In the 7 million years or so since humans shared a common ancestor with chimpanzees we have colonized more of the planet’s terrestrial habitat than any other mammalian species and come to account for more biomass than all other terrestrial vertebrates combined. Chimpanzees, in contrast to and under pressure from ourselves, have veered toward extinction. There are multiple reasons for the stark evolutionary trajectories humans and chimpanzees have taken. Recent theoretical and empirical interest has focused on the emergence of cumulative culture whereby technological innovations are progressively incorporated into a population’s stock of skills and knowledge, generating ever more sophisticated repertoires. Here we look at the role of high-fidelity imitation and intention-reading in the establishment of cumulative culture. By focusing on the lithic record, we aim to identify when in our evolutionary history these skills became part of our ancestors’ behavioral repertoire. We argue that evidence of cooperative construction in stone tool manufacture, along with speculation regarding changes to the mirror neurone system, hint at the foundations of overimitation and shared intentionality around 2 million years ago. However, these are not the only ingredients of cumulative culture, which is why we do not see convincing evidence for it until slightly more than a million years later.