Sticks and stones

Sticking up for the stick
Where are the sticks? The archaeological record is incomplete

Wood decays, so sticks haven’t reached through the archaeological record quite as successfully as stones have to tell us how they were fashioned, and how used, by our early ancestors. There must have been sharp sticks for poking stuff, clubby sticks for bashing things, hooked sticks for back scratching — or indeed pulling a fruit-laden branch within the easy orbit of a languorous arm.

ALEXANDER LANGLANDS provides a whistle-stop tour of the Stone Age from the Paleo- to-Neolithic in The Stick Is an Unsung Hero of Human Evolution: Stone’s silent sister in the archaeological record.  Not only does he lament the absence of the stick, but also the fading knowledge and skills needed to hand-craft stick-oriented tooling, such as fishing rods and flint-tipped spears.

Brain re-wired

New Brains from old

How the Web Became Our ‘External Brain,’ and What It Means for Our Kids

The title doesn’t really do the article justice –  the theme Harris is proposing is that  “technology is changing the structure of our brains” ! ! !   On the other hand, and Harris does acknowledge this – our brains are designed to be changed.  In many ways that is what is so unique about our brains (and perhaps what gave us the edge over the Neanderthal brain).  In fact this very plasticity that may account for the rise and evolution of speech and language as a result of developing technological prowess (knapping stone tools).  So adaptation to the internet may  be a good thing freeing our brains from having to remember a lot of stuff and allowing new modes of thinking.  Who knows, with brains like ours, our intellectual evolution isn’t over, and may yet  give us an advantage over the fast evolving AI threat.

Neolithic Flint mines of Sussex

I entered the…tunnel, which was so narrow that my shoulders rubbed against the walls on either side, while the roof was so low that I could not proceed on hands and knees but was forced to crawl along on my chest. Behind me came a doctor on holiday from India, and behind him came Frazer Hearne. The gallery ran for 60 feet into the hillside, and at the far end was a tiny round room, just large enough for me to turn round but not for my companions to do so. Therefore, they had to wriggle out backwards, and, while I do not suffer from claustrophobia, I was scared pink that they might become wedged in the confined space. When wearing an ordinary jacket, it is one thing to go forward, but quite another thing to go backwards. I was particularly apprehensive about Frazer Hearne, for he was the most burly of the trio and he was wearing a rough tweed plus-four suit, and I had horrible forebodings that his jacket would ruckle up from the hem and that he would be trapped in the narrow tunnel.

So wrote Edmund Venables about an exploration of a Sussex flint mine in the 1860s (the Bournemouth Uni article from which I quote erroneously says 1960 – I am convinced that the fashionably dressed shovelbum would not be seen wearing   tweed plus-four suits in the 1960s).

The Flint Mines of Suffolk
Exploring Flint Mines

Hard to imagine how the neolithic miners must have experienced the dank tunnels with only their dull smokey torch flames and vindictive dead ancestors to guide them.

Sadly Grimes Graves is the now the only ancient flint mine open to the public, but despite a steep climb down into the pit base, the site has been sanitized and there is nothing of the claustrophobia Venables describes.  Francis Pryor, however, relates a similar moment of terror (in Britain BC) during a visit to Grimes Graves in the 1950s, before they re-grouted the shaft walls and barred up  the tunnel sprites.

The flint mine at Grimes Graves Norfolk
All safe now.