Theories on the invention of the edged tool

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Surfingringo
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Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby Surfingringo » Wed Nov 08, 2017 6:27 pm

I have often wondered how the first knife came about and I have some of my pet theories. They may not be anywhere near the truth but they seem plausible to me. Obviously, the invention of the "knife" was a very slow progression. It almost certainly started with the realization that certain stones performed better than others at "cutting" tasks. I would guess that this discovery was made LONG before man began to actually craft edged tools and that for a period of time man just sought out rocks with certain shapes that performed better. More specifically I would theorize that the the realization of a "cutting tool" started with skinning game.

My theory goes something like this:

Early man was naked and constantly battling starvation. Food was likely berries and plants and whatever small animals and rodents he could catch with his hands. Man discovered early that the soft and squishy part on the inside tasted much better than the chewy and hairy part on the outside. I'm sure that over the centuries, plenty of prehistoric teeth were lost chewing through hide to get to the goods. At some point man began to use rocks as tools and weapons. I wold imagine that led to smashing a rock down on these small rodents to tear open the hide. Over time, man noticed that certain shaped rocks "those with narrower edges" performed better for this work and they began to seek out those shapes for this specific use. Along the way, they likely noticed that while working like this, some types of rocks would fracture in ways that would make them even narrower and more functional along the edge. You already know the rest of the story. :) Now, who else has a theory?

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby Bdubs808 » Wed Nov 08, 2017 6:49 pm

I have nothing to add as far as theory goes. Sharp stones were certainly the first edged tools.

Fast forward thousands of years later. The Native Hawaiians had some very interesting edged weapons and tools. They used shark's teeth as natural serrations affixed to wooden clubs and paddles. Very brutal and effective :eek:
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby Wanimator » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:00 pm

I'm sure it was figured out in one lifetime for some and not so much for others. As old as records are we are lucky to get much of a properly painted picture.

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby El Gato » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:19 pm

There is always the outside chance that I could be wrong, but my theory has always been that early man, once living in a renovated bread truck, developed an edged tool he called "The Worker" that, although radical in appearance, functioned rather well for its intended purpose. It is my understanding that he ultimately left the bread truck and did rather well in further development of the edged tool as we know it today. I believe he is now somewhere in the mountains still enjoying his pursuit of edged tool perfection.

I could be wrong of course, but that is my theory at this point .......

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby orangejuice » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:40 pm

I’d also like to know how we humans figured out that heating metal and banging on it would be a good idea.
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby Surfingringo » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:40 pm

Ha. That’s good stuff Gato! :D

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby El Gato » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:44 pm

:D

(Obviously no history major here ....) :D

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby farnorthdan » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:56 pm

Here in AK the Inuit,Yupik, and Aleut have used the Ulu for thousands of years, stone examples have been found at numerous archaeological sites. I'm going with sharpened stones.
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby Bloke » Wed Nov 08, 2017 7:57 pm

Good question Lance!

Dave might have answered it but if he hasn't I'm confident SEF will have a theory. ;)
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby MichaelScott » Wed Nov 08, 2017 8:19 pm

I think it is a pretty fair estimation. Archaeologically speaking, it is impossible to tell if a naturally sharp stone was used as a tool. There is some support for identifying a few of these found in association with hominid occupation or butchering sites. It is also speculation as to whether the first sharp or sharpened stones were used in butchering and skinning, or in processing other items like wood for fuel, shelters or other tools like digging sticks. For certain though is that in the early hominid development in Africa, stones were deliberatly made into cutting, scraping and chopping implements without handles. The old Aeschulean “hand axe”, a hefty hand-filling slab of stone that can be crudely flaked into a cutting edge was used by very early man (hominidae) for at least butchering animals. Louis Leakey filmed himself using one of these to butcher out a game animal, an antelope I think.

While it was pretty easy to knock out a cutting edge on a suitable stone, when used for an extended period these become pretty cumbersome and difficult to manipulate. I think where the real genius came into play was when some individual got the idea and managed to make and fix a handle to the stone. Now, with a purpose-made tool that took a lot longer to manufacture, it made sense to carry it around instead of making an edge on a rock and leaving it behind when done. The nice thing about a stone “knife” with a handle is that when the stone breaks as it will, you still have the handle to attach to another stone. And this was true with other stone tools such as scrapers for preparing and dressing hide and chopping tools for wood and plants.

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby wrdwrght » Wed Nov 08, 2017 8:27 pm

Chert. The short answer is chert, even if obsidian pointed the way.

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby Donut » Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:17 pm

Some rocks break diagonally, so if you smash a certain rock against something else, it can make an edged tool.

That was probably the first edged tool.
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby sal » Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:23 pm

I would like to add 3 concepts:

1) I would argue that no one "got the idea". I would argue for accidental discovery. Hitting a rock accidentally with another rock fractured the edge or accidentally hitting a rock with another rock accidentally "sharpened" the edge.

2) I would argue that the sharpened stick was before the sharpened rock.

3) I would argue that the first "Purpose" of stick/rock was for weapon. Either defense or hunting, than for processing.

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby ZrowsN1s » Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:49 pm

I was thinking they got the idea of sharp sticks and sharp stones from the teeth and claws of all the things that were trying to eat them.
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby MichaelScott » Wed Nov 08, 2017 11:03 pm

sal wrote:I would like to add 3 concepts:

1) I would argue that no one "got the idea". I would argue for accidental discovery. Hitting a rock accidentally with another rock fractured the edge or accidentally hitting a rock with another rock accidentally "sharpened" the edge.

2) I would argue that the sharpened stick was before the sharpened rock.

3) I would argue that the first "Purpose" of stick/rock was for weapon. Either defense or hunting, than for processing.

sal
1. I would tend to agree that the initial discovery of the “artificial” edge was accidental, but the idea of that had to register in someone’s brain in order to have been repeatable and teachable to others.

2. I would have to ask how sticks were sharpened without a tool, which would most likely have been a sharp rock.

3. I have to say that it could have gone either way. Without access to the daily living habits of those early hominids, it’s not likely we will know. In basic hunter-gatherer societies men typically hunt and defend while women process non-meat food and care for the very young. Both activities benefitted from sharp rocks and sticks.
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby SolidState » Wed Nov 08, 2017 11:46 pm

MichaelScott wrote: 1. I would tend to agree that the initial discovery of the “artificial” edge was accidental, but the idea of that had to register in someone’s brain in order to have been repeatable and teachable to others.

2. I would have to ask how sticks were sharpened without a tool, which would most likely have been a sharp rock.

3. I have to say that it could have gone either way. Without access to the daily living habits of those early hominids, it’s not likely we will know. In basic hunter-gatherer societies men typically hunt and defend while women process non-meat food and care for the very young. Both activities benefitted from sharp rocks and sticks.
A stick can be sharpened by dragging it on the ground or against a rock. I remember when I discovered this as a four year old. Soon, I had sharpened every stick I could find by dragging it against rocks and sidewalks.

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby ZMW » Wed Nov 08, 2017 11:53 pm

I agree with Sal's 2nd point, and edged stick would have been easier to form, even via breaking sticks can yield a sharp or pointy edge. Makes sense that would have lead the way for use of other sharp objects

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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby RamZar » Wed Nov 08, 2017 11:53 pm

Any sufficiently hard and readily available material would suffice: stone, bone, wood, etc.

I posted this in the BF forum over four years ago...

As hominids we've been using a cutting tool for 3.4 million years (Tool Use by Early Humans Started Much Earlier)! So, you could say it's in our DNA.

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Back in 2005 Forbes conducted a survey of the Top 20 Most Important Tools of All Time and the knife came out on top. Additionally, of the top 20 tools 5 more are a related tools: chisel, lathe, saw, scythe and sword.
  1. Knife
  2. Abacus
  3. Compass
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  6. Scythe
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  11. Watch
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  13. Needle
  14. Candle
  15. Scale
  16. Pot
  17. Telescope
  18. Level
  19. Fish Hook
  20. Chisel
Last edited by RamZar on Sat Nov 11, 2017 12:13 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby The Deacon » Thu Nov 09, 2017 3:03 am

Most likely something that was naturally sharp. Could have been a stone, could have been a shell. Either way, most likely put to use after someone cut themselves by stepping or falling on it and realized that, if it cut them, it would cut other things too.
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Re: Theories on the invention of the edged tool

Postby Doc Dan » Thu Nov 09, 2017 4:36 am

It is interesting that when we talk of early humans, there seems to be a difference between the way Homo Sapiens brains work, and the brains of other human species. It seems there is always a link between cutting tools and Homo Sapiens, whether an axe, spear, or whatever.

I think also that early humans notices that animals had long sharp teeth and claws, while they themselves did not. When they killed such an animal in the beginning, maybe a stick or a large stone, they would have taken out the teeth and claws and used those, just as the Polynesians used shark teeth. As for a knife, the first time a Homo Sapiens cut his or her knee on a sharp rock the idea would have immediately hit home that this could be used on game, as well.
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