have been someone's personal knife and they were specifically used for throwing. When you walked into a village, you had to leave. Your car was in a pile outside the village to show your peaceful intentions. I think these piles of hand axes that we find next to where people were living are very similar. 

Eric 24:48

Oh, very interesting. 

Dr. Josh Stout 24:50

These are the stockpile places people might have been having to leave them there to show peaceful intentions. But they're also the power of the village. If you are naked and you don't have pockets and you only have one hand axe and you come across a bunch of people who brought their meat back to their home base, at their home base, they've got hundreds of hand axes. They can throw hand axes at you all day, and so you're going to back off. So now you have a defendable place that you've stockpiled your weapons at. And so this this is a theory of throwing that builds on other people's theories of, yes, we are throwing animals. Yes, the hand axe could have been thrown, but I'm trying to put it into a into a more holistic context of this is what specifically we were doing with them. This is why they have the form they did. This is why that form lasted for 2 million years, because it fit really well in the hand for throwing. I'm not saying everything sometimes called a Bifacial tool was a hand axe. Some of them are two kilos. I don't think that's I don't think it sounds like you can throw in that same way. I think the baseball sized ones or weight ones, I think those were probably thrown because they're things that are the same weight of things that we throw. I think Leakey was very much on to something with these. 

Eric 26:03

Are you think maybe Leakey was on to something. 

Dr. Josh Stout 26:05

Because they look like spinning fan blades. You know, they really look like something you could throw. 

Eric 26:11

Before we had a little more time to work. You might have gotten somewhere. 

Dr. Josh Stout 26:14

Yeah, no, there was there was some problems with his wife as well. They started disagreeing and his his ideas fell out of favor. 

Eric 26:22

Kind of made a name. 

Dr. Josh Stout 26:23

He definitely did. But those were his early days. His later days. 

Eric 26:27

Didn't do so well. Yeah, it's. Yeah, it's a it's it's fascinating, though. I remember you first telling me this idea and and of course, it was the first time I had heard the thought that they were thrown. I had only been taught that these things were scraping tools and it was like a flashbulb. I was like, Of course, of course. 

Dr. Josh Stout 26:47

Because what else do people do? 

Eric 26:48

They fight with each other. Yeah, Yeah. And this, this like this concept of the first and only thing we made for 2 million years. But the way you describe us, then, it feels very much the same now. And it took us 2 million years to get from that one idea. And then it's taken us how long? 50, 100,000 years to get to where we are now. 

Dr. Josh Stout 27:10

Things have accelerated a lot. So so starting around 300,000 years ago, you start getting you get start getting spears. Then maybe it depends on who you talk to. 50,000 years, maybe 5000 years, you start getting arrows. It depends on the areas as well. You know, you start getting things that can throw spears further. You know, technology starts speeding up, you get needles and thread and it all starts accelerating because each technology builds on the other one. But yeah, this one was the first technology and it existed for 2 million years. 

Eric 27:39

It's just almost inconceivable and it makes me feel like we are children playing with nuclear weapons. 

Dr. Josh Stout 27:47

We’re still the same people. We really haven’t changed. 

Eric 27:50

We really haven't changed. We're doing the same thing, just making piles of weapons at our front door. 

Dr. Josh Stout 27:56

Yes. Yes, exactly. 

Eric 27:57

Because the scariest thing is another person. 

Dr. Josh Stout 28:00

But it's also interesting to think about it, how it's all the basis for our language. So certainly English works this way, but every language seems to have nouns, verbs and objects. So you, you, you, you do nouns, the verb at the object or you. Now you use the verb, the object or the. 

Eric 28:17

Object of the noun. Yeah, that kind of thing. 

Dr. Josh Stout 28:19

You know, these, these, these, these are, these are, these are built into the way our brain works that, that are the concepts that are involved in throwing, having a target, having a set of motions to send that thing to the target, predicting ahead of time where that target's going to be so that your stone can get there. At the same time, all of these things are built into the way we think by making predictions about the way language itself works. 

Eric 28:44

So you're saying that the throwing is is the beginning of what makes us human. 

Dr. Josh Stout 28:50

Not the beginning. It is what makes us human. 

Eric 28:52

It is the essence of what makes us human. 

Dr. Josh Stout 28:54

Yes. So that language language is what makes us human. Language is piggybacking on the expansion of the brain that was allowed by this. And then so language was was was piggybacking and then giving us further advantages. But the main advantage was throwing. 

Eric 29:06

So throwing was both was both caused by and the cause of the growing brain. 

Dr. Josh Stout 29:13

Yes. Well, I mean, and unlike a lot of other things where you need a big brain to make a good tool a little bit of an improvement in throwing is going to get you calories right away and the defense right away. Chimpanzees throw things at stuff. They throw sticks at animals, they throw clods of dirt and rocks at other chimpanzees. And so this is something already in our lineage. But chimps do it very badly. They can only do sort of sidearm. They can't get their arms behind them to throw. Their brains are too small to give really accurate targeting. So they throw, but they very rarely hit what they're throwing at. We're really good at hitting what we throw it. 

Eric 29:51


Dr. Josh Stout 29:52

And we don't think about it. We think about, you know, being smart and talking, but we don't think about throwing is really what makes us human. 

Eric 29:59

And then one day we made guns. 

Dr. Josh Stout 30:01

Yeah. And that just throws things better for us. But it's still the same brain action. You're still thinking about the target, you're still thinking about how you aim something, You're still thinking about timing. It's still the same set of neurons. 

Eric 30:15

Yeah, it's like everything. Video games. 

Dr. Josh Stout 30:17

Yeah. Yep, yep. Sports. And so self-defense is really at the center of of all of what makes us humans. This wasn't just for a hunting, this was defending against other humans. 

But well, let's helpful look. Okay, so here's one more thing. So we also get from this the idea of mutually assured destruction. This is something that allows us to not kill each other. So if I have one hand and you have one head and we both hold them up in the air, whoever throws first. 

Eric 30:47


Dr. Josh Stout 30:48

Because they don't have a hand axe anymore and you can run right up to them and hit them with your hand axe. And so in male male competition, we learned how to not kill each other. And this is important in biology. Same thing with the stags hitting each other with those pointy antlers. They have to figure out a way and they hit each other directly and they don't go to each other and kill each other because that every time they tried to mate, they kill each other. Even though this is there's no nothing, no more higher stakes than winning a mate. They have to figure out a way to use those poignant words to push at each other and not kill each other. I think that was what how these things were used. So it wasn't a peacock's tail. It was much more stag's antlers as male male competition in that context. So it was first competing for food items, but then competition with each other. We learned how to use these things for display, jumping up and down, holding my shiny hand, sometimes with stripes in it, or other colorful things that might be attractive. But that's part of my display activity in competing with another male. 

Eric 31:42

And then but then once you get that that kill or whatever it is back to your home base, then you have the pile. 

Dr. Josh Stout 31:50

Of then of other pile. Yes. With your castle, essentially you've got your pile of weapons. 

Eric 31:53

So we find them everywhere. 

Dr. Josh Stout 31:55

And it is needed in every part of our behavior. It is it is our resource acquisition. It is involved in mating, but it's not involved in mating like attracting a mate. It's involved in mating like male male competition for a mate. It's everything. We're we're encouraged to be very aggressive because whoever wins that fight gets the mate. But we're also encouraged to back down because if you get a hand axe to the head, it's over. So you back down rather than throwing your hand across the first one to throw loses. So there is there is there's a game theory aspect to it that is encouraged our ability to live together. We need to live together in groups. So we had to have more than one male around. We couldn't just fight all the other ones off. We had to live in groups of males and those males had to learn how to not kill each other. With these dangerous edged pointy weapons that we carried all the time. And that's also been part of our history. We've always carried a knife, we've always carried a spear, and we had to not kill the other guys we were working with, even though they had women. And if we took their women and killed them, we'd get their women. Why didn't we do this? Because it was going to be bad for us and we might lose that fight. And with hand axes, we almost definitely were going to lose that fight if it was a fair fight. If we sat there and, you know, squared off with someone you throw first, you're going to lose. 

Eric 33:11

I love I love the idea of of of two guys standing there naked, holding their hand axes, both knowing that neither of them can throw it. It's like it's like a rap fight or a dance off. 

Dr. Josh Stout 33:23

There's like, there's nothing. And I remember distinctly this with my brother. Many things in our in our in our evolution. We sort of what they call recapitulate, we copy in our in our development. And so I remember the stage with my brother when we both got to the point where we realize if we pick up a rock, no one can throw that rock and you have to back down and it's something that was built very deeply in because one, you're going to hurt the other person. But I'm really pissed. I want to hurt them. I'm going to get hurt because I might miss. 

Eric 33:51

There's another thing that you make me think of. I spent years in summer camps and then running summer camps and watching small children grow up, and that are that were not my own well before I had kids. And I remember this one time I was watching this boy, this nine year old boy. He picked up a rock and he knew that the rule was that you can't throw a rocks. And I'm looking at him and I say, Don't do it. And he's looking at me and he doesn't want to and he doesn't want to. And his hand goes up and he's trying. He doesn't want to be be in trouble. He sees that I'm looking at him, say, don't throw that rock and his hand is up and he throws the rock and he burst into tears. Yeah, yeah. He couldn't. 

Dr. Josh Stout 34:34

You can't help. 

Eric 34:34

Not throw the rock. It was almost not in his control. He didn't want to, but he also couldn't resist the impulse and then he went, right? 

Dr. Josh Stout 34:44

And then we try and we so we try to stop children doing what evolution wants them to do. Evolution wants you to run around, evolution wants you to shout and yell and talk, and evolution wants you to not throw stuff. And those are the things that they can't do in school. They can't run around all they want. It's all they want to do. 

Eric 35:03

Especially the boys. But the girls. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:05

Too. And our most basic games are chasing each other and throw stuff at each other watching. 

Eric 35:11

You know, we had the girl first and watching the boy grow up, you know, now at five, my my wife is just constantly amazed at what a boy he is. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:20


Eric 35:21

Yep. Ha. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:24

Yeah. All right. 

Eric 35:26


Dr. Josh Stout 35:27

Good for now. 

Eric 35:28

And wonderful. Getting back to the to the the beginnings of the podcast. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:33

Yeah, the evolutionary stuff is. All right. 

Eric 35:35

Folks, check us out at at our web site, Until next time. 

Hand axe - Wikipedia

Homo erectus - Wikipedia

Richard Leakey - Wikipedia

Vanuatu - Wikipedia

Mutual assured destruction - Wikipedia

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