Primitive Technology/Wooden Tool

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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
  4. Edholm, S. (2013) Better Sticks, Staves, Shafts and Withes: finding and encouraging straighter shoots. [web] Paleotechnics: Learn, Find, Make. Retrieved from: [Accessed 2019-08-04]