- continued: The Hand was the first Tool -

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Date: Sun, 27 Jul 1997 05:20:06 +0100
Reply-To: Nold Egenter
Sender: Anthro-L
From: Nold Egenter
Comments: To: PaleoAnthro@list.pitt.edu

To all

Thank you for your comments.

Axel Thiel's first and second

>partial reply to N.Egenter`s statement
will be commented later. Axel Thiel somehow lifted my suggestions on a higher level of complexity. Fine! For the moment I answer to this by outlining my own approach more clearly. This relates also to Mike Shupp, who did just the opposite by reducing the proposed model on the hand, without considering the materials I suggested.

>The problem is that unaided hand has changed but 
>little in 5 million years and that what it produces
>by itself [h]as also changed little.
>So, personally, I don't see much advantage 
>in calling hands "tools."

In contrast to this, my own focus was relational. Only if you see the 'hand as a tool' related to its factual potential for a huge task, in addition, closely related with non-durable fibrous materials, then only, the formula' *the hand was the first tool* becomes dynamite!

I think that Julia Blue is right in assuming that bananas are a 'zooism' in regard to apes. Jennie Hawcroft's answer confirms it. Maybe the cliche was also influenced by the famous experiment where apes had to put two parts of a stick together to reach bananas. Note: a good example how we check things!

Brad Coon's suggestion is very important. He writes:

>There is a fascinating article in "Great Ape Societies" 
>noting the use of selectively crushed vegetation 
>to indicate food sources, travel directions, etc. by bonobos

This in fact implies nothing less than that the bonobos must have some sort of a semantic system which helps them in spatial orientation. In my own context this is very important. Such sublime observations are usually not taken into account. Neither in culture! 'Sublime' anthropology may be a way out! Thank you. I will read it.

Paul E. Pettennude commented Brad Coon's letter with the question:

> What about the brain?  It controls the other tools.
This problem will be included in the following precisions.

In the whole I had the feeling that my message had not come through. Maybe I was not clear enough. The topic was not focussed simply on the hand, but on the question: if we use the concept 'the hand was the first tool' (which implies fibroconstructive techniques and artefacts), what are the implications on the structure of our present theories regarding hominid evolution? Let us discuss this more in detail in the following, with two contrasting concepts.

Conventional interpretations of 'hominid evolution'

The discussions of hominid evolution show essentially three distinctive focus points: 1) Bipedalism and hand, 2) Brain and 3) Face and teeth.

1) Bipedalism and hand

This is doubtless the most important topic. Bipedalism is the most striking difference of the human condition. The whole organism is adapted to this body posture, inner organs as well as outer limbs support it.

The development of the hand is closely related to bipedalism. How did it 'become free' from locomotion? Evidently the primary phase of the hand had a strong partner: arboreal locomotion. Thus, in spite of its 'human' form, in the arboreal domain it is still dominantly integrated into locomotion. This changed with terrestrial locomotion. The arboreal developments of the great apes made them very ill-adapted on the ground on which they were increasingly forced due to climatic changes. The evolutionist would expect that they adapted 'regressively' to quadrupedic conditions. But, surprisingly, something quite different happened. Erected position of the body and bipedic locomotion were favoured. Only a strong partner could have effected this. One closely related to existential conditions. We will see later.

Conventional discussions of bipedalism turn around 2 conditional and 2 operational topics.

2) Brain size

Brain size increases dramatically after about 2 million years ago. This is usually related to the appearance of stone toolmaking. Others explain it with warfare, hunting, language etc.

3) Face, teeth and jaws

Face, teeth and jaws (jawbone-regress) change considerably from the same period, about 2 million years ago.

Most anthropologists today tend to relate points 2) and, eventually, 3) to the development of tool-using behavior, favouring the historistic support of finds of earliest tools. However, observations of chimpanzees, gorillas and oranutans in the wild do not speak in favour of the tool-user hypothesis. Tool-using was only sporadically observed, and seems to play a rather marginal role in pongid life (ant fishing, nut cracking etc.; McGrew and others). Do we, maybe, considerably overestimate the role of the tool in hominid evolution because we can archaeologically document it? (And want ourselves to appear as progressive 'toolmakers'?)

Hominid evolution and 'fibroconstructive industries'

The concept 'Hominid evolution and fibroconstructive industries' rests on the following facts.

These are important arguments. They may support the working hypothesis that

Evidently this provides new models for the interpretation of hominid evolution and early culture.

New models, new interpretations

Provokingly: is the apes' nest 'culture'? Of course not. But, there are many lines! It may be repeated here: the life production of each animal among great apes corresponds to a virtual tower of 14 times the height of the Eiffel tower in Paris!


In short: with the assumption of one single thing, we gain many new answers in regard to hominid evolution. Fibroconstructive industries could explain bipedalism, development as well as continuity of the hand. That increasingly complex building- or fabrication methods imply increase of memory makes sense. Increased capacity of construction might have been an existential advantage. Stonetools triggered the 'fibroconstructive revolution'. And last but not least: 'fibroconstructive industries' survived as traditions in huge quantities in the domain of ethnology. Unfortunately the study of this industry is only very poorly developed. But this will change with the anthropologically founded term 'material culture'.

In fact, the nest as an artefact and spatio-structural proto-culture has much more data to offer than the 'tool-user'. It can open new views on processes of cultural evolution. The focus is now not so much on the isolated object as a datable fact, but, rather, a fairly objective environmental aspect of proto-cultural and cultural life: the settlement, the habitat.

Best regards,

Nold Egenter


Important cultural sources for the early existence of constructivity and corresponding developments are e. g. Henry de Lumley's paleolithic camp 'Terra Amata' (Nice, France). It shows relatively evolved house types and settlement. Other materials are 'tectiformes' and other rockart, worldwide (Egenter: Semiotica 100-2/4 (1994) :201-66). See also the edition on stone-age settlements in 'Scientific American'.

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Nold Egenter
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