understanding the past 2

13 December 2015

One influence that Marxist and Socialist historians have had, in league with the idea of Gradualist Evolution of society, has been in our understanding of the past, in the way we view early humans (or any kind of past human endeavour). By default our prehistoric forebears must be inferior to modern humans – in every way (apart from brute strength). This means humans living 300,000 years ago were inordinately less practical than humans living after 50,000 years ago – the era defined as the beginning of the dominance of modern human groups (in Europe if at nowhere else in the world). This is in fact the consensus paradigm that is deeply entrenched in academic thinking – but is it true? It is aided and abetted by reason that stone tools are virtually all we have to interpret their level of competence (in tool making technology if nothing else). Hence, archaeologists and anthropologists look at stone tools and their level of sophistication in order to evaluate the people that made them, even though levels of competence may have varied amongst individuals, and the fact some flint tools were fashioned quickly and basically as they were intended for one flight of an arrow, or one crash of a hand tool, and then discarded. The really nice stone tools, polished and lovingly manufactured over days if not weeks, off and on, tend to have survived with no sign of practical use – being ceremonial in some way. Meant for display, showing off, as a donation to the gods etc. The idea of people lobbing carefully worked acheulian stone axes at a group of animals at a water hole appears to be a bit drastic – as they amount to hours of close work. Why not just pick up a hefty stone and fling it at the deer or antelope in the hope of giving one a headache? Hunting is not like that. Hunting was a pact between hunter and prey – and the former used sympathetic magic in the death of the latter. Hence, it is quite reasonable that a hunter should spend a lot of time manufacturing his preferred method of despatch of the wild animals on which he relied upon to find food and well being. Go to http://www.popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-2015/article/studies-show-… … where the point is made that if we only have stone tools to tell us of the technological ability of any group of early humans we are probably only looking at a fraction of their ability to make things as they used mediums other than wood. There is less chance theefore they will have survived.

The link takes us to a Palaeolithic site in Germany which has well preserved examples of wooden spears – not the sort of thing that is usually found as wood deteriorates very quickly in normal circumstances. The inference is they were buried beneath sediments extremely rapidly and those sediments did not cause the wood to rot naturally. Some ten spears have been removed at what is, or was, an open cast lignite (coal) mine. How old was the lignite?

We are told the spears were deposited in organic sediments on what they think might have been a lake shore and they were found in association with 16,000 bones from animals. These included 20 or so horses that appear to have been butchered – or this is once again the claim. However, the fact that one of the spears was actually in the pelvis bone of one of the horses means it could well be the proper interpretation and you would need to examine the find in order to contradict the claim. However the wooden spears were caught up in the sediments, an early human camp site overwhelmed by water perhaps and buried in mud, we have actual evidence early human hunting involved specialised wooden tools 300,000 years ago. The fact that African Zulu armies were still using spears as a viable weapon effectively right up to the modern world merely illustrates the durability of spears as a useful tool or weapon. Howe far into the past do we go to the time the first spear was fashioned?

The excavation also found bone tools – but there were a lot of animal bones at the site, and they are said to have been modified for human chores. The article was published in the Journal of Human Evolution and strangely the authors don't think the bones of the people of the time had not got around to controlling and making fire, a fundamental of human activity. There do seem to be heated flint stones, which you would think involved making a fire, if only to heat the stones to place in a water tub for ablutions or cooking of meat. Heated flints are again a common find going right down to the Neolithic period 5000 years ago.


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