STONE AGE TOOLS AND TECHNOLOGY
The world's first calendar may be an eagle bone with rows of 14 or 15 notches made 30,000 years ago and found at Le Placard on the Dordogne River near Le Eyzies, France. The bone contains 69 mysterious marks and notches, including circles, crescents, arc and ear-shapes, that appear to be in synch with the phases of the moon. Fourteen and 15 days are roughly the interval between a new moon and a full moon. Some have suggested it may have helped women keep track of the menstrual cycle. Others say it may have been tabulating device Skeptic say it may just be a bone with a lot of scratches on it. Another contender for title of world’s oldest calendar was is a 10,000-years -old carved pebble with 12 notches unearthed in Iraq.
Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Human Prehistory users.hol.gr/~dilos/prehis.htm ; Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Prehistoric Art witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHprehistoric ; National Geographic Atlas of the Human Journey genographic.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/atlas ; Early Modern Man: Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Virtual Ice Age creswell-crags.org.uk/Explore/virtually-the-ice-age ; Stone Age Tools aerobiologicalengineering.com
Ways to Start a Fire
It is believed once ancient man got a fire going he did his best to keep it going and preserve the hot coals and embers. When a given fire had outlived its usefulness an effort was made to keep the coals hot so they could be used to easily start a new fire when needed. The 5,300-year-old Iceman (Otzi) carried embers wrapped in maple leaves placed in a birch bark container, which shows that Neolithic people carried fire from place to place rather that started news fires from scratch. In the early history of man it is not known exactly what tools were used when to start fires in part because the materials in which they were made—sticks, twine and other plant materials—rotted.
The hand drill is perhaps the most primitive form of known firemaking, characterized by the use of a thin, often straightened wooden shaft or reed to be spun with the hands, grinding within a notch against the soft wooden base of a fire board (a wooden platform on top of which tinder is usually —though not always— put, the tinder being the area receiving friction created by the spinning of the drill). This repetitive spinning causes black dust to form near the hole of the soft wood (and, if used, the tinder), eventually creating a hot, glowing charcoal. Tinder may be added or replaced, and by blowing on the coal and tinder, a flame is produced. It can take a great degree of effort and experience to discover a successful combination of materials. [Source: Wikipedia]
The bow drill uses the same principle as the hand drill, but the spindle is driven by a bow, which allows longer strokes. With a well-built drill, fire can be rapidly created even in wet conditions. A fire pump or pump drill is variant on the bow drill that uses a coiled rope around a cross-section of wooden stakes to produce friction on a hard surface, combusting material underneath the mechanism. [Ibid]
Another simple fire making tool using friction is a fire plow. It consists of a stick cut to a dull point, and a long piece of wood with a groove cut down its length. The point of the first piece is rubbed against the groove of the second piece in a "plowing" motion, rapidly, to produce hot dust that then becomes a coal. A split is often made down the length of the grooved piece, so that oxygen can flow freely to the coal/ember. Once hot enough, the coal is introduced to the tinder, more oxygen is added by blowing and the result is ignition. [Ibid]
A fire saw is a method by which a piece of wood is sawed through a notch in a second piece or pieces to generate friction. The tinder may be placed between two slats of wood with the third piece or "saw" drawn over them above the tinder so as to catch a coal, but there is more than one configuration. [Ibid]
To produce sparks, one may strike a hard stone, for example flint or quartz, on another containing iron such as pyrite or marcasite. Sparks with this method must be immediately in contact with tinder, or with black charcoal cloth or steel wool that will smolder from the spark. The material used to hold the spark is held above the flint or quartz, tight against the stone. The striker is then brought against the stone in a quick, straight downward motion. The stone pulls steel flakes off the striker, which become hot, molten sparks. The use of flint in particular became the most common method of producing flames in pre-industrial societies. Travelers up to the late 19th century would often use tinderboxes in order to start fires with a much greater ease than that of a bow drill or hand drill. [Ibid]
First Wheels and Wheeled Vehicles
Ur wheel The wheel, some scholars have theorized, was first used to make pottery and then was adapted for wagons and chariots. The potter’s wheel was invented in Mesopotamia in 4000 B.C. Some scholars have speculated that the wheel on carts were developed by placing a potters wheel on its side. Other say: first there were sleds, then rollers and finally wheels. Logs and other rollers were widely used in the ancient world to move heavy objects. It is believed that 6000-year-old megaliths that weighed many tons were moved by placing them on smooth logs and pulling them by teams of laborers.
Early wheeled vehicles were wagons and sleds with a wheel attached to each side. The wheel was most likely invented before around 3000 B.C.—the approximate age of the oldest wheel specimens—as most early wheels were probably shaped from wood, which rots, and there isn't any evidence of them today. The evidence we do have consists of impressions left behind in ancient tombs, images on pottery and ancient models of wheeled carts fashioned from pottery.◂
Evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the mid 4th millennium B.C., near-simultaneously in Mesopotamia, the Northern Caucasus and Central Europe. The question of who invented the first wheeled vehicles is far from resolved. The earliest well-dated depiction of a wheeled vehicle—a wagon with four wheels and two axles—is on the Bronocice pot, clay pot dated to between 3500 and 3350 B.C. excavated in a Funnelbeaker culture settlement in southern Poland. Some sources say the oldest images of the wheel originate from the Mesopotamian city of Ur A bas-relief from the Sumerian city of Ur—dated to 2500 B.C.—shows four onagers (donkeylike animals) pulling a cart for a king. and were supposed to date sometime from 4000 BC. [Partly from Wikipedia]
In 2003—at a site in the Ljubljana marshes, Slovenia, 20 kilometers southeast of Ljubljana— Slovenian scientists claimed they found the world’s oldest wheel and axle. Dated with radiocarbon method by experts in Vienna to be between 5,100 and 5,350 years old the found in the remains of a pile-dwelling settlement, the wheel has a radius of 70 centimeters and is five centimeters thick. It is made of ash and oak. Surprisingly technologically advanced, it was made of two ashen panels of the same tree. The axle, whose age could not be precisely established, is about as old as the wheel. It is 120 centimeters long and made of oak. [Source: Slovenia News]
The wheel and axle were found near a wooden canoe. Both the wheel and the axle had been scorched, probably to protect them against pests. Slovenian experts surmise that the wheel they found belonged to a single-axle cart. The aperture for the axle on the wheel is square, which means the wheel and the axle rotated together and, considering the rough ground, the cart probably had only one axle. We can only guess what the cart itself was like. The Ljubljana marshes are a perfect place for old objects to be preserved. There have been many finds uncovered in this area. Apart from the wooden wheel, axle and canoe, there have been innumerable objects found which are up to 6,500 years old.
A wheel dated to 3000 B.C., was found near Lake Van in eastern Turkey. Wheels with simialr dates have been found in germany and Switzerland. One very old wheel was a wooden disc discovered at an archeological sight near Zurich. The wheel now can be seen in the Zurich museum.
Ur Chariot from around 3000 B.C. Book: Ancient Inventions by Peter James and Nick Thorpe (Ballantine Books, 1995) is a compendium of curiosities dating from the Stone Age to 1,000 A.D., the book argues that just because our ancestors lived long ago and had less technology at their disposal does not mean they were any less intelligent than we are. [Source: Laura Colby, New York Times, May 16, 1995]
In fact, many of the inventions that we believe belong to our own modern era already existed hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years ago. Our ancestors were not quaint superstitious people mystified by the problems of everyday life; they were, much as we are today, hard at work on ingenious solutions. The authors have broken down the inventions into different categories such as medicine; food, drink and drugs; transportation and communications; and military technology, making the book easy to thumb through in the coffee-table style, rather than one to be read from start to finish.
We learn that our ancestors used birth control — everything from a condom to a rudimentary form of the pill — abused drugs ranging from hallucinogenic mushrooms to cocaine, and were entertained by sport, music and theater. We see homes many thousands of years old with plumbing, indoor ovens, and many other conveniences we associate with our own era.
But by far the most interesting parts of the book are those that provide examples of technology, rather than everyday objects. Inhabitants of present-day Iraq, for instance, had developed a form of electric battery about 2,000 years ago, using a clay jar that contained a copper rod sealed with asphalt. The so-called Baghdad Battery, discovered in 1936, was probably used by jewelers to electroplate bronze jewelry. Medicine, including brain surgery, the making of artificial limbs and plastic surgery, is one of the most hair-raising chapters. Early military technology, including a "machine gun" in the form of a crossbow that could fire 20 arrows in less than 15 seconds, is also covered.
The book's black-and-white photos and drawings are helpful in explaining how some of these ancient inventions worked. Many of them are taken from ancient sources, such as the sketch of a child in a high chair (or is it on a potty? the authors ask) from a Greek vase, or papyrus paintings of an Egyptian suffering from the effects of a hangover. It is a pity that there are not more of these, because they help bring the inventions to life.
Stone Age Tools, Technology and Pollution
Anthropologists believe that Old World people developed more quickly and became more technologically advanced than people in the New World because they domesticated animals earlier which in turn made it easier for them to get around easier and perform labor that required beasts of burden. As agriculture developed animals were used to pull plows
The invention of the wheel paved the way for more advanced technology such as pulleys, gears, cogs and screws. A flint point or stick spun with a bow was another important advancement. It could be used to make fire and employed as a drill (See Dentistry Below)
Saws, hammers, nails, chisels, drills and squares all date back to the Bronze and early Iron Ages. Many modern tools have their origins in the Neolithic period.
As early as 6,000 years ago people were causing lead pollution, mostly by farming. Researchers who examined layers of peat in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland undisturbed for 14,000 years found evidence of lead pollution.
Stone Age Tools, See Hominids and Early Man and Otzi the Iceman
First Boats and Ships
ancient Phoenician boat Remains of boats found in Australia, Sardinia and Crete show that men have been crossing seas for more than 10,000 years. The oldest known boat is a dugout found in Denmark dated to 6000 B.C. The oldest known vessels with planks were found in Egypt and date to about 3000 B.C.
The oldest boats to be found by archaeological excavation are logboats from around 7,000–10,000 years ago. The oldest recovered boat in the world is the canoe of Pesse; it is a dugout or hollowed tree trunk from a Pinus sylvestris. According to carbon-14 dating analysis it was constructed somewhere between 8200 and 7600 B.C. This canoe is exhibited in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands; other very old dugout boats have been recovered. A 7,000 year-old seagoing boat made from reeds and tar has been found in Kuwait. Boats were used between 4000 BCE and 3000 BCE in Sumer, ancient Egypt and in the Indian Ocean. [Source: Wikipedia]
Agriculture was introduced to Europe proper around 7000 B.C. Some think was done with early ships. In the late 1990s, a team led by Czech archaeologist Radomir Tichy built a boat from a 30-foot section of tree trunk and padded it, hugging the coast, from Sicily to Portugal on the Atlantic Ocean to make the point that agriculture could have been carried suddenly by boat rather slowly overland.
Boats played a very important part in the commerce between the Indus Valley Civilization and Mesopotamia and among Egyptians and Mediterranean cultures. Evidence of varying models of boats has also been discovered in various Indus Valley sites and in Egypt.
See Egyptians, Phonecians and Greeks
Bronze Age Ship
ancient Egyptian boat A Bronze Age ship, discovered off of the southwest coast of Turkey, is the world's oldest known shipwreck. Dating back date to 2900 B.C., this ship was found in 150-feet-deep water near Ulan Burun and Kaş. It carried products from at least seven cultures and some of the more interesting objects included ostrich eggs from African elephant and hippopotamus tusks from the Syro-Palestinian coast; and drinking cups made of fused quartz from Canaan. [Source: George F. Bass, National Geographic, December 1987 [‡]
Also discovered were gold scarabs from Egypt; small bronze cymbals (similar to those used by belly dancers today) and swords from Mycenea; Egyptian ebony, cobalt-colored glass ingots from Syria and Palestine; Canaanite jewelry, a gold scarab of Queen Nefertiti from Egypt and yellow terbinth resin (a material of unknown purpose also found in Egyptian graves). There was even a "book," possibly the world's oldest, made with ivory hinged wooden leaves covered with inscribed beeswax. ‡
The Ulan Burun ship was discovered in 1982 by a sponge diver who saw some "metal biscuits with ears," which turned out to be tons of 60 pound copper ingots from Cyprus. Dr. George Bass, the archaeologist in charge of excavation, considered sponge divers as his best source of information. He calculated that sponge divers on 25 boats could cover as much water in one four month season as a marine archaeologist could in two years without coming up for air.‡
The scuba divers that excavated the site were able to stay underwater for only twenty minutes at a time. If they stayed down longer they risked getting the bends. Sediment around the objects was removed with vacuums attached to fire hoses, and large objects were carried to the surface with balloons.‡
Six tons of Cypriot copper ingots were also found on the ship. When mixed with tin, the copper would produce enough bronze to manufacture a total of 300 helmets, 300 corselets, 3,000 spearheads, and 3,000 swords.
Image Sources: Wikipedia Commons
Text Sources: Mostly from National Geographic and New York Times articles. Also from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011