Saturday, August 9, 2008

The "String Revolution".

Nothing like a fresh pair of eyes to bore through groundless stereotypes. In this case, it's another example of interdisciplinary crossover providing a radically different perspective: Dr. Olga Soffer was in the fashion business before becoming an archaeologist.

"One of the most common reactions we heard was, 'How could we have missed that stuff all these years?'"

Take a look at this guy. He represents our standard story about what early humans were like. But apparently, we're projecting again.

"Because many of the items that have endured over the millennia are things like arrowheads and spear points, archaeologists studying the Paleolithic era have generally focused on the ways and means of that noble savage, a-k-a Man the Hunter, to the exclusion of other members of the tribe."

"To this day, in Paleolithic studies we hear about Man the Hunter doing such bloody wonderful things as thrusting spears into woolly mammoths, or battling it out with other men," Dr. Adovasio said. "We've emphasized the activities of a small segment of the population—-healthy young men—-at the total absence of females, old people of either sex and children. We've glorified one aspect of Paleolithic life ways at the expense of all the other things that made that life way successful."

"We're reconstructing the past based on 5 percent of what was used."

So, it turns out that the invention of string was arguably more important to human development than stone tools, & truly a remarkable leap of imaginative spatial reasoning.

Think about it: with string, suddenly you are mobile since you can carry a baby or quantities of food & tools. You can make nets & snares to catch fish & game remotely, build a raft, constrain livestock, link varied materials into compound tools, twist a bow string for driving fire drills or arrows, magnify human physical power output by harnessing mechanical advantage...and weave elaborate clothing with targeted functional AND symbolic import.

Or would you rather have a sharp rock?

So how did they figure it out? Take a look at this girl's hat--ever noticed it before?...It's not an abstraction. It's a "radially sewn piece of headgear with vertical stem stitches" carved by someone who was very familiar with weaving.

There are also rare confirmations of this idea of paleolithic textiles in ice-age fabric samples & clay impressions, as well as recent DNA work that determined that clothing-dependent lice evolved from head lice roughly 70,000 years ago when clothing must have come on the scene as a new habitat.


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