- continued (part 3) -


To: ----------------------
From: negenter@worldcom.ch (Nold Egenter)
Subject: Re: THE HAND WAS THE FIRST TOOL
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The following is the answer on a private letter.


Dear colleague,

You wrote:

>I really liked your post and am saving it for my seminars on
>tool-making.

Thank you, I am glad that you will discuss it with your students. Maybe it helps them to become more aware of 'constructive' traits of culture. The apes nest is a topic which fascinates me for a long time, first eventually as a protohuman phenomenon, and then, because of its theoretical power.*

In regard to your question:

>Why are nests excluded from the category of manufactured tools?

I assume here that you mean nest as a 'tool' for breeding and rest. I myself would not go so far to call any nest a tool (see below), mainly because I think always also in spatial terms. In this context the nest is wider than a tool. It is part of a spatial orientation system. Could one call one's home a 'tool'?

My interpretation of 'tool' is rooted in the - narrow - (proto-)human domain with the string 'hand-tool-work' (or 'result' or 'product'). I prefer 'work', because its etymological origins are related to 'wickerwork' (fibrous!). My suggestion was to condense 'hand and tool', applying this synthesis on fibrous materials. The product: wickerwork.

Of course, the 'work' in the above sense, a basket e.g. can itself become a 'tool' for transportation of objects, to cage, trap, or catch animals, for fishing etc. etc.. Maybe the main problem here is, that our conventional idea of the 'tool' is basically modern-mechanical, and this idea is retroprojected into the historical and prehistorical domains.

If we compare the ape's nest with cultural objects, it could rather be put into a circle of 'furniture' in the widest sense, including 'primitive' conditions. This has been done before, comparing the apes nest with 'bed', or 'chair' and the like. I do not agree to this, keeping rather strictly to the Yerkes' term 'constructivity' or constructive behavior. Only this general term can preserve its evolutionary potential for much a wider spectrum of 'constructed' objects. I think here particularly of 'semantic architecture' (tectiformes), but also of a wide range of 'fibroconstructive' material culture which, to a large extent can be derived from tectonical artefacts. Finally, constructivity touches the whole human tradition of buildings, of architecture.

It is true: there is a lot of confusion in classification, in regard to 'tool' as well as in regard to 'nest'. In the early phase of observation in the wild, the nest of the great apes was compared to the birds' nest, and corresponding analogies continued for a long time. This implied also its classification as an 'instinctive' performance, which was long responsible for its neglect. I do not know the background of the Yerkes, but was surprised of their clear conclusions in view of a constructive evolution. My own background is cultural, architectural, specialty: fibroconstructive semantic architecture, globally. When I had started to collect materials of nestbuilding behavior, I was struck by the formulations of the Yerkes:they somehow described the 'missing link'.

However, after the Yerkes had made such a precious thing out of it, following research and observation of nestbuilding behavior became rather deceiving. In general, the nest was now classified as part of social behavior. It thus submerged as rather insignificant aspect of pongid social life.

Nest of apes, nest of bird. If, in the first case, we assume that 'the hand is the tool', then logically, the beak of birds becomes the homologous thing, a 'tool'. First, in my own context, I think, this is a great difference. It allows to move the apes nest away from the 'beak'-nest of the birds, closer to man, closer to the hand and to built culture. Second, I am also aware that the term 'tool' becomes fuzzy, intermingles with the physical. We would have to speak of tool-like functions of physical parts. But, in fact, this problematic aspect may have its positive side, making us aware, that, very likely, we are strongly fixed on this rather 'reductionistic' man-the-tool-maker idea.

I cite your question again to give the context for the following:

>Do you have an answer to a question that has bothered me for decades.
>
>Why are nests excluded from the category of manufactured tools?
>
>The only reason that ever occured to me or ....... was that that
>distinction permits the tool-making taxonomists to exclude birds from the
>high and mighty category of tool-makers.

I think I have an answer, a very unexpected one. And perhaps a good one. Some days ago, I wrote a bookreview on 'animal architecture'. With this in mind, we could now lift the birds from the lower level of a 'tool-lacking animal' on a much higher level: on our own! Architecture! They - and many other animals - are often quite better engineers, architects and urbanists than humans. In his book, J. Pallasmaa has described animal constructions in such a clear 'architectural' and 'urbanistic' terminology, that the reader feels futuristically 'at home' in his termite - skyscraper: all New Yorkers live in it! Excellent air-condition! Not the least waist of energy! (Helsinki 1995; review in our website). Pallasmaa, basically: animal architecture is highly advanced eco-techno, we could learn from it! Note that the book is not 'spleeny' like so many architecture books. It is a remarkable scientific contribution to 'architectural zoology'. Beautiful illustrations. In short, in my view, the birds nest as 'architecture' might provide more comparative insights into homologies of birds and man's 'cultures' than the tool concept. The suspended 'sculptures' of the Baya weaver bird (and its relatives in India), for instance, are strikingly elegant structures showing also an ingeniously secure spatial organisation.

In a wider sense, I fully agree with you that value systems are part of our 'objective' sciences, maybe much more than we think. There is always an act of 'dominance' in our way to pronounce 'judgements', particularly if they are focussed on the 'lower' worlds, especially these ... 5th, .. (..or 10th?) 'worlds', those of the animals.

Once more, thank you for your positive reply.

Warm regards,

Nold Egenter

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* the 'fibroconstructive' has an entirely different formpotential than other materials (e.g. stone). Very early fibroconstructive artefacts could have become a means of elementary communication. It may be called 'the topo-semantic/ structuro-symbolic [proto-verbal] system'. The former is observable already among pongids, the latter is definitely cultural, in my view originally related to 'semantic architecture'. Indogerman etymology seems to favour this hypothesis: a lot of important earliest meanings are are speaking of a fibroconstructive milieu. Based on these indicators, one can systematically reconstruct the evolution of fibrous industry and its impacts on space perception. A quite different 'constructive' history of the human past might result. The approach has its most fruitful field in early state formation. Fibroconstructive signs played an important role in the 'nuclear' territorial demarcation of the earliest city- or templestates (Egypt: local, provincial and statal cult systems; Mesopotamia: deity Ishtar, 'lifetrees', earliest Sumerian script; my article in Amerlinck's book shows Euromediterranean iconic sources). I added this note to indicate the whole context.

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