The link between human society and technology goes back a long way. The evolution of human societies and even the dominance of homo sapiens as a species are intimately joined with the evolution of technology. Early hominid fossil records, for example, are usually found in close proximity to remains of stone implements, and the extension of human society over the earth's surface seems to be founded on mastery of a number of apparently simple (but arguably rather complex) technologies: stone weapons, the management of fire, and the construction of shelter, for example. These technologies emerged in the distant past and characterised the paleolithic and neolithic periods, in which humans evolved complex understandings of animal behaviour, pyrotechnology, weapons manufacture, medical practice, materials, and so on. It has been argued that even these distant technologies can be analysed in terms of evolutionary sequences; the archeological record of such tools exhibits considerable variation.
From the neolithic period (from ca. 5000 B.C.) this very slow evolution developed into a number of very profound technological revolutions, of which probably five are especially significant, apart from those mentioned above: the domestication of animals, cultivation of food and ''industrial'' plants (such as plants used for vessels, construction materials, fibres, and so on), the development of pottery, the development of textiles, and the evolution of metallurgy. The evidence for the emergence and use of these technologies is primarily archeological, but over this period we have the first sustained phase of what can reasonably be called ''radical'' change.
Historians point to three further key features of these technological revolutions, which are found persistently in the historical literature and are relevant also in understanding modern large-scale technological change. First, the time periods involved in these shifts are long--the development of radically new technologies is slow, and therefore for long periods new techniques (such as metal implements) co-exist with the old (such as implements of wood and stone). Second, technical advance has an evolutionary character with new developments opening up further opportunities and thus gradually speeding up the overall process of change. Third, there is a close relationship between large-scale technological change and the social context. The emergence of new technological regimes interacted in significant ways with technical divisions of labour, productivity, and patterns of exchange. In particular, historians have emphasized the fact that increasing productivity raises the question of the distribution of the gains from growth; this is central to questions of the emergence of hierarchy, order, and power in human society. In the very long run, shifts in technological regime cannot therefore be separated from the evolution of social forms as such.
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