On the face of it, we shouldn’t expect any link between a neurological disability and one of the crowning talents of our species. But new research is revealing a surprising connection between autism and the uniquely human capacity for invention.
As the archaeological record shows, our ancestors started inventing things 70,000 to 100,000 years ago. This was when humans evolved the capacity to seek patterns—particularly to spot and experiment with the basic cause-and-effect relationship of if-and-then. With the development of this ability came the earliest examples of jewelry making (75,000 years ago) and the first bow-and-arrow (71,000 years ago). By around 44,000 years ago, we find the first evidence of counting.