[Image: a spinning wheel. Source.]
A Ramble on Ancient Technology
The current "theory" is that modern humans emerged in the Rift Valley in Africa around 200 000 years ago. From there humanity moved into new areas eventually inhabiting 6 of the 7 continents and many, many islands. Evidence of human habitation in Australia is between 60 to 100 thousand years ago.
Recently the "Clovis first" theory of the habitation of the north American continent has been smashed into little pieces. The dogma proposed that the Clovis site of flint artifacts some 13 000 years ago was the first. Since, evidence has emerged of at least 20 000 years ago, and more recently closer to 100 000 years ago. We humans "get around".
A question I have asked myself though not yet researched in depth is "what knowledge did we take with us from the Rift Valley?" There is evidence of the controlled use of fire as a form of primitive agriculture. This method is still used today around the world. You burn an area and come back a few months or a year later and find regrowth which can be harvested if you know your local plant species.
If the controlled use of fire was being used then it is unimaginable that it was not also being used for cooking. People like to speculate about the great ancient technological advances. Fire and the wheel are the usual candidates. Nope. Cooking is without a doubt the most important technological innovation of our species. Yes it involves fire, but the importance is the cooking. Unfortunately we have a poor digestive system. Cooking serves as an external pre-stomach in which the food is rendered into a state which is more easily processed by our very poor digestive system. Dietitians speak of the importance of vitamins and minerals. They are correct. What also really matters are calories. Without them you have not the energy to harvest the plants, hunt the animals or catch the fishes which provide the vitamins and minerals.
What other skills did primitive humans take with them from the Rift Valley? I posit weaving. This fundamental skill is so overlooked in our modern technological age as we have machines do it for us. Ray Mears did a tour of Canada from east to west with the company of a BBC film crew. In one of the later episodes he and a native Canadian pull a huge vertical strip of bark from a tree. In another episode bark is used to weave a vessel which is water tight. The importance of "water tight" cannot be over stated. This allows one to use the vessel for cooking.
Weaving provides an extensive collection of very useful objects beyond cooking vessels: bags, mats, nets and string.
I have had the joy of either racing or cruising aboard many yachts. Along with farmers and truckers, sailors are forced to learn the importance of knots. While training myself to be a racing sailor I forced myself to be able to tie a bow-line, and a sturdy bow-line, with my eyes closed. I wanted the muscle memory. I wanted to be able to divert my attention to potential danger as I still completed the knot.
Another thing one learns aboard a yacht is the importance of rope, or cordage as the sailor would say. Different gauges with different properties are used for different purposes. Here we return to string. For what is a rope but a thick piece of string?
Since the COVID craziness began I've yet to visit a "hairdresser". Accordingly, my hair is longer than it has ever been and I am forced to brush it each day. A by-product of this is hair gathered in the brush. I like my brush clean, so each morning I remove the hair gathered in its tines. What to do with this hair?
I automatically rolled it in my fingers to reduce its volume to make it easier to collect and discard. I realised that I was making string, a very poor string, but a useful short length of string. Because I was doing this automatically I assumed that this must be some ancient innate habit. It was this which lead me back to my pontification on ancient technologies taken with our diaspora as we left the Rift Valley. It is true that I am using a modern hair brush. But nature makes brushes if you know where to look. Take a teasel for example. Secondly, human hair is not the only source. Most animals that are hunted for meat not only contain the meat, offal, bones and hide, but also hair. As everyone knows who has studied thermodynamics or been cold, it is not the stuff which keeps one warm but the layers of air between them. This is what hair or fur or feathers, for that matter, do. They create the gaps to be filled by the air which insulates.
I was prompted to think of Mahatma Gandhi. His "logo", if you like, is the spinning wheel. It sits proudly at the center of India's national flag. With a spinning wheel one creates thread or string or cord. With that one can then create cloth or rope. With those two, a hull, keel and a few spars one can sail the world.
I posit that humanity left the Rift Valley, not only with the use of fire for cooking and agriculture, but also a knowledge of weaving and spinning which are related technologies.
Fire essentially unbinds things. Weaving and spinning bind them.
Ray Mears Northern Wilderness S01E06, Shawn Nac, youtube, uploaded 2015-05-14
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