Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Ages of Human Time Are Named After The Cutting Edge Technology Of the Day

This story is a very old and very long one. It begins before the ages of metal, before even the ages of stone. It begins before Art and Time and before awareness perhaps. Our story begins the moment proto person picked up a stick to extend their reach. No record exists of this event, no tongue to pass the story on. And yet the idea implicit in this act survives. To be able to extend beyond the confines of this frail existance. To pluck the apple from the tree of knowledge. To pass forever from innocence. Here in one brief instant was Power. The power to defend in a world replete with creatures, all born armed and dangerous. The power to shape a world.

This was the age of wood, bone and horn and it is the begining of our long journey as a technological species. For it is our technology that makes us human and sets us apart from the other creatures. Lots of species use found objects to manipulate their world. But a true tool is not merely a found object, it is a fabricated device. So it is not the adoption of found objects that sets us apart but rather the adaptation of those objects, that they might better suit our purpose. We are the makers of tools and it is the making that sets us apart. Perhaps more to the point we are the makers of edges.

The age of wood is not frequently reflected in the archeological record. It is an ephemeral material, decaying for the most part in a few brief lifetimes. Yet some tantilizing glimses of this time remain even in the modern world. The aboriginal boomerang for example, is in its most basic form, a bent and flattened throwing stick used as a hunting weapon, some forms of which are so cleverly designed that when expertly thrown, they can be made to return to the hand that released them. This was the first manmade flying wing and it was invented in the stone age. Many field games, viewed by some as a kind of ritualised warfare, use wooden implements. The cricket bat for instance with its diamond crossection is very sword like and seems ill suited to its ostensible purpose. Though its well suited to teaching young lads how stand , aim and swing at something.

The Irish caman is well suited to its purpose but still has a remarkable resemblance to war clubs as used by the northeast coast natives of America. The hero Cuchulin, played the great game at a time when it was played between townlands and upwards of a hundred people or more took to the field simultaneously. Now thats a game!  He got his name when he slew the hound of a man he was visiting by driving the ball down the animal's throat. In recompense, he elected to take the place of the dog in Culin's household and stood guard at the doorway for a number of years.

The most ill disguised of all, the boken of Japan, is a fully funtional sword, its efficacy well demonstrated by the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and his rival Sasaki Kojiro. Musashi arrived late and by boat with a bokken carved from the boatmans oar. Kojiro despite sporting a famous long sword called the "drying pole" and a skill to match, was felled by a single strike from Musashi's boken.

In recent times interest has been growing in the Irish stick, blackthorn stick or bata. Its use, once ubiquitous, waned in the last century but as this picture shows it was considered an essential part of the gentleman's accutrements up to the early 1900s.

Wood is an excelent material for sword making. It is light tough and resilient. It is easily worked and can even be hardened, somewhat. It only lacks a credible edge. It is hardly surprising that someone finally got around to putting an edge on it. Especially as the edge was the one tool used to create it. The Maya made excelent swords of wood and obsidian and lines of flint have been found in Iroquois grave sites, as if they once belonged to wooden shafts which have since decayed.

Copper in the early days, considering its scarcity, would also have been used as an edge for the wood sword and in later times wood was used in the manufacture of copper and bronze swords by pressing it into clay to form the mold.

Necessity is the mother not the father of invention because women invented knives!
Knives were not invented during the "Man the hunter" phase of our evolution.

They are much older than that. I thought 2 million years but it has recently been pushed back to 2 and a half million years. We didn't hunt in those days, we gathered and occasionally when the opportunity arose, we scavanged.The first knife may well have been a scraper used to remove fatty tissue from hide or something similar used to process food in some manner.

And the weilder was likely a woman. Food processing and preparation is a big part of any antique culture and in almost all culture a large part of that preparation is left to the females. A female was the innovator when a few years ago monkeys in Japan started washing potatoes as a prelude to eating them. Women have mouths to feed and children to cloth especially when left holding the baby, so to speak.

Stone does yield a fine edge, razor sharp even. It would have been the cool tool material of its day. With these edges people shaped their world as never before and all the commonly used materials could be cut be with them. We don't usually think of stone as a material suitable for swords, it holds a great edge but is brittle and unsuitable for long pieces. Most stone blades were no more than 4 inches long, a few as long as 12 inches. Jade in particular is suited for larger pieces but at best is appropot short swords only.

Stone tools were made in a blistering array of shapes and sizes. These were dictated by the function of the tool and the methods of the maker. Most of these shapes are still familiar to us today. Modern knives, axe heads, chisels, etc have shapes almost identical to their stone age counterparts. Form followed function in those days too.

While most people could knock up a sharp edge, it seems likely that some specialisation occured. Pieces displaying astonishing skill have been found.

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