Sunday, September 04, 2011

Old tools, no handles in sight...

A new discovery of old tools pushes back the starting point for when scientists believe complex tools were first developed my our human predecessors to 1.76 million years ago. You can read about it in this article in the New York Times, Earliest Signs of Advanced Tools Found. These are not actually the oldest tools made by human predecessors. Oldowan tools were more primitive in design, only slightly modified from their shape as found objects to be of greater use.

In the meantime, while stone tools have been made for well over a million years, the handle is a more recent invention, having arrived in the last 35,000 years of human history.

The handle was what launched man into a profound level of expansion and domination of the planet as it extended the range and power of his tools. Think of this keyboard that I am "typing on" as a handle allowing me to craft my thoughts on the internet.

Richard Bazeley sent a photo from Australia of one of his students' cabinets. Each student in his 11th grade wood shop is making a cabinet of his or her own design, and learning a great deal from the experience.

Randall Henson has made a backyard pizza oven. The experience of making it he calls "an emerging consciousness of the hands." Randall describes his experience as follows:
Wet sand gives the oven its “dome shape”. After I formed the sand dome, I layered a cob/clay mixture over the sand mold. Once the cob/clay mixture was dry I pulled the sand out with my hands, essentially creates a void, which becomes the oven. Pulling 250 lbs of wet sand through a 12” x 10” opening required a a careful touch since the cob/clay shell is still damp and fragile. Since I couldn’t see (inside) while digging out the sand, I found that I had to rely more on “feel or touch” to get the sand out and not gouge the clay wall.

I can’t wait to make pizza.
I made pizza last night, so I know how Randall Feels.
Randall suggests Kiko Denser's blog, Earth-Art for those who want to know more.

Make, fix and create...

On another subject, I often use the blog as a place to keep notes, thoughts in progress, for later use, and as a wedge as in cutting stone to pry things apart to look inside. Aldous Huxley, in his book Heaven and Hell describes that humans have always visualized heaven as being earth, only more so, and the efforts of artists have often been to cast reality or portray heaven in a more perfect light. In most descriptions in most religious faiths that propose heaven, the colors are brighter, the images are cleaner and more compelling, the scents and sounds almost beyond earthly description. Some religions propose that the sex is much better there, available in greater quantity and more profound. Huxley notes on more modern times:
"Familiarity breeds indifference. We have seen too much pure, bright color at Woolworths's to find it intrinsically transporting. And here we many note that, by its amazing capacity to give us too much of the best things, modern technology has tended to devaluate the traditional vision-inducing materials. The illumination of a city, for example, was once a rare event, reserved for victories and national holidays, for the canonization of saints, and the crowing of kings. Now it occurs nightly and celebrates the virtues of gin, cigarettes and toothpaste...

"... Modern technology has had the same devaluating effect on glass and polished metal as it has had on fairy lamps and pure, bright colors. By John of Patmos and his contemporaries wall of glass were conceivable only in the New Jerusalem. Today they are a feature of every up-to-date office, building and bungalow. and this glut of glass as been paralleled by a glut of chrome and nickel, of stainless steel and aluminum and a host of alloys old and new. Metal surface wink as us in the bathroom, shine from the kitchen sink, go glittering across country in cars and streamliners.

"Those rich convex reflections, which so fascinated Rembrandt that he never tired of rendering them in paint, are now the commonplaces of home and street and factory. The fine point of seldom pleasure has been blunted. What was once a needle of visionary delight has now become a piece of disregarded linoleum."
And so is there a place for all this in well crafted wood? What is that place? In the midst of so much that was mindlessly created, is there a place for craftsmanship?

I keep asking some of the same questions over and over in the blog, and keep getting the same answers and finding some pretty profound voices to help me to explain a few things. This link is to an earlier blog post concerning Elliot Eisner, the arts and the creation of mind.

Use the comments function to discuss...


  1. I had never thought about the history of handles for prehistoric tools. Assuming we can reliably establish handles weren't used much before that, that is a really profound observation indicating that handles are very likely the exclusive domain of modern humans.

  2. I think the handles shed an interesting light on things. The first tools were stones slightly modified. The next showed clear mental design intention. And then according to V.G. Childe in his Story of Tools, the next step was the handle, but only in the last 35,000 years. I find this absolutely fascinating. I think it developed in correspondence with the human capacity to make and use metaphor. That leap, if this, then that... And once we had the first handle, it was soon applied to all kinds of things, allowing things to be done at a greater distance and with greater force.

  3. I hold that the handle predates the hammer or axe head. We are taught about the stone age, the bronze age and the iron age. I taught my kids that the first "age" was the wood age, where we got the club and fire and that if they look around they would see that we are still in it.The handle and axe head marriage may have occurred 35000 years ago, but it was an improvement on the club or handle and not the stone. Cave men used to joke, "Fool, he showed up to a club fight with a rock!"
    We still use the club to play baseball and cricket and to drive our froes, The rock is long gone.

  4. Nice posting, Doug. Similar things could be said about music: once limited to the world of monks and minstrels, now available to us all 24/7. That's basically a good thing, but also giving scope to cheap commercial exploitation.
    By the way, in your third quote (with Rembrandt) there is a 'not' which I guess should be a 'now'.

  5. TS, the music and its availability is wonderful. the varieties of music, rhythm, instruments and genre have expanded exponentially. and we kind of take it all for granted, don't we?

    But how much do we hear these days from nature? Not much, I fear. and how much music do we make ourselves these days?