This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable
July 1st, 2010
Sticks and Stones: Prehistory Technology
Lesson Overview

For a printable version of this lesson, click here: (PDF) (RTF)

Grade Levels: 9-12

Time Allotment: Three 45-minute class periods

Overview: In this lesson, selected segments from the PBS series The Human Spark are used to help students understand both the construction and context of some of the prehistoric tools which allowed early humans to survive and thrive. Particular attention is paid to the design and use of these early tools, the specific techniques used in their construction, and the reciprocal relationship between human technology and human evolution.

In the Introductory Activity, students will review the six simple machines and their role as the building blocks of most technologies. The Learning Activities will examine the progressively more sophisticated stone-age technologies of the hand-ax, the spear, and the atlatl assisted spear. The Culminating Activity asks students to brainstorm other tools and technologies which have affected the course of human development, and to conduct further research into them.

This lesson is best used as an introduction to a unit on the history of technology, or as a supplement to an anthropology or archaeology unit about Neanderthals and/or early humans. 

SUBJECT MATTER: Archaeology, Anthropology, Technology


Students will be able to:

  • Describe  the six simple machines and give examples of each
  • Describe detailed construction techniques for several different prehistoric tools
  • Distinguish between natural and man-made wear patterns on rocks.
  • Discuss how certain tools and technology have advanced human development and may have affected human biological evolution


(From the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, available at

Chapter 2—The Themes of Social Studies

8. Science, Technology, and Society

Science, and its practical application, technology, have had a major influence on social and cultural change, and on the ways people interact with the world. Scientific advances and technology have influenced life over the centuries, and modern life, as we know it, would be impossible without technology and the science that supports it.

There are many questions about the role that science and technology play in our lives and in our cultures. What can we learn from the past about how new technologies result in broader social change, some of which is unanticipated? Is new technology always better than that which it replaces? How can we cope with the ever-increasing pace of change, perhaps even the concern that technology might get out of control? How can we manage technology so that the greatest numbers of people benefit? How can we preserve fundamental values and beliefs in a world that is rapidly becoming one technology-linked village? How do science and technology affect our sense of self and morality? How are disparate cultures, geographically separated but impacted by global events, brought together by the technology that informs us about events, and offered hope by the science that may alleviate global problems (e.g., the spread of AIDS)? How can gaps in access to benefits of science and technology be bridged?

(From the National Science Education Standards, available at

Content Standards: 9-12

Science as Inquiry

Content Standard A: As a result of activities in grades 9–12, all students should develop

  • Understandings about scientific inquiry
  1. Scientists usually inquire about how physical, living, or designed systems function. Conceptual principles and knowledge guide scientific inquiries. Historical and current scientific knowledge influence the design and interpretation of investigations and the evaluation of proposed explanations made by other scientists.
  2. Scientists conduct investigations for a wide variety of reasons. For example, they may wish to discover new aspects of the natural world, explain recently observed phenomena, or test the conclusions of prior investigations or the predictions of current theories.

Science and Technology

Content Standard E: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop

  • Understandings about science and technology
  1. Scientists in different disciplines ask different questions, use different methods of investigation, and accept different types of evidence to support their explanations. Many scientific investigations require the contributions of individuals from different disciplines, including engineering. New disciplines of science, such as geophysics and biochemistry often emerge at the interface of two older disciplines.
  2. Science often advances with the introduction of new technologies. Solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge. New technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new areas of research.



Selected segments of The Human Spark: Becoming Us

These video segments may be accessed by clicking the links below or on the Video Segments Page.

If It Ain’t Broke…

Archaeologist John Shea explains the context and construction of one of early humans’ first tools–the stone hand ax.


Archaeologist Curtis Marean explains a recent discovery about how early humans used fire in the creation of certain stone tools.

Making Stone Tools is Sooo Millions of Years Ago

Archaeologist Curtis Marean explains a recent discovery about how early humans used fire in the creation of certain stone tools.

To Make A Spear

Archaeologist John Shea demonstrates the construction of a primitive spear and explains its  impact on the social development the early humans who used them.


Simple Machines

A website from the Center of Science and Industry featuring animated interactives about the nature and applications of simple machines.


For the teacher:

  • A computer with internet access connected to a projector and speakers for classroom use.


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments and websites used in the lesson.

Download the video segments used in the lesson to your classroom computer, or prepare to watch them using your classroom’s internet connection.

Bookmark the website used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.

Inside This Lesson

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2022 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.