Did technology start with women?

A report in The Guardian says:

The discovery of a chimpanzee making and using a spear in Senegal is not only a surprising revelation about our nearest evolutionary relative, say Mairi MacLeod and Ian Sample – it could also provide invaluable insights into how man developed technology.

But if you read the article,  you realise that the chimps using spears are female, not male. Should the blurb read: “…it could also provide invaluable insights into how woman developed technology”?

The article says:

One of the most intriguing things about the Fongoli spear use is that it is females who do the hunting. Monkey hunts by chimps are well documented, but they are dominated by the big males. Although females occasionally take part in hunts, it’s normally a back-seat role. Charging through the trees is dangerous, especially with a small infant, and even if a female catches the quarry, there’s a good chance she will have to surrender it to a larger male.

Pruetz says females and youngsters are forced to innovate to get protein for their diets; her point is that it is females who are driving the adoption of new technology. “The females and maybe the young males too are basically having to solve problems in a creative way because of competition with adult males,” she says. “That may be by technology, and not by brute strength or force.”

“Basically, you can spot that tree hole and you can creep up and take a good look,” says McGrew. “You can do that even if you’re encumbered with an infant, and because it’s a solitary activity, you don’t have to coordinate with others.”

The researchers say spear use in Fongoli is performed almost exclusively by females and youngsters. In spite of the fact that the researchers were concentrating on male behaviour during their study, they saw only one attempt at spear-making by an adult male out of a total of 22 episodes.

“[This] strengthens the case that in all likelihood the origins of technology [in humans] were with females,” says McGrew.

It does seem to make sense. Brute strength generally does not go hand in hand with subtlety and creativity. It is tempting to see the females and the beta males as the creative types, the ones that drove scientific developments, which were quickly preempted by the alpha males. After all, doesn’t one see similar phenomena everywhere in the world?

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