An A-Z of the World – E. H. Gombrich on: Tools

As an aid to students, teachers and parents, we have constructed an A–Z of the World taken from E. H. Gombrich’s, A Little History of the World. We’ve shared bite size introductions to historical figures, events and periods – using Gombrich’s magical words – along with links to free resources, so that readers of all ages can discover more. T is for Tools.



E. H. Gombrich: At the time when real history begins people already had all the things we have today: clothes, houses and tools, ploughs to plough with, grains to make bread with, cows for milking, sheep for shearing, dogs for hunting and for company, bows and arrows for shooting and helmets and shields for protection. Yet with all of these things there must have been a first time. Someone must have made the discovery. Isn’t it an amazing thought that, one day, a prehistoric man – or a woman – must have realised that meat from wild animals was easier to chew if it was first held over a fire and roasted? And that one day someone discovered how to make fire? Do you realise what that actually means? Can you do it? Not with matches, because they didn’t exist. But by rubbing two sticks together until they become so hot that in the end they catch fire. Have a go and then you’ll see how hard it is!

Tools must have been invented by someone too. The earliest ones were probably just sticks and stones. But soon stones were being shaped and sharpened. We have found lots of these shaped stones in the ground. And because of these stone tools we call this time the Stone Age. But people didn’t yet know how to build houses. Not a pleasant thought, since at that time it was often intensely cold – at certain periods far colder than today. Winters were longer and summers shorter. Snow lay deep throughout the year, not only on mountain tops, but down in the valleys as well, and glaciers, which were immense in those days, spread far out into the plains. This is why we say that the Stone Age began before the last Ice Age had ended. Prehistoric people must have suffered dreadfully from the cold, and if they came across a cave where they could shelter from the freezing winds, how happy they must have been! For this reason they are also known as ‘cavemen’, although they may not have actually lived in caves.

Free Resources to Learn More about Tools

BBC Bitesize (KS2) 

How did Stone Age hunter-gatherers live? 

New Stone Age (video) 

Who were the first farmers? 

Stone Age farming and homes – Raksha Dave (video) 

BBC In Our Time

Stone Age Europe (two episodes) 

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Stone Age tools—and links to more information on Stone Age life

Six major breakthroughs in hunter-gatherer tools

17 Key Milestones in Paleolithic Life

The Leakey Foundation

Modern people making stone age tools—and what imaging their brains tells us about the evolution of human intelligence 

Ancient History Encylopedia

More information on Stone Age tools

The School Run

The Stone Age

Khan Academy

Our earliest technology?

This page provides access to a list of free online resources. It is not intended to endorse any particular resource.

A Little History of the World

All the descriptions in this A-Z are taken from E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World.

Philip Pullman described the book as, “A brilliant piece of narrative, splendidly organised, told with an energy and confidence that are enormously attractive, and suffused with all the humanity and generosity of spirit that Gombrich’s thousands of admirers came to cherish during his long and richly productive life. It’s a wonderful surprise: irresistible, in fact.”

Discover More

Following in the footsteps of E. H. Gombrich’s worldwide bestseller A Little History of the World, the books in our Little Histories series explore the history of the world’s most remarkable people, events and ideas. With engaging personal insights, our authors will take you on a whistle-stop journey from ancient times to the present – exploring all of life’s big subjects from archaeology to science. Other Little Histories available include, Philosophy, Economics, Science, Literature, Language, Religion and Poetry. More details about the whole series can be found on the Little Histories website.

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