Researchers have found evidence to prove that ways of thinking like humans may have emerged as early as 1.8 million years ago.
The research also highlights that early apelike species of humans that lived in Africa were much smarter than thought.
Researchers used highly advanced brain imaging technology to observe modern humans crafting ancient tools.
The researchers believe that the same areas of the brain engaged in modern activities like playing the piano were also used in making stone tools dating from 1.8 million to 100,000 years ago.
The results, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, place the appearance of human-like cognition at the emergence of Homo erectus.
The evolution of Homo erectus, first found in Africa, predates Neanderthals by nearly 600,000 years.
“This is a significant result because it’s commonly thought our most modern forms of cognition only appeared very recently in terms of human evolutionary history,” said Shelby S Putt, a postdoctoral researcher at Indiana University in the US.
The findings are based upon brain activity in modern individuals taught to create two types of ancient tools: simple Oldowan-era “flake tools” and more complicated Acheulian-era hand axes.
Both are formed by smashing rocks together using a process known as “flintknapping.”
Oldowan tools, which first appeared about 2.6 million years ago, are among the earliest used by humanity’s ancestors. Acheulian-era tool use dates from 1.8 million to 100,000 years ago.
Brain scans revealed that visual attention and motor control were required to create the simpler Oldowan tools.
A much larger portion of the brain was engaged in the creation of the more complex Acheulian tools, including regions of the brain associated with the integration of visual, auditory and sensorimotor information, the guidance of visual working memory, and higher-order action planning.