Honey-colored translucent arrowhead, 4500 to 2000 BC

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

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.

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 Ancient Dentistry).

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.

Zach Zorich wrote in Archaeology: “Using a technique for analyzing friction in industrial equipment, a group of French and Turkish scientists have unraveled the process that was used approximately 10,000 years ago to make a highly polished obsidian bracelet. The team examined a bracelet fragment from Asikli Höyük in Turkey at different levels of magnification and saw evidence of three stages of production—pecking, grinding, and polishing. Striations on the bracelet indicate that a mechanical device may have been used to achieve its regularized shape and glossy finish. It is the earliest evidence of such a sophisticated stone-working technique. [Source: Zach Zorich, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 3, May/June 2012]

People played games from a very early date. Prehistoric games included senet, an Egyptian game and Mancala, which originated in Jordan.

Good Websites Archaeology News Report ; : ; Archaeology in Europe ; Archaeology magazine ; HeritageDaily; Livescience

Reconstructing Neolithic Tools

Andrew Curry wrote in Archaeology magazine: ““Around the time farming started in Germany and Denmark 7,500 years ago, pollen records show there was a dramatic shift in the European landscape. Tree cover declined, and pollen from grasses and shrubs increased. Archaeologists trying to explain this assumed that shifting climate had reduced the forest cover, making it possible for Neolithic farms to flourish. Given the primitive tools available in the Stone Age, their reasoning went, it was unrealistic to think people could have made much of a dent in the primeval forests. [Source: Andrew Curry, Archaeology magazine, November-December 2014]

“A pollen expert at the Geological Survey of Denmark named Johannes Iversen, however, had his doubts. In 1952, using actual Stone Age flint tools taken from a local museum, he and a few colleagues conducted an experiment in a patch of Danish forest. Photos from the time show them in shirtsleeves, smoking pipes as they swung stone axes. Their first attempts to fell trees were a self-described “fiasco,” according to their journals. “In the course of a few minutes all four of the axes we had brought with us were useless,” the researchers wrote.

“Iversen and his colleagues then rethought how the stones might have fit in their wood handles, and refined their cutting techniques. With the help of some local foresters, over the course of a summer, Iversen and a few other middle-aged Danish academics managed to clear-cut 2.5 acres of forest using nothing but stone tools. Based on this experiment, their calculations suggested that it would have taken a single Stone Age farmer only 36 days — or even less — to clear an equivalent area, which would have made open-field agriculture and managed forestry a realistic possibility for Neolithic European farmers.

The experiment marked the beginning of a significant shift in the way archaeologists thought about early Europeans and their tools. “The old view was that Neolithic people were more or less ape-men,” Elburg says. “It was a very slow process, but eventually people became aware that the Stone Age was not primitive, and that Stone Age tools were not crude blunt-force instruments, but sophisticated in their own way.”

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]

Archaeologists Claim Objects Are Earliest 'Matches'

In 2012, researchers from Israel said that mysterious clay and stone artefacts dated to be 8,000 year old could be the earliest known "matches". Nick Crumpton of the BBC wrote: “Although the cylindrical objects have been known about for some time, they had previously been interpreted as "cultic" phallic symbols. The researchers' new interpretation means these could be the earliest evidence of how fires were ignited. The research was published in the open access journal Plos. The journal reports that the artefacts are almost 8,000 years old. One. [Source: Nick Crumpton BBC News, August 8, 2012 |::|]

fire making tools

“Although evidence of "pyrotechnology" in Eurasia is known from three quarters of a million years ago, this evidence usually takes the form of remnants of fire itself. "We have fire evidence in modern humans and Neanderthals, from charcoal, ashes and hearths, but there was nothing ever found that was connected with how you ignite the fire," lead author Prof Naama Goren-Inbar of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem told BBC News.

“But on a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Professor Goren-Inbar recognised the shape of structures discovered at the Sha'ar HaGolan archaeological site as that found in tools used for purposes other than simply cultural ones. "I saw this object and immediately it came to my mind that this was very, very similar to all the sticks that you see [used as] 'fire drills'. I made the connection and it slowly developed," she said.

“By using electro-microscopy techniques, Prof Goren-Inbar and her colleagues identified tell-tale signs that the cylindrical clay objects may have been rotated at high speed, generating friction to ignite tinder. They identified linear marks, or striations - at the conical ends of the cylinders which they interpret as being generated by spinning the "matches" within sockets found on "fire boards", which are known from other sites. Burn-colouration reminiscent of scorch-marks was also found, as well as grooves evident higher up the objects, which may have been generated by a bow, used to spin the cylinders. “This evidence, the researchers write, is supported by known cultural evidence from the Neolithic as well as knowledge of traditional fire ignition techniques. This new interpretation highlights the technological sophistication of the Sha'ar HaGolan inhabitants at this time, and the prevalence of these structures around a wide area of the Eastern Mediterranean may further indicate that clay matches were common at an earlier time period than other ignition technologies.”

First Wheels, Wheeled Vehicles and Boats

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.

Ur wheel
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.◂

The oldest boats to be found by archaeological excavation are logboats from around 7,000 to10,000 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]

Ancient Inventions

"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.

Ur Chariot from around 3000 B.C.
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.

Book: "Ancient Inventions” by Peter James and Nick Thorpe (Ballantine Books, 1995)

Great Achievements by Ancient Africans

On the great achievements that came out of Africa, Sydella Blatch wrote in the website for American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: “There are just a handful of scholars in this area. The most prolific is the late Ivan Van Sertima, an associate professor at Rutgers University. He once poignantly wrote that “the nerve of the world has been deadened for centuries to the vibrations of African genius” (1).[1 Van Sertima, I. “The Lost Sciences of Africa: An Overview.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. 7 – 26 (1983)] [Source: Sydella Blatch, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology]

Math: The oldest example of arithmetic (6000 B.C.) was found in the Congo (Zaire). “Eight thousand years ago, people in present-day Zaire developed their own numeration system, as did Yoruba people in what is now Nigeria. The Yoruba system was based on units of 20 (instead of 10) and required an impressive amount of subtraction to identify different numbers. Scholars have lauded this system, as it required much abstract reasoning (3). [Source: 3 . Zaslavsky, C. “The Yoruba Number System.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. 110 – 127 (1983)]

“Astronomy: A structure known as the African Stonehenge in present-day Kenya (constructed around 300 B.C.) was a remarkably accurate calendar (5). The Dogon people of Mali amassed a wealth of detailed astronomical observations (6). Many of their discoveries were so advanced that some modern scholars credit their discoveries instead to space aliens or unknown European travelers, even though the Dogon culture is steeped in ceremonial tradition centered on several space events. The Dogon knew of Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons, the spiral structure of the Milky Way and the orbit of the Sirius star system. Hundreds of years ago, they plotted orbits in this system accurately through the year 1990 (6). They knew this system contained a primary star and a secondary star (now called Sirius B) of immense density and not visible to the naked eye. [ 5. Lynch, B. M. & Robbins, L. H. Science 4343, 766 – 768 (1978). 6. Adams, H. “African Observers of the Universe: The Sirius Question.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. 27 – 46 (1983)]

“Metallurgy and tools: Many advances in metallurgy and tool making were made across the entirety of ancient Africa. These include steam engines, metal chisels and saws, copper and iron tools and weapons, nails, glue, carbon steel and bronze weapons and art (1, 7). Advances in Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago surpassed those of Europeans then and were astonishing to Europeans when they learned of them. Ancient Tanzanian furnaces could reach 1,800°C — 200 to 400°C warmer than those of the Romans (8) [7. Brooks, L. African Achievements: Leaders, Civilizations and Cultures of Ancient Africa. (1971). 8. Shore, D. “Steel-Making in Ancient Africa.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern.157 – 162 (1983)]

“Navigation: Most of us learn that Europeans were the first to sail to the Americas. However, several lines of evidence suggest that ancient Africans sailed to South America and Asia hundreds of years before Europeans. Thousands of miles of waterways across Africa were trade routes. Many ancient societies in Africa built a variety of boats, including small reed-based vessels, sailboats and grander structures with many cabins and even cooking facilities. The Mali and Songhai built boats 100 feet long and 13 feet wide that could carry up to 80 tons (1). Currents in the Atlantic Ocean flow from this part of West Africa to South America. Genetic evidence from plants and descriptions and art from societies inhabiting South America at the time suggest small numbers of West Africans sailed to the east coast of South America and remained there (1). Contemporary scientists have reconstructed these ancient vessels and their fishing gear and have completed the transatlantic voyage successfully. Around the same time as they were sailing to South America, the 13th century, these ancient peoples also sailed to China and back, carrying elephants as cargo (1).” [1 Van Sertima, I. “The Lost Sciences of Africa: An Overview.” Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. 7 – 26 (1983).

Mesolithic Animal and Fish Traps

Heather Whipps wrote in Live Science: "Low stone walls crisscrossing the deserts of Israel, Egypt and Jordan have puzzled archaeologists since their discovery by pilots in the early 20th century. The chain of lines some up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) long and nicknamed "kites" by scientists for their appearance from the air date to 300 B.C., but were abandoned long ago. A study in 2010 claimed that the purpose of the kites was to funnel wild animals toward a small pit, where they could easily be killed in large numbers. This efficient system suggests that local hunters knew more about the behavior of local fauna than previously thought." [Source: Heather Whipps. Live Science, July 22, 2010]

Archaeologist Michael Gibbons discovered a complex series of weirs and dams dating to the Mesolithic Era in Ireland. The Irish Times reported: “A complex series of weirs and dams to trap rare fish on Connemara’s Errislannan peninsula may date back to the Mesolithic period, according to the archaeologist who made the discovery. [Source: Irish Times ]

“Significantly, one local resident is still making and using traps for the weir and dam system, modelled on pre-Christian design, archaeologist Michael Gibbons said. John Folan said he was unaware of the historical importance of the equipment, the coastal system, or the fish species, until contacted by Mr Gibbons. The National Museum of Ireland has now commissioned him to construct one of his traps for its folklife collection.

“Mr Gibbons was walking on the north side of Errislannan, outside Clifden, when he came across the stone ponds, channels and dams linking Mannin Bay to several inner lagoons. He learned that the system was designed to enclose and trap a fish called “marin” or “mearachán”, which is similar to a smelt, and may be related to shad, which frequent the river Barrow.

“Marine biologist Dr Cillian Roden said the fish type was “fascinating”, but its identity was uncertain. “It could be that these smelt do live in lagoons, and it would make the lagoons very important in environmental terms,” he said. Mr Folan said he had learned from his father and grandfather how to make traps, known as “cochill”, which are placed in the upper end of the dam and weir system. He uses fencing or chicken wire and wood for a design that resembles an ice-cream cone. Formerly the traps were made of sally rods.

““It is going back generations,” he said. “People depended on the fish and you’d get hundreds of them sometimes, but only during early spring. You could boil them, fry them, cook them any way, and we’d often bring them into Clifden.” The arrival of Arctic terns close to the lagoons below Mr Folan’s house heralded the presence of the fish around St Patrick’s Day, at a time when food resources were low after winter. Mr Gibbons said the system, dating back to Mesolithic times, had been adapted for contemporary use over centuries. “This is a very important part of the maritime history and archaeology, and shows how rich our coastline is in historical terms,” he said..”

Image Sources: Wikipedia Commons except Scottish calendar David Kreps

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, 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.

Last updated May 2024

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