The21st century needs Primitive technology
Blake S Southard
Type 4 Danish Dagger (Image 1)
Have you ever wondered: who was the first person to look at a horse and think to themselves “I’m Going to ride that?” I have. I’ve had great visions of a prehistoric hunter jumping out of a tree onto a wild mustang with a stone knife clenched in his fist. The horse exploding to life in a burst of instinctive (and possibly) life saving acceleration to a full run, before the hunter re-captures the moment and thrusts the obsidian blade into the animal’s neck with expert precision thus ending his ride, and sustaining his people. A fellow hunter witnesses this “ride” and it sets forth a chain reaction, which over the course of the next thousand or so years begets the tradition and practice of using horses as a means of labor and transportation. Not only is the initial event fascinating (however it actually happened) the process which occurred from that day forth, until the horse became a means of livelihood for so many also gives me a reason to stay up at night doing research which would bore a great many people into a coma. This process of growth from initial discovery through learning curve and onward toward a new addition to the advancement of human life is the method by which we have leapt to the technological gestalt and nirvana which carries and torments us today.
The first step in human evolution which began our journey onward toward modern comfort began the first time that a hominin realized that by bashing one rock into another hard enough to break it, that he could create a sharp edge which could be used for cutting. Prehistory human beings discovered that a broken rock has a sharp cutting edge. Generations later through incomprehensible amounts of practice and experience flint knapping became not only a high art, but the trail head of technology that allowed us to attain the technological status that we have achieved today. “The lithic reduction Continuum states that once you break a rock to attain a cutting edge that stone can be considered a completed tool or weapon. From that point forward every chip that is removed from the aforementioned stone can be considered a completed tool right up to the perfect execution of a type 4 Danish dagger” (See image 1). (Waldorf, 1993)This is how technological evolution works.
The accidental discovery of friction fire, was one of the many circumstances which has allowed us to control our evolutionary destiny, if we had not discovered that we could control fire or turn a rock into a tool we would not have then had the opportunity to realize that silica can store electronic 1’s and 0’s or that by heating iron ore you can make steel.. I believe that some ideas simply make so much sense that they just arise. The bow and arrow for instance, or a hand drill for fire, The parallels between solutrean technology and the stone tools of native America, or Cars and Computers, The knowledge of these pathways is crucial to a species which is desperately clinging to a lifestyle which they know is killing them. The experience of practicing the roots and basis of our technology gives modern humans a chance to appreciate our advances and feel a connection to the earth and the history which sustains them as well as the nature which for so long was our home, our grocery store, our hardware store, our pharmacy, etc….
“Beginning around 2.5 million years ago our ancient ancestors discovered the power of a sharp edge. By fracturing certain kinds of rocks in a particular way they created human kinds first tools- simple flakes and choppers used to cut meat, shape wood, and dig for food or water. From that time until about 10,000 years ago, bone, stone, wood, and shell tools were the constant companions of all our ancestors. These were the tools that shaped our world for more than 95% of our existence.” (Watts, 2004)The lithic reduction continuum states that at any point in the production of a stone tool from the initial flake to the high art of modern knapping can be and is a finished piece. This concept is carried over into all aspects of technology. For instance: consider Silicon Valley, the first p.c. to be marketed to technology executives had a wooden case, and green screen. Envision the innovation that it took to grow the p.c. into what we appreciate at the dawn of the 21st century. Today’s tools and toys all started out as a very simple idea. Imagine (if you will) an old carpenter with arthritis in his elbows and shoulders from a life time of swinging a hammer. This man wraps duct tape around the handle of his hammer to dull the shock of his trade. Eventually the industry caught on and this led to hammers with fiberglass handles and cushioned grips for more comfortable and less harmful working conditions. Now we have pneumatic and battery powered nail guns. Thank you to the first Cro-Magnon that pounded a hammer stone into sharpened branch to pound it into the ground as he set his traps.
The Discovery of the creation and control of fire has become one of many of the initiating forces that spurred on the growth of our relationship with technology. Envision “A prehistoric man burnishing his wooden spear against a downed tree; lazily pondering the mystery of fire and the ethereal odor of its constant companion, smoke. As he vigorously works the point of his weapon into the hard wood of the dead oak to harden and strengthen his life sustaining tool, he wonders over the power and idyllic importance of fire. Suddenly he realizes that the eternal sign of fire……….smoke is billowing up from his burnishing spot. After a long confused pause, he begins curiously to ponder; suddenly it occurs to this “primitive” man that he may be able to create fire.” (Cutts, 2004) A series of experiments involving much labor and disappointment and a few generations of realization passed, now his great grand children are using hand drills and bow drills (see illustration 6) to create fire on a daily basis with great ease and mastery. “Thanks Great Grand dad”. Out of the magic and great responsibility that comes with the power of controlling fire a new appreciation was born for the power of thought and perseverance. We began to use fire to warm our homes, cook our food, and harden stone to make stronger tools. Then to heat iron ore to the melting point which gave us the innovation we all know as steel. Then blacksmithing, then casting, and now microscopic chips of silica store billions of 1’s and 0’s which allow us to access any information that we could ever want at the drop of a hat. The use and control of fire combined with the growth of understanding surrounding stone tools and their many uses has carried humanity out of the primal ooze and into the palace. Without the struggles and triumphs of our prehistoric ancestors we would not have any of these things. The technology of human antiquity is as valid today as ever, because without Understanding what has been handed to us from the first rising of the sun upon our species we cannot truly appreciate our own lives.
Throughout history there have been traceable phenomenon such as the invention of the automobile and those that can only be imagined. Examples such as the bow and arrow and bow drill fire, as well as Stone tools are great illustrations of the universality of human ingenuity. Nearly all cultures on earth have some sort of a bow and arrow set up. In England they have six foot long bows that rain scores of arrows at hundreds of yards. In Japan they use a bow which has nearly two thirds of its length above the handle. The plains tribes of North America used a relatively short re-curved bow that could be powerfully and effectively wielded from horseback. It seems unlikely that one person through whatever process could have created a bow and arrow and from there traveled around the world spreading this technology to the entire human race.. Could it not be likely that in the four corners of the earth that there were people who independently created the hunting tools of their culture. Bow drill as a means of creating fire is yet another perfect example. It exists all across the planet; it seems most likely that it was developed in many areas completely independent of one another. There is a great illustration of this idea in the Journal of Primitive technology which illustrates “stone tools of northern Europe and South Western United States from around 30,000 years ago that are nearly identical to one another”. (Manning, 2011)” Around 2.3 million years ago Homo Habilus began producing simple stone blades. Then 1.5 million years ago Homo erectus evolved to the Acheulian hand axe. (See illustration 2) Nearly 100,000 years ago Neanderthals made scrapers and blades from what is called a levalois core.(see illustration 5) The upper Paleolithic Homo Sapiens of 30,000 years ago developed “Solutrean Leaf blades”.(See illustration 4)( Finally 9000 years ago the Mesolithic Homo Sapiens perfected axes, adzes, and knives for all varieties of work. (Watts, 2004) The Solutrean People of Scandinavian Europe Created a style of flint knapping which used a technique called over shot flaking. In which one strikes off a portion of the stone which slices cross wise through the entire stone thus thinning and shaping the piece into a tool. Where the majority of flint knappers” establish a center line through the stone and aim all of the flakes toward the center, creating a ridge which strengthens the finished product”. (Waldorf, 1993) “The Solutreans had several styles of blades. They were named Willow leaf, laurel leaf, and single shoulder. The Laurel leaves could have been used as spear points for hunting Mammoth and mastodon. The smaller willow leaf could be used in arrows or atlatl darts to hunt game such as deer, or elk. The single shoulder blades could be a projectile point or a knife allowing its creator to hunt, slay, and butcher his quarry with one tool.” (Manning, 2011) This technology was nearly identically created in the New Mexico to Arizona area, by the Anisazi or Pueblo peoples (see illustration 3) at a time long before contact between the two continents. Some ideas seem to make so much sense that they inevitably come to be. From spear, to atlatl, to bow and arrow. From commodore, to apple, to hp, to Mac. As the human race progresses our technology comes with us and we mould it to fit our desires. All technology was once discovered out of necessity. Now we force our technology to make us more comfortable, and do much of our work for us.
Technology is not a bad thing the evil that is done with technology is. (Cutts, 2004)
In a world of I-pads, and computers that run nearly everything, it may seem a bit contrite to expend mental or physical energy on such simple things as fire creation or stone tools, but these are the paths that have created our sense of self and our strength. We are who we are because the people of long ago took the time and initiative to create ideas and objects that would make their existence simpler, and safer. Once it came to be that humanity was in a state of constant evolution of idea. It became an ever expanding avalanche of growth that catapulted humans from prey and victim, to ruler and conqueror. It is of vital importance that when the youth of modern earth wile away the hours on x-boxes, and Blu-ray DVD Players that they have some connection to their roots, some idea of how we got here. Practicing these “primitive” skills and creating these objects with our own hands is the ultimate form of understanding and through understanding is born a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made by our predecessors. Many modern People have become so disconnected from the planet that, for so long was our sustainer and provider. When the connection between cattle ranch and steak dinner is lost how can anyone be expected to have any sense of respect for What it takes to make the lives that we have come to know possible. It is for these reasons that stone tool technology is valid to 21st century life and why children as well as adults can benefit from regaining some connection to their world.
Cutts, R. (2004). Wildfire. Canton, Ga.: author, I think.
Gefter, A. (2010). Stone Tools made Us Human. New Scientist , 3-3.
Manning, K. (2011). Unique technology of the cold adapted solutrean culture. Journal of Primitive Technology , 9-13.
Overstreet, R. M. (2007). Indian Arrowheads. House of collectibles.
Waldorf, D. (1993). The Art of Flintknapping. w.e. Jennings.
Watts, S. (2004). Practicing Primitive, A handbook of aborigional skills. Gibbs Smith.
Acheulian Hand axe (Illustration 2)
North American Clovis points (Illustration 3)
Solutrean Laurel leaf points (Illustration 4)
Levalois core (Illustration 5)
Bow Drill (Illustration 6)