an imaginative look a palaeolithic life


My attempts at flintknapping

Having survived a logistically difficult move 4000 miles to live in the UK again, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the British countryside and even the weather.  Sub-tropical heat and humidity does not suit me at all.   I blame neanderthal genes; I clearly have cold-adapted body proportions and feel much more alive in cold weather.  But one of the highlights of returning to the UK is the fact that I’ve found quite a lot of flint.

My family all think I’m crazy because while the rest of the family were paddling in the sea and/or building sandcastles when we went to the beach in August, I was making like a Homo ergaster and bashing up bits of flint, trying to shape them into tools.

My first successful stone tool was this one, which I think just about qualifies as an Oldowan style chopper although Australopithecus sediba might have something to say about it.  But I think it would cut through meat although I haven’t tried it yet.  The competitive streak in me wants to know how well it compares to the tools made by Kanzi the bonobo.  I want to know if it’s good enough for me to keep my human card.

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I got a bit more ambitious with this one (which is by far not my 2nd attempt – I have several failed ones that I’m not posting on this blog) where I was trying to get the general shape of a hand axe.  I think I succeeded in that, albeit that it’s not as pretty as the Acheulean hand axes I’ve seen.

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I got the last laugh regarding my family thinking I’m insane for taking lumps of flint and my rather feeble attempts at stone tool making into my house, because in the chaos of moving, I couldn’t find any scissors.  I needed to remove one of those plastic tag things from something I’d bought and it was too thick to break with my fingers, so I needed something to cut it with.  While looking for them, I found my hand axe, and thought I’d use that instead.  and found it worked really well.   It was easier to use than scissors on that kind of tag, and would have given a craft knife a run for its money.  Since then, I’ve used it for other plastic tags.  It’s now my tool of choice for that, and has also been used to cut through cardboard and other kinds of packaging.  It’s quite interesting that such an ancient technology – dating back to the lower palaeolithic era – can be useful even in this day and age.

Lucy’s real name

Some more adventures in teaching my 6 year old palaeoanthropology… we were watching a Nova documentary about human evolution, and they were explaining about the discovery of Selam, an australopithcine child, and were also talking about Lucy and showing computer generated animation of australopithecines.

My daughter looked at me wide eyed in wonder, “was that a real girl who really lived?” she asked.  “Yes,” I replied, and reminded her how fossils were formed from real living things.  “But how do they know her name?” she asked.  I told her that they didn’t, and that modern people gave them names after discovering their fossilised bones.

“Oh,” she replied, “so her name wasn’t really Lucy, her name would have been something like hoo! hoo! he! he! ha! ha! hoo! hoo!”

(I’m sorry that I’m not skilled enough at onomatopoeia to effectively convey her chimp-like australopithcine chatter, complete with bouncing on the sofa in a bipedal ape-like fashion.)

I really couldn’t argue with that at all.

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