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Primitive Technology

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Volume 1 Introduction

The first volume of Primitive Technology is focused on on The Scavenger.

The origins of human technology predates the emergence of the modern man. Whether it is stone tools, fire, clothing, or hunting, these skills were demonstrated by many early non-human hominids. Neanderthals had sophisticated societies comparable to those of early Homo sapiens. Chimpanzees have been observed using wooden and stone tools.

The earliest technology is not limited to the human species, nor was it invented by our kind.

Volume one is dedicated to the Pleistocene Era (2,588,000 - 11,700 BP).

Overview[edit | edit source]

The nearest living relatives of the human species are chimpanzees, with DNA that is 99% identical with humans.[1] The last common ancestors are estimated to have diverged 4-7 million years ago, giving rise to to the first bipedal hominids in the genus Australopithecus. The first member of the Homo genus evolved 2.8 million years ago.[2]

During this evolutionary progression, dietary changes are a defining feature that correlates with tool evolution.

Early hominids were predominantly frugivores and fiber-biased omnivores. The development and utilization of complex tools enabled a radical expansion of hominid diet, greatly enhancing the versatility and adaptability of early humans. Stone tools enabled Homo habilis to crack into the bone marrow of scavenged prey, and fire enabled Homo erectus to expand their dietary range to foods that were previously intolerable.[3]

By examining the diet of human ancestors, it is possible to formulate an evolutionary trajectory of early human technology.

The Chimpanzee Diet[edit | edit source]

Scavengers and Stone Tools[edit | edit source]

The Diversity of Fire[edit | edit source]

Neanderthals: Early Hunters[edit | edit source]

Tubers: The Potato Mutation[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Gibbons, Ann. (2012) Bonobos Join Chimps as Closest Human Relatives. [web] Science Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencemag.org [accessed 2019-08-06]
  2. Wikipedia contributors. (2019) Human evolution. [web] Wikipedia. [accessed 2019-08-06]
  3. Wikipedia contributors. (2019) Pleistocene human diet. [web] Wikipedia. [accessed 2019-08-06]

Lithic Reduction

Animation showing lithic reduction using the Levallois technique.

Lithic reduction is used to turn common stones into tools.

Wooden Tool

Wooden Tools have been a pervasive feature in human civilizations, and their use predates the emergence of Homo sapiens.

Non-human primates, such as chimpanzees, have been observed to use wooden tools. Wooden artifacts have also have been recovered from early Neanderthal sites.[1] Although wood is vulnerable to decomposition and rare in the fossil record, anthropologists have speculated that wooden tools were utilized abundantly in prehistoric periods due to its wide availability and versatility.

History[edit | edit source]

Dead Wood[edit | edit source]

The earliest form of wooden tools were likely dead wood, such as twigs, sticks, and branches. Dead wood can be found on the ground or taken from a dead tree. Non-human primates have been observed using sticks to dig for insects.[2] Dead wood is often used as a construction material in improvised shelters. Contemporary hikers salvage dead wood to serve as walking sticks.

While dead wood can be found in many natural environments, its shape and dimensions are largely variable. While it was possible to trim dead wood to a limited extent with stone tools, the initial selection of the right shape of wood was critical.[3] Many primitive tools require long straight wooden sticks (e.g. spears, staves, arrow shafts); yet it could be challenging to find appropriately shaped wood.

Dead wood is often irregularly-shaped, as it predominantly comes from branches and twigs that have fallen from trees.

Saplings and Green Wood[edit | edit source]

The trunk of most trees is generally straighter than its branches. By cutting down a live tree or sapling, a relatively straight shaft of green wood could be obtained. Early humans did not have the technology to fell a large tree, but a young sapling could be cut with a stone hand axe.

Some specific species of trees and shrubs are known for growing naturally straight and branch-free, making them especially amenable for harvesting wooden staves. However, a majority of wild trees grow with some degree of natural crookedness. To address this, traditional cultures around the world have developed methods to influence the tendency of saplings to grow straighter. For instance, saplings that grown in specific conditions (e.g. coppicing) undergo nascent growth, which favors longer and straighter trunks.[4]

Freshly cut green wood has a major pitfall in that it will contract and warp as it dries. Consequently, tools made of green wood will not hold their shape in the long term.

Seasoning Wood[edit | edit source]

If preserving the shape and structural integrity of wood is important, a seasoning process is necessary to dry green wood.

Seasoning wood can take anywhere from six months to several years, depending on the conditions and environment.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Aranguren B, Revedin A, Amico N, et al. Wooden tools and fire technology in the early Neanderthal site of Poggetti Vecchi (Italy). Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2018;115(9):2054-2059.
  2. Boesch C, Boesch H. (1990). "Tool Use and Tool Making in Wild Chimpanzees". Folia Primatologica 54: 86-99. doi:10.1159/000156428.
  3. Taylor, M., Bamforth, M., Robson, H., Watson, C., Little, A., Pomstra, D., . . . Allen, S. (2018). The Wooden Artefacts. In Milner N., Conneller C., & Taylor B. (Authors), Star Carr: Studies in Technology, Subsistence and Environment (pp. 367-418). Sheffield, York: White Rose University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv9b2vq9.18
  4. Edholm, S. (2013) Better Sticks, Staves, Shafts and Withes: finding and encouraging straighter shoots. [web] Paleotechnics: Learn, Find, Make. Retrieved from: https://paleotechnics.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 2019-08-04]

Digging Stick

A digging stick

A digging stick is a wooden tool used to dig out underground tubers, burrowing animals, and anthills. They were also used by agrarian societies for farming.

Numerous indigenous cultures across multiple continents are known for using digging sticks, most notably the Aztecs, Ethiopians, and the prehistoric inhabitants of New Guinea.[1] The Hadza, a modern African hunter-gatherer ethnic group, continue to utilize digging sticks in the present day. Contemporary survivalists have also experimented with digging sticks.

Due to the decomposing nature of wood, digging sticks are rare in the archaeological record.

Description[edit | edit source]

Dimensions[edit | edit source]

Typical digging sticks ranged from two to three feet in length, with the bottom tip shaved off at an angle.[2]

The size of digging sticks could be variable, and they may have been adjusted to the height of the user. In New Guinea, archaeologists found that women may have used shorter sticks than men.[3]

Types[edit | edit source]

Fire Hardened Tip[edit | edit source]

For some digging sticks, fire hardening was employed to strengthen the tip.

Handle[edit | edit source]

For some digging sticks, a cross-piece would be fit perpendicularly over the top of the stick, allowing the use of two hands to manipulate the tool into the ground.

In some instances, the handle could be decorated ceremonially.

History[edit | edit source]

Non-Human Primates[edit | edit source]

Chimpanzees have been documented using wooden implements for purposes similar to digging.

They insert sticks into ant, bee, and termite nests to probe and fish for insects. Chimpanzees eat ants and honey as part of their diet.[4]

Mesolithic Period[edit | edit source]

Digging sticks have been definitely recovered in the archaeological record since the mesolithic period. Notable archaeological sites include:

  • Kuk Swamp (Papua New Guinea)[3]
  • Star Carr (England)[5]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Digging stick". Wikipedia. 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digging_stick. Retrieved 2019-08-03. 
  2. Binus, Joshua (2004). "Plateau Culture Digging Stick". Oregonhistoryproject.org. Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved 2019-08-04.
  3. a b Jack, Golson. "Chapter 19 Artefacts of Wood". Ten Thousand Years of Cultivation at Kuk Swamp in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. ANU Press. pp. 359–372. ISBN 978-1-76046-116-4. Retrieved 2019-08-03.
  4. Boesch C, Boesch H. (1990). "Tool Use and Tool Making in Wild Chimpanzees" (PDF). Folia Primatologica. 54: 86–99. doi:10.1159/000156428.
  5. Taylor, Maisie. "Chapter 29 The Wooden Artefacts". Star Carr: Studies in Technology, Subsistence and Environment. White Rose University Press. pp. 367–418. ISBN 978-1-912482-01-6. Retrieved 2019-08-04.