9 of Humanity's Most Important First Inventions

These are but some of the first things that our species ever invented.
Christopher McFadden

We are a creative lot, us humans. From our very first appearance on this planet, human beings have been creating, or repurposing things to help make survival a little bit easier. 

From tools to help kill things at a safe distance to harnessing the power of fire, here are some of the major technological innovations of our species over our entire history


What were mankind's first inventions?

And so, without further ado, here are some of humanity's earliest and most ancient inventions. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. Early stone, wood and bone tools kicked the whole thing off

earliest human inventions stone tools
Modern human stone tools from Skorba in Malta. Source: Ethan Doyle White/Wikimedia Commons

Stone, wood, and bone tools were one of, if not the first thing that we invented in our ancient past. But, interestingly, they may well have been developed by our early ancestors as far back as over 3 million years ago.

Many stone tools from the lower paleolithic have been found in present-day Kenya and Ethiopia. Since human beings first arose around 250,000-300,000 thousand years ago, it appears we inherited this technology from our very distant ancestors. 

Of course, it is more than possible we independently developed them too.

Whatever the case, modern human stone tools were far more advanced and refined when compared to our ancestors. There is even evidence of composite tools (primarily stone fastened to shafts) being developed very early on. 

2. Mankind's mastery over fire was a game-changer

earliest human inventions fire
Source: Tanja Lage/Wikimedia Commons

Another major ancient invention by humans was our ability to create and control fire. The earliest apparent evidence of cooked food, and by extension use of fire, was around 2 million years ago.

Like stone tools detailed above, if true, this would mean the controlled use of fire is likely another invention we inherited from our ancestors.

It is thought that our earliest interactions with fire might well have been opportunistic. We may have simply kept existing natural fires burning by adding extra fuel as and when needed.

Eventually we learned how to generate it ourselves at will. The controlled use of fire would prove to be incredibly important for our species by providing a means of cooking food, providing light, and protection from predators throughout the night.

Some have even speculated that the ability to cook meat may well have accelerated our mental development as a species.

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3. The bow and arrow changed hunting (and war) forever

humans earliest inventions bow and arrow
Arrowheads from Sibudu Cave, South Africa. Source: Antiquity Journal/Twitter

The humble bow and arrow was yet another early human invention. It provided early hunters with a safer way to engage and kill prey from a distance, thus rendering the need to get "up close and personal" with potentially dangerous animals less necessary.

Tantalizing evidence from Sibudu Cave, South Africa points to their invention sometime between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago. The earliest definitive bow and arrows have been found in Mannheim-Vogelstang, Germany, and date to between 17,500-18,000 years ago.

Others have also been found at Stellmoor dated to around 11,000 years ago.

4. The invention of boats was another major leap forward technologically

earliest human inventions boats
The Pesse Canoe. Source: NixBit/Twitter

Another major early human invention was the boat. Developed anywhere between 40,000 and 700,000 years ago, they would literally expand mankind's horizons. 

Evidence of early human settlements in Australia (40,000 years ago), Crete (130,000 years ago), and Flores (700,000 years ago) appear to indicate that our early ancestors must have developed some form of transportation over water. 

Whatever the case, the first definitive evidence of early boats, called the Pesse Canoe, dates to around 8,000 years ago. Technically called a dugout, these early boats consisted of hollowed-out tree trunks. 

5. The invention of agriculture and animal husbandry changed the course of history

earliest human inventions farms
Source: Anna Frodesiak/Wikimedia Commons

Yet another early, and critical, human invention was agriculture and animal husbandry. First thought to have been developed over 11,000 years ago, agricultural development would enable human populations to explode.

Evidence shows that it was independently developed in at least 11 centers of origin around the world with the eight major founder crops in Eurasia (emmer and einkorn wheat, hulled barleypeaslentilsbitter vetchchickpeas, and flax) first being were cultivated in the Levant about 11,5000 years ago

The first evidence of animal domestication comes from around 8,000 years ago in Asia and in Mesopotamia at about the same time.

6. Bricks were another major technological breakthrough

earliest inventions bricks
Sun-drying raw bricks. Source: Okkisafire/Wikimedia Commons

Bricks are yet another important early human invention. First developed around 7,500 BC, these humble objects would help lay the foundations (pun intended) of masonry constructions like walls, roads, and buildings.

The earliest examples yet discovered were dried bricks -- formed clay-bearing earth or mud left to dry in the sun. These were found in Tell Aswad in the Upper Tigris region of southeastern Anatolia in Turkey. 

7. Glass was another early human invention

earliest human inventions glass
Roman glass cage cup. Source: MatthiasKabel/Wikimedia Commons

Another early human invention is glass. While naturally occurring glass, like obsidian, was used during the Stone Age, manmade glass first appeared around 6,000 years ago.

Archeologists believe that the first true synthetic glass was made in Lebanon, as well as, the coastal regions of North Syria, Mesopotamia, and ancient Egypt. 

The earliest examples of manmade glass come in the form of beads that were probably used as a form of jewelry. Other early examples of glass objects were probably used as knives, arrowheads, and perhaps even a means of exchange. 

8. The wheel was a revolutionary idea

earliest human inventions wheel
Chalcolithic age wheel, circa 5,150 BC. Source: Petar Milošević/Wikimedia Commons

Yet another ancient human invention is the humble wheel. When and where the first wheel is not exactly known, but the first definitive evidence for them are potters wheels from Mesopotamia dating to around 5,500 years ago

But some have credited the Elamites (an ancient Pre-Iranian people) whose sculptures appear to depict wheels in use. Whatever the case, the wheel would literally and figuratively prove to be revolutionary for humanity. 

Interestingly enough, some cultures around the world would never develop it. In many ancient civilizations of South America, for example, the lack of large indigenous beasts of burden to pull wheeled carts is theorized to be the reason. 

However, it should be noted, that small, wheeled objects, thought to be children's toys have been found in Mexico dating to around 200 AD - 900 AD. 

9. The invention of the written word allowed us to record things and pass on knowledge

Last, but by no means least, the invention of the written word was another major technological development of our species. Cave paintings aside, the earliest definitive proof of writing comes from the 4th Millenium BC in Egypt and Sumeria

Like other inventions on this list, writing was independently developed by different civilizations around the world with, for example, the first evidence of writing appearing in Mesoamerica around 3,000 years ago

This invention would, almost overnight, transfer the way humans communicated information to another and even provided a means of "storing" information for future generations.