Imagine a planet where a sentient race is evolving, but rather than evolving hands like primates they evolve a single trunk like an elephant. They have a single flexible and strong manipulator which can wrap around things and with ends that are capable of fine motor control and act like a pair of fingers or lips opposed to each other.

How would this difference in physical form change the evolution of tools as they move through the early stages from the stone age through to early metal ages? Once they become advanced to a level similar to our own then the difference in manipulators would make less of a difference, but for early tools the difference could be huge.


3 Answers 3


There would be a significant difference in tools. The shape of most tools is a blend between the use and the user.

Our tools are designed to take advantage of our musculature. A trunk is more spinelike, so it demands forces be transmitted directly down the spine or risk losing tensegrity. For a human spine, losing tensegrity costs you about half of your spinal strength, so without a particular trunk musculature to target, I'm going to assume the same.

A hammer for a trunk-like arm would probably look more like a kettlebell. For our arm structure, the extra length of the handle is important for generating power. For the way a trunk generates power, that extra length would be clumsy. Try putting a cardboard tube over your wrist, and see how clumsy it feels when you lose one joint. A handle would feel like a trunk with 4-5 missing joints.

They would likely have use for a whiplike tool, because it would be natural for them to use it. This would make their culture particularly good at delivering larges amounts of power into very small areas, like the tip of a whip cracking.

A trunk is particularly good at damping shocks because it has so many joints with which to disspate them. Consider that our spine has an S-curve to withstand the forces of us walking or jumping up and down. They would definitely take advantage of that, thought I cannot think of how they would at this time.

At higher levels of tech, the shape of the tool would be less based on the shape of the hand/trunk, and more based on the shape of the mind behind the tool. High end tools would tend to resemble trunks, just because their minds would be particularly good at making sense of them. You would definitely see more high-tech tools that offer very fine grained control (like a trunk or a spine) rather than tools that offer coarse control (like an arm, or a backhoe).


Why would there be a large difference? The shape of most tools is dictated by the use, not the user.

The grips and handles would be slightly different if the ends with fine motor control can handle it, rather exotic if wrapping the trunk around the handle is needed. Depends on unspecified details.

The way tools would be used would be different due to only having a single manipulator. Humans can control a tool with one hand and use the other to control whatever they are working on. Your race would either have to fix everything in place or work in groups. I'd go with working in groups. One holds the nail, another uses the hammer. More evocative. Plus fixing things in place is also harder with only one manipulator.


I'm going to assume you meant a trunk like an elephant and has NO bones, just muscles.

I think the biggest things that would have to be dealt with is not the type of manipulating appendage the being has but the number of them.

I think WHAT tools they need and design might be the huge difference. I can't think if any reason that such a creature would ever need a long bow. But a sling could be very effective so could a spear. While the long bow would be next to worthless, eventually designing and using a mounted cross bow (or ballista) would certainly be reasonable. Though things like a trebuchet might come to them more naturally.

Hammers? we used one rock against another, with hopes that our fingers didn't sneak in between for quite a while, the handle was added to halve our changes of hitting fingers. So their hammer, if it gets a handle would be more for the added momentum the longer lever gives them.

Of course 'rope' could be a huge issue. How do you tie anything with only one appendage? so how would you secure a handle to a rock? They will need things like our ax. 1 piece has a hole through it and a 'pin' on the other side to hold it together.

Mortis and Tenon type design would likely be the most common way to build structures as well.


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