S_S said: "And, I bet the cavemen lived a healthier life."
This is such B.S. common with the “evils of Western life” crowd. Thinking ancient humans, or even current tribes-people, somehow live/lived this “natural,” balanced life with nature and were healthier, lived longer, were “free of toxins,” or didn’t have any impact on the environment is just political, pseudo-science nonsense. Humans in modern societies live longer and are far healthier than ever in history. Cavemen, while in all likelihood total badasses as far as strength, pain endurance, and survivability, had pathetic lifespans, probably died toothless and in agony from damaged teeth, were riddled with parasites, and could have been killed from something as simple as a bad case of diarrhea.
I agree with what someone said earlier – I think it was written communication, record keeping, and ultimately books, the printing press, and compounding knowledge that catapulted humans into the modern world.
It's also not a gadget but I once heard that cooking was a key innovation - I guess fire and matches have to do with that.
The point about cooking is that it allows us to digest food far more efficiently. Therefore sudenly our ancestors didn't need to spend so much time grazing, and had time to sit around inventing all of the other things listed above.
Sorry Cooking is too late to be in your poll!
PS: I do worry about our sedentary lifestyle, but cavemen proably had a lot of health problems that we don't know about today, and lived to their 20s if they were lucky. I also read that not so long ago, 1 in 7 people died from complications of dental problems.
I would add religion although its has been a double-edged sword. It tends to impose a code of living (together) yet acts like an exclusive club, which if you do not subscribe, makes you an undesirable.
I'll add a vote to "written language." That was a tremendous multiplier. Another one had to be to learn how to control fire. Probably the first major success in controlling one's environment, never mind how it made the eating experience infinitely more pleasant! Also, somewhat related to controlling fire was manufacturing tools. Another big step at reducing the limitations imposed on us by our physical bodies.
I also vote for beer---not only it contributed to better communication and agriculture, but also created modern quality control. Did you know that the penalty for spoiling a batch of beer in ancient Babylon was death?
I had to pick beer, because certainly it was the quest to make beer that got people thinking about communicating in first place and then building wheels and all sorts of other technology so they could spend less time manufacturing and more time enjoying.
You forgot man-made tools (several animals use tools but none of them make them by themselves.)
This invention clearly was necessary to invent the wheel, and to pass on tooling the next generation.
Give a man a fish, and he can eat for a day.
Give a man tooling, and he can eat for 100 millenia.