Origins of Invention

Date: 1895


Invention and Technology

Invention and Technology


Among inventions, the class of objects that are not an end in themselves, but which are used as means to ends, occupy a very prominent place. They are covered by such terms as "tools," "implements," "machines."

Many of these are the apparatus of special crafts, and should be considered among the inventions belonging to those crafts. But a great many of them have come down from remote antiquity, and belong to workmen of every trade.

The tool chest of the Andamanese, according to Man, would contain a stone anvil, stone hammers, chips, and cooking stones; one or more Cyrena shells for preparing arrow shafts, for sharpening knives of cane and bamboo; and boar’s tusks, for carving spoons, for knives in cutting thatch or meat, for scrapers in separating bast and bark in cord-making, for carving, and even for planes.

You would also find Area shells for pot-making, Pinna shells for receptacles, and food plates and Nautilus shells for drinking-cups. The bamboo spear shafts, water holders, food receptacles, knives, netting-needles, tongs, &c., would call attention to the usefulness of that plant. Paint brushes from the drupe of the Pandanus Andamanensium should not be overlooked.

Under the head of general appliances for industrial processes may be included tools, mechanical powers, metric apparatus, natural forces, and machinery. M. Adrien de Mortillet has made a classification of simple tools which is adopted here, with additions and modifications.



1. By Pressure. qqq Knives.

Double-edge tools, shears.


2. By Shock. qqq Axes.


Chisels, gouges.

3. By Friction. Saws.



1. By Pressure and Friction. qqq Scrapers, gravers, rasps, files, sandpapers, polishers, smoothers, burnishers, whetstones, grindstones.

2. By Shock. Bush-hammers.

In wood-working fire is an efficient dement in abrasion.



1. By Pressure. Chipping, and flaking implements.

2. By Shock. Hammers, pestles.

3. By Friction. Grinding apparatus, mills.



1. By Pressure and Friction. qqq Needles, prickers, awls, drills of all kinds.

2. By Shock. Punches, picks.


1. Tongs, pincers, vices, clamps, wedges.

2. Nails, lashings, glues.

Before entering more minutely upon the study of tools, a few words should be said concerning the composition of tools, their working parts and haftings. It is true that millions of ancient objects, in stone especially, lying in museums and cabinets have now no handles. But it is fair to assume that the great majority of them were once so furnished. Indeed, in their manufacture the artificer spent as much time and pains in getting them ready to be hafted as he did in finishing the working portions. The best guide in furnishing anew these objects with hand-attachments is the study of modern savagery.

These are to be studied both in their adaptation to the hand and in the method of their being fixed to the working part. The former, for convenience, may be called the grip, or handle; the latter, the attachment. The grip of an implement, may be made to fit one hand or two, and to be held close to the object wrought upon, or at some distance. It is really this part that at last becomes a machine.

Many savages still use only the rudest kind of grip, merely smoothing the rough surface of the material or wrapping something about it, so as not to hurt the hand, but this is not true of all tribes.

The Eskimo men and women carve, from walrus ivory, musk-ox horn, and wood, the daintiest handles for their scrapers and other implements. They fit so exactly that the white man, with his much larger hands, is unable to use them. No modern sword grip is more convenient or more tastefully carved.

The Indians of the West Coast are not so particular, and yet on many of their tools there are grooves for the fingers. But a singular departure from this idea of convenience is to be seen on South American and Polynesian weapons, where for the sake of decoration the maker has carved a ridge that would be in the way of the hand.

But the great majority of haftings, shafts, handles, hilts, or grips of aboriginal implements were of some material separate from that of the working part, and attached thereto artificially. The form of this separate handle depended precisely upon the work to be done. The sagacious mind of the savage mechanic has nowhere worked to more perfect advantage. The economy of material and of form to acquire the greatest result with the least effort has been thoroughly explored. After the bare necessities of the case have been met, tribal genius, imagination, and good judgment have had full play.

To make a list of forms of aboriginal haftings it would be necessary to write a catalogue of the varieties of tools enumerated in the table at the beginning of this chapter. If one would examine the stock in a modern hardware or furnishing store, he would have to look over a great many kinds of tools before he would find a style of simple handle unknown to savages. He might begin with a cylindrical rod, and end with the handiest device from the Patent Office. There probably never was a more effective grip on a tool than the form used by the Eskimo women for their scrapers nor those on the Malay daggers or kris. A classification of haftings as to shape would commence with a mere stick or withe or fork of a sapling, and pass through a series of improvements ending with one in which the hand would be covered so that every finger and every muscle would have full play in every direction for pushing or pulling or rotary motion. This subject has never been worked out by a trained anthropologist.

The methods of attaching the handle to the working part are more ingenious than the grip itself. The following are the principal types:—

1. Doubling a pliant hoop or sapling of wood about the working part.

2. Fastening the working part to a shoulder on the handle or to a forked stick.

3. Inserting the working part into a hole or groove or mortise in the handle.

4. Inserting the handle into or through the working part.

5. Binding the working part into a sling, which either encircles or covers it.

6. Seizing.

7. Gluing.

8. Rivetting.

In almost every section of North America occurs the "grooved axe," and there grow a great many varieties of wood, like ash or hickory, whose saplings will bend double without breaking and will easily split. The Indians were accustomed to take a piece of one of these saplings about six feet long and split it, so that in bending about the groove of the axe or adze or hammer, it would neatly fit. The hafting was completed by securely seizing the sides together near the working piece and at the grip. The method of this seizing will be presently explained. This style might have been seen in the United States anywhere between the two oceans.

In Matthew’s "Mountain Chant" two young Navajos are sent out to chop poles for their tent. They had grooved stone axes, and for handles they bent flexible twigs of oak and tied them with fibres of yucca—that is, they doubled the twigs, inserted the grooved axe-head in the bend, and made all fast with yucca fibre.

It is interesting to note in this account the transformation of a myth. While the story holds on to the oak withe it adopts the yucca binding. The Navajo moved southward into Arizona from Canada, and carried the memory of the oak while forgetting the old-time lashing of raw-hide.

Fitting a forked stick to the working part was thus accomplished. A young tree was selected from which a limb jutted out at the proper angle, having also the right size for the hand. The limb was split off with a goodly piece of the trunk attached, and this was trimmed to a shape so as to fit on the working part, which might be slightly let in, or laid flat with a shoulder on the haft. This process of onlaying and partly inlaying adapts itself to every type of handle used in savagery. The Eskimo even take old plane bits and iron axe-heads procured from whalers and so haft them. The boat-builders of the West Coast and the inhabitants of Australasia of every race make most varied and ingenious uses of the method. It has very great advantage to a savage whose grindstones are frequently of difficult access. The lashing or seizing can be readily done up and undone and the stone or metal working part quickly removed, sharpened, and replaced. The many ways of holding the parts together will quickly be explained.

Inserting the working part into the handle may be a much older and more primitive process. In the Swiss Lake dwellings are found good-sized blocks of antler, into the spongy end of which the poll of a small celt was driven. This block of antler was afterwards itself used as a handle, or again was inserted into another piece to serve therefor. The very same process is in vogue in America in our day wherever the antler or suitable material may be found. The tough exterior of antler and bone, and their spongy interior would almost suggest themselves to the most ignorant savage. While for small tools such as perforators, the rustic and the savage alike know that pith is soft and that the wood of some plants is very tough. This process may be seen in all stages of development among the working tools of Eskimo and Indians. Arrow heads, awl points, bone prickers and perforators, even scrapers and adze-chisels, may be found in abundance with their working part let in or driven into the handle. The parts are further secured by wrapping and by cement.

The Bongo method of hafting an axe—and this seems to have been the universal practice in true Africa—is to select a piece of wood that has a knot or gnarled place at one end and to drive the tang of the hoe or axe into a perforation through the knob. Fastened in this manner the wedge-shaped tang sticks more firmly in the handle at every stroke. On the other hand, spears and even many garden tools are furnished with a conical socket, into which the shaft is driven more firmly at every thrust.

Says Kalm, the hatchets of the Delaware Indians were made of stone in shape of a wedge, with a groove around the blunt end. To haft it they split a stick at one end and put the stone between it; they then tied the two split ends together. Some of these hatchets were not grooved, and these they held only in the hand.

This is, in fact, a rude variation of the withe style of hafting. The blade is really inserted, however. There is a poor specimen of this kind of work in the United States National Museum from the Pueblos of New Mexico.

Lafitau describes a process which does not exist in modern savagery. I have found this writer’s imagination or credulity playing tricks with his statements more than once and am inclined to think the following method of insertion extremely rare.

"Choose a young tree," says Lafitau, "to split it with a single blow and insert the stone; the tree grows and incorporates it in such a manner that it is with difficulty and rarely withdrawn."

A few examples occur in which the end of a stick is split, a ferrule or seizing stopping the rift at the point desired. The inside of the jaws were then trimmed out, the pole inserted and the outer ends tightly bound with green withe or raw-hide.

Inserting the handle into a perforation or a socket in the working part was not a common practice before the age of metals. Africa now affords the best illustrations of this process in rude metallurgy. But the Eskimo harpoon-maker knew how to mortise holes in his ivory working parts and to make the handle fit therein. Similar devices are not common among other races. The stone workers of Europe, however, were ingenious enough to drill stone axe heads and furnish them with handles.

There is a "doughnut"-shaped stone found in both Americas, in Australasia, and in Europe whose function is not clearly made out. Sometimes it is called a digging-stick weight, and again a club head. But the handle passes through the stone and is held in place by an abundance of cement.

The modern hammer, hatchet, adze, axe, and so forth have all good handles of hickory, but the ancient maker of stone implements fixed his edged and striking tools to handles in some other way. Though most beautiful perforated axes of stone were produced in the European stone age, they are too pretty for use. The working part with an eye for hafting came with metals.

The modern flail, the mediaeval "morning star," are of a class whose method of hafting is well known in aboriginal workshops. I speak of the sling hafting. The Indians of the Plains sew up a round stone in green raw-hide, and attach the projecting portions to a stiff handle. The same tribes strengthen the attachment of their great stone mauls in a similar way. Indeed, the withe seems to furnish the rigidity and grip, while the raw-hide does the work of attachment. The long lines of the bolas and the sling are extensions of this method of having a flexible portion between the grip and the working part.

But the savage man’s unfailing friend in holding together the parts of his tools is a seizing of some sort. It is so easy, so effective, so readily repaired, and it makes the handle stronger instead of weaker. Hence the Polynesian gentleman, when he goes out to visit or sits in the shade of his own vine and fig-tree, takes along a good quantity of cocoa fibre and braids it into sennit. If the reader never saw a roll of sennit, it will pay him to visit the nearest ethnological museum for this sole purpose. The uniformity of the strands, the evenness of the braid, the incomparable winding on the roll or spool, as one might call it, constitute one of the fine arts of Oceanica. But prettier still are the regular, geometrical wrappings of this sennit when it is designed to hold an adze blade and handle in close union. While speaking of this combining substance, it may as well be said that in the building of houses the framework is held together entirely by the braided sennit. The strakes of a boat are united by its means. In short, whatsoever is wrapped for amusement or seriously, and whatsoever is nailed or screwed or pegged or glued in other lands, is in this region united by means of this textile.

The peoples of the world who live north of the tree line, and many who dwell in more temperate zones, have discovered the virtue of raw-hide. The Eskimo spends many hours in cutting out miles of raw-hide string, or babiche, of all degrees and sizes. This he uses in holding together not only the parts of his implements, but in manufactures of every kind. It is a marvellous substance. Frost that will snap steel nails like glass has no effect upon it. When it is put on green and allowed to dry, it shrinks nearly one half, binding the parts immovably.

Further south, as well as in the Arctic region, the tough sinew is taken from the leg of the deer. It is shredded as fine as silk, spun into yarn, and then twisted or braided into cord. This has no end of uses, not only in tool making, but in all arts where the greatest possible toughness and pliability are demanded. It serves to make a secure ferrule on the awl handle, to strengthen the bow, to hold feather and head on the arrow. It has an economic use for every day in the year.

All aborigines found out the art of uniting the parts of tools by means of strings, made of the best textile the country afforded. Whatever deficiency they suffered in their materials or rude tools was met by string of some kind. The Fuegians are very clever in the manufacture of harpoons with long shafts. The barbed heads of bone are securely attached by string, and the Eskimo unites thus the many parts of his harpoon so ingeniously that if one be broken the pieces cannot be lost.

The poorest savage can make glue of some sort, and—which cannot be too often repeated in view of the frequent scandals heaped upon them—they will in Australia, or in Guiana, or in North America, tell you the best formula for glue that can be made on that spot. The coast tribes and the Shoshonean tribes of Western America produce excellent animal glue for holding together the fibre of the sinew backing of the bow. The Eskimo makes cement of blood. The Utes and the Apaches, the Mohaves and the Pimas, always carry a stick, on the end of which is a mass of pitch or mezquit gum ready to heat and cement their arrow heads.

"The Hurons," writes Sagard, "with small, sharp stones extracted blood from their arms to be used to mend and glue together their broken clay pipes or pipe-bowls (pippes ou petunoirs), which is a very good device, all the more admirable, since the pieces so mended are stronger than they were before."

For cements the Panamint Indians, of South-western California, used a glue made by boiling the horns of the mountain sheep, pitch gathered from the Nevada nut pine (Pinus monophylla), and a gum found upon the creosote bush (Larrea Mexicana). In its crude form the larrea gum occurs in the shape of small, reddish, amber-coloured masses on the twigs of the shrub, and is deposited there by a minute scale insect (Carteria larrea). The crude gum is mixed with pulverised rock, and thoroughly pounded. The product, heated before applying, was used to fasten stone arrow-heads in their shafts.

The karamanni wax or pitch is prepared as follows: the basis is a resin drawn by tapping from a tree (Siphonia bacculifera), and is mixed with beeswax to make it more pliable, and with finely powdered charcoal to make it black. While in a semi-liquid state it is run into a hollow bamboo, or allowed to harden in the bottom of a buckpot. It is used as pitch to fill up crevices in woodwork, as, for instance, in boat-building, to fix the heads of arrows in their shafts, and in similar work.

Quite similar in tenacity is the "black boy gum" of the Australians, used in great profusion in the manufacture of their implements.

Rivetting together the parts of a tool is by no means unknown to savages. The same process is also applied to other sorts of joining. Metallic rivets were not employed, but little trenails or trunnels of bone or wood or antler. In some of the woman’s knives brought home from Greenland the parts are united by means of little pegs or trenails of antler. The parts of harpoons are also thus joined. After the use of metal became common among these people, they came to be very expert at rivetting their knife-blades of various kinds upon the handles.

And now it will be possible to follow the common tools of savagery in the order laid down in the classification above.

The jack-knife, the drawing-knife, and implements of that class are indispensable to the lowest grade of mechanic. When only stone is available, he fabricates his knife of stone; under other conditions, of the teeth of sharks and beaver, or of shells. But nothing demonstrates his absolute dependence upon the knife so convincingly as his willingness to throw the stone blade away and substitute one of metal at his first contact with a higher race. He will hold on to his clan system and his myths, but the stone knife must go. For working in ivory, horn, antler, bone, wood, in short, in any substance that may be whittled, the knife is the standard tool. For cutting softer bodies, as food, the knife is equally in vogue.

All American aborigines made knives of stone, chipped or ground, as the occasion or the natural resource demanded.

The African used his assegai for many purposes of the same sort, while throughout the Eastern Archipelago bamboo knives are in vogue, made while the stalk is green, and thus dried and charred to give them edge.

The Eskimo and Indians in whittling cut toward the body, and frequently make the handle of the knife long and curved so that the end will fit on the muscle of the forearm, to give a stronger grip and leverage. The modern curved knife only takes the place of one with stone blade, and it may now be seen throughout the whole intercontinental area from Lapland to Labrador.

The Polynesians had no other knife than a piece of bamboo cane. The serrated edge of the tool was formed in the extreme outer rind of the bamboo, and when the material has been recently split this edge is very sharp. And Ellis expresses his astonishment at the facility with which a large hog could be cut up with no other instrument.

The readiness with which the peculiar structure of the cane and the bamboo has been seized upon everywhere for domestic knives, assists in the interpretation of the oft-repeated maxim that similar inventions spring from like environments and stress.

The shears of savages do not work like those of the civilised. There is not a pair of cutting edges, one working along the other. There is only one cutting edge, and the other piece is held at right angles. Indeed, there is no cloth or ribbon to be cut, only skins and human hair. The savage mother holds a bit of wood or leather against the child’s head and haggles off the ends of the hair with a sharp stone, or a shell The finishing touches are given with a fire brand. This practice was common among all American tribes.

For cutting the skins of animals the modern shears were preceded by the woman’s knife, called ulu, among the Eskimo. This consisted formerly of a blade of chert inserted into a handle of ivory or wood, and glued fast. But even conservative Eskimo women obeyed the law of utility, and sustituted iron blades on the advent of the whalers. All other women in the primitive world used similar shears, cutting skin as the modern saddler does, who has not a pair of shears in his shop.

The Algonkian Indians of North America secured splints of elm, birch, ash, and other hard woods of uniform thickness, by beating a log until the annual layers were loosened. They were then peeled off, scraped, and dressed into ribbons of the same width and woven into basketry.

For the jack-plane and the smoothing-plane, savagery has no mechanical substitute. There the set gauge to determine the thickness of the shaving is the thumb, which in lieu of a better one, does tolerably well. The drawing-knife, the spokeshave, and such refined modern cutting tools, are all the lineal descendants of the primitive jack-knife, or curved knife, indeed, of the flake of flint or other hard stone struck off and used at the cutting edge. Lucien Turner, however, collected genuine little spokeshaves, with blades of chert, for dressing whalebone.

The mechanic’s edge tools in civilisation are axes, adzes, and chisels of some sort. In general terms these work across the grain, with the grain, and into the grain. The lines are very feebly drawn in savagery. The very same stone blade is inserted into an antler and mounted on a helve for an axe, attached to a forked handle for an adze, and bound to the shouldered end of a straight handle for a chisel. The axe of savagery is a laborious tool, requiring great force and doing little execution. The adze is better, and in the culture areas where great trees abound near water, no aboriginal work is more attractive than the canoes tooled down with stone adzes. The chisel of savagery was seldom struck with a mallet. It was shoved from the workman after the manner of the modern trimming-chisel, and employed chiefly in connection with fire, as in hollowing out canoes. The invention of the tenon and mortise, the peculiar creation of the chisel, belongs to a culture-status in which domestic animals and extended commerce enter. Both in the East and the West Indies excellent adze and chisel blades were made of the great clam shells.

The Munbuttoo have an adze of iron which strongly calls to mind the socketted bronze celts of Scandinavia. A fork of a sapling serves for handle, one limb remaining long for the hands, the other cut short and inserted into the conical socket of the blade. "With this tool," says Schweinfurth, "Monbuttoo roughhew their wooden vessels, subsequently smoothing and carving them more finely with a one-edged knife."

The inhabitants of the Nubian part of the Nile valley use this mattock-like tool almost exclusively for all kinds of woodwork, while a real hatchet is never employed.

Saws are used by workmen in civilisation for cross-cutting and for ripping. The savage does not use the saw for the latter purpose. He gets out puncheons and planks by means of enumer-able wedges distributed along a great log. Bone and harder substances he rips by boring a series of holes through the substance in a straight line, and then breaking the pieces asunder with a blow. The rip-saw is in full force in China, Japan, and Corea. In ancient Egypt bronze saws were used, but the ripping was done single-handed.

The cross-cut saw, on the contrary, is one of the oldest tools. There is no tribe of men who do not know how to haggle off a piece of wood by sawing with a jagged stone. This same method is used in separating antler, horn, ivory, and other industrial substances. The archæologists find among their collections blades of hard material serrated, and appearing to have been designed for saws. They will do the work excellently, and they seem to suit no other purpose. This tool must not be confounded with the stone-cutter’s method of sawing stone and other hard substances by using sand and water.

Moreover, the ancient Mexicans and some Polynesian islanders knew well how to make saws by inserting bits of jagged stone and the teeth of sharks in a groove in a handle of wood or by sewing them with sennit upon the side of a thinner piece. The Australian saw-teeth are fastened to the handle with the "black boy gum."

But the most efficient saw in savagery was a thin piece of stone, wood, or other soft substance used in connection with sand, to be described in the chapter on lithotechny.

The second class of common tools that have their ancestry in savagery are those that are used for abrading and smoothing surfaces. When the potter has finished shaping a vessel, the surface is corrugated and covered with finger prints. By the use of bits of leather, or gourd, or stone, she scrapes away these inequalities, and leaves the surface without a mark upon it.

The box-maker, the boat-builder, the fabricator of war implements, the worker in bone and horn and ivory, take away the inequalities from the surface of their industrial products in two ways—by scraping and by grinding, as is done today. The cabinet-maker with his wood rasps and his steel scrapers has his counterpart in the savage worker with scraping tools and grinding tools of stone. The Fijian war-club maker, the American boat-builder, the African metal-worker, grind and scrape away a deal of their material in bringing the article into shape. The North American Indians use sandstone, or fish skin, or grass; the South Americans, the palate bones of certain fish, and the rough leaves of trumpet wood, Cecropia peltata, or of the Curalitta Americana; the Polynesians employ pumice and coral; and each location has its peculiar method of procedure.

When Europeans first opened trade with the South Sea Islanders, steel fish-hooks were among the things pressed upon the attention of the natives. But these last, or the fish, we had better say, like the mother-of-pearl hooks better. But the metal points were sharper, so nails and wire were in great demand. Perceiving in the nails a close resemblance to the scions from the root of the breadfruit tree. the fishermen actually planted some, expecting them to grow. There were no files to be had, so the nabs were formed into shape and ground and bent by the use of stone. The introduction of the file wrought as much change in native art here as it did in the New World.

All of these processes of breaking, boring, sawing, cutting, grinding, and polishing are shown by Professor Putnam in his paper on the manner in which bone fish-hooks were made in the Little Miami Valley. A series of partly finished examples were taken from a grave in the Madisonville Cemetery, near Cincinnati.

Engraving, or ornamentation answering to the graver’s art, was produced on softer substances by means of a blunt pointed, hard tool, and the design traced out by a series of creases on the surface. This is done on wood, bone, and pottery. But most of the decoration of this class was accomplished by scratching away the material with chips of flint or other hard substances. The Eskimo used to rely upon the hard tooth of the beaver, the Polynesian wrought with sharks’ teeth, and in other places hard shells and gravers of flint were employed.

The Indians of Central America are expert in the engraving and painting of calabashes. With a pointed instrument they work out designs upon the surface of a dish and give relief to the ornamentation by roughening the intervals. In painting them the blue is made with indigo, the red with anotto, and the black with indigo mixed with lemon juice. The colour is fixed by means of a greasy substance formed by boiling an insect called aje.

For giving a polish to surfaces, grass containing silex, very smooth stones, ochres laid on buckskin strips, or the hard hands were quite sufficient. Experiments lately made in the United States National Museum demonstrate that the objects mentioned are quite adequate to the result, with patience and knack. The archaeologist is frequently puzzled in studying prehistoric methods of working, because all traces of chipping and sawing are obliterated by the polisher. But, in a great collection of polished objects like that of Commodore Douglas, in New York, or the jade objects in the British Museum, it is hard to believe that every one of them was first battered into its present shape.

Akin to the burnishing and polishing of the surface of different wares is the whole genus of greases, oils, varnishes, and other devices for filling the grain of the substance and giving a better shine. The idea of preserving wood by the use of paint and oils hardly entered the savage’s mind. The study of paint as a purely decorative matter belongs to æsthetology. But the investigation of surfacing would be deficient if it did not include inquiry concerning paints and varnishes and burnishing powders.

The oil used by the Guiana Indians to anoint their bodies and their weapons is prepared from the crab-wood tree (Carapa guianensis). At the proper season the nuts are gathered, boiled and put away until half-rotten. They are then shelled and kneaded into a coarse paste. Troughs of bark, cut in form of a steel pen, are filled with the nut-paste and fixed in a sunny place, slanting, and with the point over a vessel. The oil oozes from the paste and drips into the vessel below. Sweet-scented substances are added to overcome the rancid odour. Palm oil is also obtained by crushing and boiling the seed. The oil rises to the surface and is skimmed off with pads of cotton.

The calabashes of the Sandwich Islanders are dyed in the following manner: When the fruit has grown to its full size they empty it by placing it in the sun. The dried contents are removed through an aperture made at the stalk. In order to stain the shell, bruised herbs, ferruginous earth and water are mixed and poured in until it is full. Then they draw with a piece of hard wood or stone on the outside of the calabash, rhombs, stars, circles, waves, &c. After the colouring matter has remained within three or four days, they are put in an oven and baked. When they are taken out, the figures appear in brown or black on the outside, while those places where the outer skin had not been broken retain their natural bright yellow colour. The dye is emptied out and the calabash dried in the sun; the whole of the outside appears perfectly smooth and shining, while the coloured figures remain indelible.

It is difficult to find a better example of the specialisation going on throughout all history of men in all grades, operated upon by the resources at hand and yet developing the local or tribal technique.

"The split-cane of the Rotang (Calamus secundiflorus) is buried in the leaf-mould in the bottoms of brooks by the Niam Niam until it becomes thoroughly blackened. This dyed material, mixed with the splints of the natural colour, is wrought into all sorts of geometric patterns." The Indians of Washington State and Oregon have discovered the very same fact, and use splints of root, or sprouts, or straws, blackened in the same fashion. The Indian women bury the split roots of the spruce in marshes to get the dark-brown splints for basketry.

The Andamanese paint in water and in oil colours. White clay mixed in water is daintily laid on the body as well as on bows, baskets, buckets, trays, &c. This work is done by women. Oil colours are made by mixing ochres with fat of pig, turtle, iguana, dugong, oil of almond, &c. It is applied to the person as ornament or otherwise.

Finally, the whetstone and the grindstone must find a place in the tool-chest of the primitive man. And they are abundant. Constant reports are sent to the Smithsonian Institution of the finding of huge masses of sand-rock whose surfaces show marks of constant use as grindstones. When it is remembered that every edged tool of stone has been many times ground, the number of these implements reported will not appear astonishing. The whetstone is only a portable grindstone, and those gathered in museums show by their surfaces and grooves what a variety of uses they have served.

Whetstones are found in shell-heaps, graves, and mounds all over the earth, and they are of the best material the locality affords. They are an empirical result of the highest order. Among modern savages the whetstone is universal. In its ancient forms the great variety of grooves and worn places testify to the many kinds of implements to which they once gave point and edge. The Eskimo collections of our museums abound in good hones. The Andamanese wood-worker holds the blade of his adze over the inner side of his left foot and renews the edge with his hone. Many of the stone axes and hammers seen in collections show marks of having also been used as grindstones.

An implement of the greatest importance in the early history of mankind, universal in its use, found on ancient camp sites everywhere, is the hammer stone. It will be minutely studied in the chapter on stone-working. It seems strange that with all the ingenuity that our race can exercise it is yet necessary to abrade granite in the same way that the ancient Egyptians are represented as doing it, in the same way that primitive man did it, namely, by pecking and battering away the surface a few grains at a time.

But every man and woman in savagery needs a hammer, each in their several industries. The Indian women of North America with hammers of stone break dry wood for fires, crush bones to extract the marrow, pound dried meat into meal for pemmican, drive down pegs for setting the tent, beat the hides of animals to make them pliable. In this last operation they are imitated all over the tropical world by their sisters who hammer cloth out of the bark of trees.

The savage man uses his great hammers in driving wedges, in breaking off stone in the quarry, in mining, and as a pestle in pulverising various materials.

The North-west Coast Indians use a very graceful hammer, which is grasped in the middle like a dumb-bell. The pounding end is flattened out, while the other extremity is usually ornamented by carving. Halted hammers are common in Eskimo land, in the canoe region of the Pacific Coast and in the buffalo country, each region adopting a characteristic method depending on the work to be done and upon the natural resources.

Prehistoric hammers and hammer heads are among the commonest objects in collections. Those that are used as millstones or pestles are described in the proper place. The object in each case, whether with paint or with foodstuffs, is to crush and to pulverise without mixing any of the detritus of the apparatus with the product. The stone-chipping and flaking tools, developed in savagery and almost lost in modern times, save by the glazier and the gun-flint maker, will be described particularly in the chapter on stone working.

The making of holes by means of a punch struck by another body is the product of the metallic age. The African smith is not only acquainted with the art of engraving on the surface of his knives and assegais with punches, but he also makes holes by the same process. The other savages of the world do not perforate in this manner, but employ such tools as the needle or awl, thrust through soft substances; the hand perforator, working like a reamer or a gimlet, and the drill operated by a string in a reciprocating motion.

There is no end to the sharp-pointed tools employed by both sexes among lowly peoples. They use them for sewing clothing, tents, utensils, for making basketry and other textiles. They have little stilettoes or prickers of bone no bigger than a needle, and others as strong as a marlinspike. Each one is a device exactly adapted and studied out for its work, so that the archæ-ologist, finding a similar implement in some ancient débris, at once begins to set up in his mind the industrial life of a departed people.

With the two palms a drill is rotated after the fashion of the cook in mulling chocolate. It consists of two parts, a shaft of wood, with a point of hard substance lashed to the lower end. A beautiful specimen of this sort is in the United States National Museum, with a delicate point of the Alaskan jade. This would be capable of boring almost any stone object.

From this form, having a point fastened at the end of a shaft, have been invented the bow-drill, the two-handed strap-drill, the pump-drill, and the top-drill. The distribution of these three forms of drills is discussed under the chapter on fire. The same method of changing vertical or horizontal motion into rotary motion would be available alike in creating fire as in boring holes. Mr. Hough, who has studied the fire problem thoroughly, is decidedly of the opinion that the mechanical drill is older than the fire drili—in short, that the heat developed in boring holes led up to the creation of heat by this means.

The Samoan drill, used in boring the pearl-shell shanks of fish-hooks, is precisely the same as the pump-drill used by the Pueblo Indians of the United States. In the Samoan example the crossbar or handle does not seem to have been perforated for the shaft.

The Hawaiians were acquainted with the rotary drill for boring. In the island of Lombok Wallace saw the primitive gunsmith at his work.

"An open shed with a couple of small mud forges were the chief objects visible. The bellows consisted of two bamboo cylinders, with pistons worked by hand, having a loose stuffing of feathers thickly set round the piston, so as to act as a valve. An oblong piece of iron on the ground was the anvil, and a small vice was set on the projecting root of a tree outside. The apparatus for boring the barrels was a strong bamboo basket, spheroidal in shape, through the bottom of which was stuck upright a pole about three feet long, kept in its place by a few sticks tied across the top with rattans. The bottom of the pole had an iron ferrule and a hole in which four-cornered borers of hardened iron can be fitted. The barrel to be bored is buried upright in the ground, the borer is inserted into it, the top of the vertical shaft is held by a cross-piece of bamboo with a hole in it, and the basket is filled with stones to get the required weight. Two boys turn the bamboo around. The barrels are made in pieces about eighteen inches long, which are first bored small, then welded together upon a straight iron rod."

The last type of common tools whose evolution commenced with early man to be mentioned here is the series of gripping implements. Tongs, pincers, vices, and all such things are represented in the aboriginal tool chest. All these devices are temporary expedients for holding two or more objects firmly together until they can be made fast by sewing or lashing, or they are designed for holding on to hot objects or small objects while they are being wrought. The words "vice," "tongs," "nippers" cover the three classes.

In the collection brought home by E. W. Nelson from Alaska there is a very primitive vice just as effective for the work in hand as one made with a screw would be. The woodworker is about to make a dipper out of a thin spruce board. He rolls one end of the board into a cylinder after thoroughly boiling it, leaving six inches of the other end still free and unbent to be fashioned into a handle. To hold the bent end fast and tight to the part of the board against which it rests until it could be secured by sewing with whalebone or tough fibre, two sticks a little longer than the board is wide or the cup is deep are laid parallel to each other, one without and one within the cylinder, and their projecting ends tightly lashed together with fine, wet spruce root. In drying the root contracts and holds the surfaces together water-tight. A block of wood is then fastened in one end of the cylinder with wooden pegs, and the dipper is completed. Several pieces that are in the United States National Museum have been made in the same fashion, and doubtless with a vice as crude and effective as Mr. Nelson’s specimen. The capability of raw-hide and sinew for shrinking and holding things together so that they could not budge was well known and constantly utilised all over North America. These and other savages also knew that twisting a cable shortened the length and served as a press.

The Bongo smith uses a smooth gneiss boulder for his anvil, another smaller one for a hammer, with the cunning hand of the operator for a handle. For pincers he splits the end of a stick of green wood, seizes the hot mass between the jaws, and holds them firmly together by an iron ring slipped along the stick. The same tongs are mentioned by Speke among the Wanyamuesi.

In the enumeration of the chest of tools belonging to savages we must not omit the teeth, which among seamstresses and other craft people could not be dispensed with. Every osteologist has noticed how the teeth in the crania of savages are worn to the socket, and we are frequently told that this arises from the large quantity of sand in the food. Basket-makers all the world over use their teeth in peeling and cutting their strands or filaments, and the Eskimo boot-maker uses her jaws for crimping irons. Whoever has seen an Eskimo boot neatly puckered all around the edge of the sole will not be surprised at the brevity of the good woman’s teeth when he comes across her skull in the museum.

An original and very simple press is found among the Haida of Queen Charlotte Sound. Bancroft says, "After a sufficient supply of solid food for the winter is secured, oil, the great heat-producing element of all northern tribes, is extracted from the additional catch, by boiling the fish in wooden vessels, and skimming the grease from the water or squeezing from the refuse. The arms and breasts of the women are the natural press in which the mass, wrapped in mats, is hugged. The hollow stalks of an abundant seaweed furnish the natural bottles in which the oil is preserved for use as sauce, and into which nearly everything is dipped before eating.

The subject of the knots used by savages would require a book. The arrow-maker, to begin with, has great faith in tucking the ends under. So has every implement user who desires to separate the parts readily. The manipulator holds his left thumb on the end of a string, and in wrapping simply covers up this end. At the finish the last end is tucked under and concealed so as seldom to get loose. The different hitches and knots of the sailor are all well known to the uncivilised. On Polynesian spears and nets will be observed the whole series of ties that one would see on a ship.

The Arctic peoples have developed an entire series of tools and implements that have been made to take specialised forms by reason of the snow and ice. They put diminutive snow-shoes on the bottoms of the long staves which they use for canes or alpenstocks. From huge plates of bone taken from the scapula or the jawbone of the whale, or from slabs which they split from driftwood, they construct shovels, lining the cutting edge with thin plates of walrus ivory. To the back a handle is securely lashed by means of raw-hide. This is for removing the soft snow. But against the hard ice and frozen snow they have also a remedy in the form of a pick of walrus tusk. This may be lashed to a straight handle to form a crowbar, or at an angle to constitute a pickaxe. These are held to the handle by walrus hide as tight as a tire on a wheel by wrapping when the skin is green. The shrinking binds the parts so tightly together that the whole tusk of a huge walrus is worn quite out before the lashing comes loose.

They make tiny scoops and strainers for dipping the broken ice from a seal hole, and paper-knife clothes whisks to scrape the snow from clothing. The eyes are protected by snow goggles, which are cups of wood with narrow slits cut across the bottoms and inverted over the eyes. At once these devices keep the annoying snowdrift out of the eyes, and prevent the brilliant reflection of the snow from blinding the hunter. They put under their boots ice creepers also made of ivory, and precisely similar to those worn in Europe. The trowel for cutting out blocks of snow and building up the cunning, dome-shaped habitations must not be overlooked.

Having to do his work with gloved hands, the Eskimo has thought out an ingenious series of toggles, swivels, detachers, "frogs," buttons, any one of which will do its work, and some of them enable the hunter to make fast and cast loose frozen lines after a whole day’s drive. He also has an ingenious wrench for winding up his sinew-backed bow.

It is time to turn to the primitive knowledge of mechanics. By the mechanical powers is meant that series of devices which enables one man to do the work of several by the interchange of time and direction and momentum, namely, the inclined plane, the wedge, the lever, the wheel and axle, the pulley, and the screw. One does not expect to find all of these full fledged in the lowest savagery, but the intimations of them all are to be looked for among very primitive folk. It is not true that any mechanical power has been lost. The great engineering feats of the megalithic epoch were performed with powers well known in our day, acting through co-operation.

The screw, the pulley, and the wheel and axle, are known to savages only in a very rudimentary way. Dr. Boas represents a plug used by the Baffin Land Eskimo to thrust into a spear wound on a seal to prevent the escape of blood. A sort of "thread" is cut on this wooden plug, and if the object be entirely a product of native thought, is the most primitive example of the screw.

The Eskimo also approached a knowledge of the power of the screw in the tightening apparatus on the back of their bows and in their wolf traps. They know that tremendous power was accumulated by winding a cable of sinew by means of a lever. A very ingenious device, involving the lever of the third kind, and coming as near to the screw as we shall be able to find in savagery, is the cassava strainer of the Guiana Indians. After the roots are ground or grated, the pulp is placed in a long woven bag or cylinder, in which the warp and weft of tough splints run spirally and diagonally, so that when the two ends are forced together the cylinder becomes short and wide, and when they are pulled apart, it becomes long and slender. As soon as the squeezer is drawn into its shortest length and filled with pulp, one end is suspended from a tree overhead, and one end of a log of wood is thrust through the lower loop of the squeezer, the other extremity of the log resting on the ground. The woman then sits on the log, and by her weight gradually elongates the bag and squeezes the poisonous juice out of the mixture, the interstices in the woven fabric of the press acting at the same time as a sieve. These cassava squeezers are to be seen in most museums, together with the graters, which are nothing more than flat blocks of wood into whose surfaces little bits of flinty rock have been firmly set. The whole apparatus is entirely aboriginal, and the basket work of the press constructed with exceeding neatness and skill.

The pulley may exist, and did primarily exist, without the wheel, in the form of the "dead-eye." Any line drawn around a fixed object, as a tree, and pulled in one direction for the purpose of moving an object in another direction, involves the principle of the simple pulley. All savages know this device, both for hoisting and for horizontal work.

The Eskimo have gone beyond that, and know how, by means of a long line, to construct a compound pulley and draw from the water the carcase of immense sea mammals.

The nearest approach to a pulley among the American Indians is the woman’s device for drawing the skin covering to the top of the tent poles. When the women are ready to set up the tepee, they spread the covering out on the ground. Three poles are thrust under the covering, their small ends passing through the orifice and being loosely fastened together. A rawhide line is made fast to the upper part of the tent, and passed over the juncture of the poles, which are then stood upright. The tent is hauled up to the top, the bottoms of the poles are spread out, other poles are inserted, and the covering is stretched. When about to strike, the same apparatus lets the cover down.

"In Central Syria and Philistia, for raising water, a large buffalo-skin is so attached to cords that, when let down into the well, it opens and is instantly filled; and being drawn up, it closes so as to retain the water. The rope by which it is hoisted to the top works over a wheel, and is drawn by oxen, mules, or camels, that walk directly from the well to the length of the rope and return, only to repeat the operation until a sufficient quantity of water is raised." It is very easy to imagine this wheel to be either a sheave, a roller, or a fixed beam, one becoming the other by the law of eurematics. The origin of the wheel is not made out. The precise mechanism of those we do see on Egyptian, Assyrian, and Grecian chariots and waggons is not clear to the minds of modern wheelwrights. The other wheel, used as a mechanical convenience in changing the direction of a force or as a mechanical power, is still more difficult to follow up.

The roller is older than the wheel. One day, Mr. Henry Elliott came near catching a company of men inventing the roller. A crew of Eskimo rowed to a gravelly beach in one of their skin canoes. The craft was heavily laden, and they bad either to get into cold water, to lift all the freight ashore and then carry the boat so that the gravels would not cut the very thin and delicate sealskin bottom, or they had to set their wits to work. As on many another occasion the inventive spirit predominated, and they placed a row of inflated seal-skin floats in front of the umiak, and rolled her high and dry up on the beach by this means. The very recent adoption of the pneumatic tire on bicycles and racing sulkies, after this explanation may leave the impression that Solomon was not altogether wrong when he said, "There is no new thing under the sun."

Long before the roller was invented, the pole road afforded an easy and slippery method of conveyance. Im Thurn describes the portage of a boat in the interior of Guiana. "We were obliged to carry our boat across the portage, which is about a quarter of a mile long, up and then down a very considerable hill. Our men laid rollers all along the path, then harnessed themselves by a rope attached to the bows of the boat, and drew her merrily over in a very short time." The same method is in vogue in all mountainous countries for getting logs down to the level, and Robinson Crusoe would not have been compelled to dig canals if Daniel Defoe had been a South American Indian.

The windlass, the capstan, the winch, are modern appliances to convert time and momentum. The ancient engineers had rollers and chutes and greased ways. Even in savagery they could remove very heavy logs to the seaside, and stones weighing hundreds of tons were brought to the places where they were to be set up. Co-operation in great labour took the place of invention; but it must not be forgotten that this working together was an invention in social order of the highest value.

The inclined plane is found everywhere in ancient and modern engineering. The Pacific Coast Indians, in erecting their totem posts, and in laying up great crossbeams, use skids, guys, shore poles, and the parbuckle, besides their own main strength. In Africa, Corea, and in North-western United States, the porters draw their loads up on their backs by a strap which also acts as a parbuckle.

The lever and the wedge are well-known devices to savages. It has been previously mentioned that with wedges the California Indians felled trees, the British Columbia Indians split out immense planks, the metallurgists broke off masses of ore, and the engineer lifted great weights. The wedge was also understood in tightening the lashing of haftings, and in working clamps for holding objects together.

"I was interested," says Sir Samuel Baker, "in the mechanical contrivance of the Lobore for detaching the heavy metal anklets, which, when hammered firmly together, appeared to be hopelessly fixed in the absence of a file. The man from whose ankle the ring was to be detached sat on the ground. A stick of hard, unyielding wood was thrust through the ring, and both of its ends rested on the ground. A man stood on one end, and a stone was placed on the other end of this bottom stick. A lever of tough wood rested on the top of this stone as a fulcrum, one end passing through the ring. When the long arm was pressed down, it opened the jaws of the manacle, and released the man’s foot.

That system of counting and weighing and measuring, which lies at the basis of all tool-using, now demands our serious attention. To begin with, the sense of number is universal, and is found in a rudimentary state among the animals, but they have no notation nor any mechanical invention for recording numbers. Most of the tribes of men have adopted the quinary notation. But the only numerals in use among the Andamanese are those denoting "one" and "two," and they have no word to express specifically any higher figures, but they indulge in some such vague terms as "several," "many," "numerous."

Among the North American savages the universal method of keeping account was by means of tally sticks or shells or stones or notches, one for each unit being laid away or kept after some fashion. In the United States National Museum is an old census of a tribe of Comanches. It is simply a collection of bundles of straws, one for men, one for women, and one for children. Besides this example are many bundles of gambler’s counters, which are simply short sticks tied together. One of the most charming things Mr. Wallace ever wrote is telling how the rajah of Lombok took the census.

Memory-helping devices for numbers, such as notched sticks or knotted strings, have a wide distribution. The message-sticks of Australia, the rush of the Pelew Islands, had their counter parts everywhere. The Maoris, says Tregear, used notched pieces of wood for this purpose, specially for recording genealogies. In China, the invention of memorising by knotted cords is attributed to the Emperor Luy-jin. Turner in his account of Nui (Ellice Group) says, "Tying a number of knots on a piece of cord was a common way of noting and remembering things among the South Sea Islanders." In Hawaii the tax-gatherers, although they can neither read nor write, keep very exact accounts of all the articles of all kinds collected from the inhabitants throughout the island. This is done by one man; the register is a line of cordage, distinct portions of which are allotted to various districts, which are known from one another by knots, loops, and tufts of different shapes, sizes, and colours. Each taxpayer has his part in this string, and the number of dogs, hogs, pieces of sandalwood, &c., he has to furnish is well defined."

In every patent office there is an examiner of instruments of precision. The very mention of a standard yard or metre; of square feet or acres, of cubic inches or centimetres, of delicate balances and platform scales, of gallons or bushels, of degrees and their subdivisions, of clocks and chronometers and calendars, of pounds, shillings, and pence, awakens in the mind a consciousness of the nicety with which things are measured or weighed or paid for in our times. Only the astronomer, the chemist, the physicist, the microscopist, the great banking houses, know to what a degree of finesse all of these devices for getting the correct figures have attained. It will be interesting to note how, in the earliest industries the places of all these diversified measuring apparatus were filled. The correct metric or chronometric data within the exigencies of each tribal life will give a fair idea of the status of that tribe. It is well known that the history of navigation is almost the history of clocks, that speed in trains is allied to red glass and signalling, that the accuracy of the cubit is the gauge of the quality of ancient architecture, and, in a general way, the history of metrology is the history of civilisation. A separate book on this subject would be worthy of preparation, only the data are so meagre.

Metric apparatus and instruments of precision include all devices covered by what in the school arithmetics is denominated "tables of weights and measures." The measuring appliances involved, and their numerical values in different ages constitute the science of metrology. This alone has had a very interesting elaboration. The lowest peoples have their standards of measuring and comparing quantity. Out of these have grown the modern processes.

The scale or balance was known in America before the Discovery. The Peruvians made beams of bone, suspended little nets to each end, supported the beam at the middle by means of a cord, and used stones for weights. The transition from the balance to the "steelyard" is not easy to make out.

The standards of compound arithmetic were very low among the Andamanese. About forty pounds was a man’s load, and anything above that would simply be more than a man’s load. Size was rated by well-known natural objects, seeds, fruits, nuts, &c. Capacity was counted by handfuls, basketfuls, bucketfuls, canoefuls. There is no prescribed form or dimensions for any object. No tallies were kept nor counters, and this is very low down, because all American tribes knew the use of tallies. Distance was spoken of as a bowshot, or as from there to there, indicating the limits. Fifteen miles, about, was a day’s journey, and over that was said to "exceed a day’s journey."

Those ancient manufacturers and builders had no government standards of measuring their work, but referred everything to their bodies. This system was far more accurate among rude peoples, where anthropometric differences between the sexes and between individuals were very slight. Many witnesses confirm the opinion that every weapon, or chunkey pole, had its proportion to the owner. Dr. Matthews says that the Navajo pole for the Great Hoop Game was twice the span long, and Mr. Dorsey found that the Omaha arrow had to measure from the inner angle of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, and thence over the back of the hand to the wrist-bone. I have examined many hundreds of quivers, and have always found the arrows to be of the same length, while those of the tribe resemble in general appearance, but vary slightly in length for each man. Dr. Dorsey found the Naltunne, on Siletz Agency, in Oregon, using the double arm’s length, the single arm’s length, half the span, the cubit, the half cubit, the hand length, the hand width, the finger width (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), from the tip of the elbow across the body to the end of the middle finger of the other hand. In most of these cases the starting-point is the meeting of the tips of the thumb and index finger.

Among the Aztec or Nahuatl and the Maya, the two most cultivated stocks of North American aborigines, Brinton finds no words for estimating quantity by gravity, no weighing terms. For extension the human body and, largely, the hand and the foot furnished standards of measuring. Among the Mayas the footstep or print or length of the foot was very familiar, and frequently in use by artisans, as well as the pace or stride.

Quite a series of measures were recognised from the ground to the upper portions of the body, to the ankle, to the upper portion of the calf, to the knee-cap, to the girdle, to the ribs or chest, to the maturate, to the neck, to the mouth, to the vertex. Other measures were the hand, finger-breadths, the span, half around the hand, as in measuring for a glove, the cubit, the fathom. Journeys were counted by resting-places.

In Aztec metrology, the fingers appear to have been customary measures. The span was not like ours, from the extremity of the thumb to the extremity of the little finger, nor the Cakchiquel, from the extremity of the thumb to that of the middle finger; but like that now in use among the Mayas, from the extremity of the thumb to that of the index finger. There were four measures from the point of the elbow—to the wrist of the same arm, to the wrist of the opposite arm, to the ends of the fingers of the same arm, to the ends of the opposite arm, the arms extended always at right angles to the body.

The Aztec arm measures were from the tip of the shoulder to the end of the hand; from the tip of the fingers of one hand to those of the other, from the middle of the breasts to the end of the fingers. The octocatl or "ten foot pole," approximately, was the standard of length employed in laying out grounds and constructing buildings. The road measure of the Aztecs was by the stops of the carriers, as in Guatemala. The Aztecs were entirely ignorant of balances, scales, or weights. The plumb line must have been unknown to the Mexicans also.

Federal money and the metric system as applied to the mechanism of exchange are modern returns to very primitive modes of reckoning values. The basis of money is at times a shell, a bead, a robe, a skin. The purchasing power of the unit is fixed in each case. And among certain tribes there is a table of moneys, such as two elk teeth equal one pony, eight ponies equal one wife. The principle involved does not seem to be different from that of our own standards, namely, to have some rare and portable object for standards.

The Bongo make iron spade-shaped disks, which represent their coined money. The hoe-and-spade currency is widespread in Africa. Crosses of copper, and ingots of native iron hammered out from nuggets of iron ore pass for currency. Furthermore, to give to these objects the further semblance of coinage the manufacturers put a certain twist or mark on the object, which is in effect a tribal mark, and suggests the coins of the realm. These marks are not government stamps, however, and they do not raise the objects above the ranks of tokens.

Although the native canoe-builders in the Louisiade Archipelago work with adzes made of hoop-iron, the payment for their work is made in stone axes, ten to fifty of these being the price of a canoe. The stone axe is still the accepted medium of exchange in large transactions—pigs, for instance, and wives are valued in that currency. It is only fair, by the way, to mention that the purchase of a wife is stated by the natives not to be such in the ordinary sense; the articles paid are, they say, a present to the girl’s father. In Mowatta, sisters are specially valued, as they can be interchanged with other men’s sisters as wives.

Almanacks and clocks, how indispensable to all our activities I They were never absent from human traffic. The Andamanese have natural calendars, partly in the sky, partly in nature around them. Having no numeration, they did not count the moons in a year, but noted the cool season, the hot season, the rainy season, in their proper order. The year was also divided into twenty minor seasons, named for the most part after trees which flowering at successive periods, afford the necessary supply to the honey bees. These flowers are used to name the children born while they are blooming, and these names, added to the prenatal name conferred by the parents, constitute the denomination of the person until maturity or marriage.

The phases of the moon and its connection with the tides were both designated by appropriate terms. Of the starry host they take little notice, confining their special observations to Orion and the Milky Way.

They knew the four points of the compass, and the prevailing winds by name, and distinguished certain meteorologic phenomena. So much for the calendar.

As to clocks, they had no mechanical device for marking time of day, but had thirteen separate expressions for known parts of the twenty-four hours. But these were extremely vague, and the divisions over-lapped one another. For that matter, clocks and watches are extremely modern devices.

The day’s journey is often mentioned as a fixed distance. This is only true within wide limits, and it scarcely ever exceeds ten miles for marching. "The Indians, finding that their wives were so near as to be within one of their ordinary day’s walk, which seldom exceeded ten or twelve miles, determined not to rest till they had joined them."

In these journeys the Canada Indian hunters are said to stand a stick in the snow and make a mark along the shadow as they pass some well-known spot. The women and old men coming later note the angle between the former and the present position of the shadow, and they are thereby enabled to regulate their future speed.

The Zuñi Indians know well that the light of the rising sun falls on the same spot but two days in the year, and that at noon the shadow of a pillar lengthens and then shortens back to the same spot in the same period. They have a pillar dedicated to astronomical observations. On many houses in the Pueblo there are scores on the wall opposite windows, or loop-holes for the purpose of recording the movements of the sun. There are also pillars to be seen in other parts of the world which could possibly be dedicated to the same end, since such a feat is performed by at least one tribe.

"Each morning, just at dawn, the Sun priest, followed by the master priest of the Bow, went along the eastern trail to the ruined city of Ma-tsa-ki by the river side, where, awaited at a distance by his companion, he slowly approached a square, open tower, and seated himself just inside upon a rude ancient stone chair, and before a pillar sculptured with the face of the sun, the sacred hand, the morning star, and the new moon. There he awaited with prayer and sacred song the rising of the sun. Not many such pilgrimages are made ere ’the suns look at each other,’ and the shadows of the solar monolith, the monument of Thunder Mountain, and the pillar of the gardens of Zuñi lie along the same trail; then the priest blesses, thanks and exhorts his father, while the warrior guardian responds as he cuts the last notch in his pine-wood calendar, and both hasten back to call from the housetops the glad tidings of the return of spring. Nor may the Sun priest err in his watch of time’s flight; for many are the houses in Zuñi with scores on their walls or ancient plates embedded therein, while opposite a convenient window or small porthole lets in the light of the rising sun, which shines but two mornings of the 365 on the same place. Wonderfully reliable are these rude systems of orientation, by which the religion, the labours, and even the pastimes of the Zuñi are regulated."

In the Moki village of Wolpi, Arizona, there are means of telling noon and midnight. Fewkes says: "When the sunlight through the kibva [sacred chamber] entrance fell in a certain place on the floor and indicated noon time each of the four priestesses made a single baho, consisting of two willow twigs equal in length to the distance from the centre of the palm of the hand to the end of the middle finger." Again, "At 12.15 the head priestess ascended the ladder and minutely examined from the roof the position of the stars. She looked anxiously for some star in the constellation of Orion or the Pleiades, but the stars she sought were hidden by a cloud, and she at last decided what she had in mind by observing a bright star in the western sky. Then she went down the ladder and announced that the time had come for the midnight ceremony."

The ancient Polynesians had thirteen months in their year, regulated by the moon, and once in a while dropped out a moon. They had separate names for every night in the lunation, and twenty-seven separate names for time of day during each twenty-four hours.

In the long voyages which they undertook about six hundred years ago, they made excellent use of the stars both for direction and time of day. In another chapter some mention will be made of fire as a time measure, but the near kindred of these Polynesians anticipated the hour-glass by boring a small hole in the bottom of a cocoa-nut cup, and placing it in a vessel of water, noting the time it took the cup to sink.

The reader well knows that the primitive folk were good meteorologists. That they knew something about natural thermometers and barometers and hygrometers may be gathered from the story of Gideon’s fleece. Mr. Ling Roth contributes file following charming bit from the Malay:—"When the natives of Borneo are selecting the site for a new village a piece of bamboo is stuck in the ground, filled with water and the aperture covered with leaves. A spear and a shield are placed beside it, and the whole is surrounded by a rail. The latter is to protect the bamboo from being upset by wild animals, and the weapons are to warn strangers not to touch it. If there is much evaporation by the morning the place is considered hot and unhealthy, and is abandoned."

The evolution of machinery cannot be ignored in this connection. A machine in this view is a contrivance for changing the direction and the velocity of motion or force. It cannot create force any more than a tool can. On the contrary, it consumes a vast amount of force in its own working. By means of a tool the entire force exerted is brought to bear upon the material. The machine, by the waste of a portion of the force enables the workman to apply his efforts more rapidly, more powerfully, or in ways unattainable by hand.

All power at first was hand-power, the machinery of the world was moved only by human muscles. In the chapter on animals will be treated the gradual enlistment of domestic beasts in the service of man. Besides these, winds and water currents, vapours and electric currents and chemical force have been domesticated for human uses. The study of these is essential to a knowledge of industrial progress. Muscular power is the basis of all power, just as human backs will be shown later to be the basis of the carrying trade.

The Zuñi or Nicobar woman’s simple potter’s wheel, which is nothing more than the turning of her vessel about in a dish or basket as the work goes on, is only a little more rude than the fashion in the interior of China of putting a lump of clay on the top of a revolving shaft, which they turn with one hand while the pot is formed with the other.

"The potter’s wheel was known in the world from high antiquity. The Egyptian artisan turned the wheel by hand. The Hindu potter goes down to the river-side when a flood has brought him a deposit of fine clay, when all he has to do is to knead a batch of it, stick up his pivot in the ground, balance the heavy wooden table on the top, give it a spin and set to work."

The spindle with its whorl is a free wheel and axle, with the principle of the fly-wheel fully developed, and the twister, well known to savages, is a still simpler fly-wheel. The Zuñi Indians make a block of wood about 8 in. × 3 in. × ½ in. Near one end a hole is made ¾ in. in diameter, and the stick is notched just outside this hole. This is the fly wheel. A stick with a head cut on it is thrust through the hole and serves for handle. One end of the material to be twisted is tied to the notch on the flywheel, and the other end to some fixed object. The twister holds to the handle and causes the fly to revolve by the motion of his hand.

The regular spindle serves for yarn-making, thread-making, and twine-making, and the product is wound on the shaft, which is twirled in a small vessel, rolled along the thigh, or sent spinning in the air, held up by the thread caught in a hook on the upper end. Here the operation stops, and the writer does not know of any primitive people to whom it occurred to fix the two ends of the shaft as journals in bearings. The nearest approach to such a device is the Eskimo drill; in which the piece held in the mouth furnishes the upper socket, the perforation being made the under socket and the bow or strap applying the power. The true wheel and axle reverses this process, and does its work where the Eskimo applies his force.

Crank motion applied to the potter’s wheel is of very recent date. Dr. Smith, long resident in Siam, informed the writer that the potter first gives an immense impetus to a fly-wheel, and then works the clay while the wheel is turning. The next progress forward is placing the heavy fly-wheel low down where the potter may keep it in motion with his toes. "So doth the potter, sitting at his work and turning the wheel about with his feet, he fashioneth the clay with his arm."

In polishing the basket lacquer work, the Shans use a crude lathe. A bamboo basket is coated with lac or with lac mixed with ashes of straw. When the lac is dry, the basket is turned on a very simple lathe, the wheel of which revolves backwards and forwards, the principle of the crank being apparently unknown. The workman uses a treadle, which turns the wheel one way, and it is brought back in the opposite direction by a long bamboo which acts as a spring. The reader should compare with this the exceedingly crude Moorish lathe in which the operator works a bow drill in one hand and uses his toes to assist the other hand to holding the cutting tools.

"There are strong grounds," says Shaw, "for considering the fire drill or twirling stick, first revolved between the hands of one or two operators, as one of the earliest examples of machinal motion, and that a long time must have elapsed before the introduction of continuous, instead of alternating rotary motion." But Mr. Shaw forgets the fly-wheel on the spindle, called usually the whorl. The spinning of fibre is as old as the fire sticks. Indeed, it would not appear that the fire sticks are among the oldest of human devices. Men had fire very long before they knew how to create it.

"It is extremely probable that the first continuous motion was employed in connection with the grinding of corn." Shaw arranges corn-grinders as:—(1) Simple stone pounder; (2) Mortar and pestle, worked (a) by slaves, (b) by bondsmen, (c) by cattle; (3) flat cylindrical stone with vertical spindle. But in reality there have been two series, the mortar series and the grinding series, the order of which last would be (1) rubber and flat nature rock; (2) metate and muller; and (3) the rotary mill driven first by hand and after by animals, winds, and water.

The employment of the wind to separate chaff from grain is an appliance in primitive agriculture or harvestry. The utilisation of the wind in locomotion will be studied in the chapter on primitive transportation. The Indians of the Plains, who dwelt in skin lodges, understood the use of the fly and extra pole on the tent to utilise the wind in creating a draught and drawing the smoke out of the dwelling. The sail is also used in the Arctic regions to aid in driving the sledge over smooth ice. But no savage had any conception of a windmill, or invited the air to participate in doing mechanical work.

If I were permitted to coin a word, I should call all the combined arts that relate to the getting, preserving, and utilising water, hydrotechny; but that would furnish rather a long term for the study of these arts—hydrotechnology—though it is not lacking in euphony. The spring, the well, the city reservoir, and waterworks; the open stream, the canal, the locomotive; the tide wheel, the overshot, the turbine—all of these indicate progress in hydrotechny as related to aliment, to transportation, to irrigation, and to manufactures. The world’s progress has followed the water, and water has never been absent from men’s minds.

No aborigines, unaided by domestic animals, have displayed so much patience and ingenuity in the storage and conducting of water as the Indians of the arid region of the United States. Throughout the Pueblo region, says Mr. Hodge, works of irrigation abound in the valleys and on the mountain slopes, especially along the drainage of the Gila and the Salado, in Southern Arizona, where the inhabitants engaged in agriculture to a vast extent by this means. The arable tract of the Salado comprises about 450,000 acres, and the ancient inhabitants controlled the watering of at least 250,000 acres. The outlines of 150 miles of ancient main irrigating ditches may be readily traced, some of which meander southward a distance of fourteen miles. In one place the main canal was found to be a ditch within a ditch, the bed being 7 feet deep. The lower section was only 4 feet wide, but the sides broadened in their ascent to a "bench" 3 feet wide on each side of the canal. Remains of balsas were recovered, showing that the transportation of material was also carried on. Remains of flood gates were found by Mr. Cushing, and great reservoirs for storage of water, one example being 200 feet long and 15 feet in depth.

In Mexico and Peru, especially in the latter, this art reached its highest perfection. "Higher up in the Andes irrigation was carried out on a far more extensive scale. Partly by tunnelling through the solid mountains, partly by carrying channels round their sides, the waters of the higher valleys, where the supply was abundant, were made available for the cultivation of others where it was deficient; and in the district between the Central and Western Cordilleras, to the northward and westward of Cuzco, such channels were extensively constructed to irrigate, not only the valleys, but the llama pastures on the mountain sides."

In the evolution of hydrotechny the curious invention of the Bakalahari negroes has a place. The women dig tiny wells in the wet sand. They then fasten a bunch of grass to the end of a reed and bury it in the pit. By means of the reed they suck water into their mouths and discharge it into ostrich shells, using as a guide to the stream a stalk of grass. When twenty or thirty shells have been filled they are placed in a net, carried home and buried in the earth for future use.

The wheel and bucket are in common use through the eastern continent. For lifting water out of shallow wells or sources of supply, a wheel may be used whose diameter is a little more than the vertical distance from the water to the point of discharge On the rim of the wheel are buckets resembling those in an old-fashioned mill-wheel. The apparatus is worked by a draught animal. But, in more elaborate specimens of the same sort, the machine is set in a running stream, which, working against paddles on the rim, revolves the wheel and lifts the water. The Chinese make an enormous apparatus of this sort, and fasten bamboo buckets diagonally on the outside of the rim. These descending are plunged mouth first under the water, and ascending retain it until they pass the centre of motion, when they discharge into a trough. Thomson speaks of enormous wheels at Hums, on the Orontes, the diameter of some being 80 or 90 feet.

The nà’urah, or Persian water-wheel, common throughout Western Asia, consists of a clumsy cog-wheel, fitted to an upright post, and made to revolve horizontally by a beast attached to a sweep. This turns a similar one perpendicular at the end of a heavy beam, which has a large wide drum built into it, directly over the mouth of the well. Over this drum revolve two rough hawsers, or thick ropes, made of twigs and branches twisted together, and upon them are fastened small jars or wooden buckets. One side descends as the other rises, carrying the small buckets with them, those descending empty, those ascending full. As they pass over the top they discharge into a trough. The buckets are fastened to the hawsers about 2 feet apart. The hawser is made of twigs, generally of myrtle, because it is cheap, easily plaited, and its extreme roughness prevents its slipping on the drum.

In matters of engineering the starting-point backward is itself in a remote past. Watkins, in his "Beginnings of Engineering" says: "Of the races to be considered I will mention in what seems to me to be their order of importance, Chaldea, Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Phoenicia, Etruria, Palestine, Moab, Persia, India, China, and the Incas. To this aggregate every form of engineering was known which did not require the application of the generated forces. They built canals for transport and irrigation, reservoirs and aqueducts, docks, harbours, and lighthouses. They erected bridges of wood and stone, as well as suspension bridges; laid out roads, cut tunnels, constructed viaducts, planned roofs for their massive buildings; tested the strength and discovered the weakness of their building materials; instituted elaborate systems of drainage; planned fortifications; designed engines of attack and floating bridges; devised methods for the transport of heavy objects—in fact, covered to a greater or less degree all departments of hydraulic, bridge and road, sanitary, military, and mechanical engineering."

Assuredly even these enterprises were the mature results of still earlier efforts, which it would be delightful to trace. In the earliest engineering feats two facts must be sharply kept before the mind, to wit, that time was no object, and that there were no private buildings. Suppose that every labouring person in London should be immediately withdrawn from all private work, and that they all should be organised to labour for ten years upon some government building as a memorial of the reign of Her Gracious Majesty. One million hand labourers would erect a pyramid containing fifteen thousand milliards of tons of earth, and the mechanics would put on the top of it a structure larger than all the monuments in Egypt combined.

The only puzzle the modern student can have is to conceive how the ancient engineer made and moved his crib work. It is within the ability of a company of savage Indians to hammer down any great stone into any form. It is customary for them as a tribe to all engage in the same operation in hauling logs, or seines, or boats, or stones. The problem is somewhat like that of Archimedes, "Given a rope long enough, and a crib-work strong enough," and any modern savage people will undertake to set up the monuments of Brittany.

"The usual method of removing the iron open rings worn on the ankles by the Madi requires a number of men. A rope is fastened to each side of the ring, upon which a number of men haul in opposite directions until they have opened the joint sufficiently to detach the leg." In pictures of Egyptian stoneworkers great companies of men are seen hauling together on some heavily-weighted sledge, and in Constantinople one may see any number of men from eight to twelve carrying a heavy tierce of wine in slings attached to four parallel bars.

The Khasi Hill tribes of India still erect megalithic monuments. The slabs of sandstone are quarried near by where they are to be set up by means of wedges. Some of these weigh twenty tons. They are moved on a cradle made of strong curved limbs of trees, roughly smoothed and rounded, so as to present little surface to friction. In dragging and setting up the slabs all the members of a community are under an obligation to assist on such an occasion, and are not paid for their labour, beyond receiving in the evening a little food or liquor at the dwelling of the family who sought the aid. This is exactly like the "barn-raisings" familiar to all American farmers.

"The block" (of stone) "is detached by means of wedges introduced into natural fissures and artificially drilled holes. Two or three stout logs are placed under the slab at right angles to its axis and equi-distant. Under these are fastened four bamboo trunks, two on either side parallel to the axis of the stone, and beneath these bamboos series of smaller bamboos like the rounds of a ladder. The whole forms a gigantic crib-work, or carrying frame. Three or four hundred men can unite their efforts thus in picking up the whole and carrying it to its destination. In two or three hours the stone may be transported a mile. It is set up by means of guy ropes and lifting, and planted in a hole previously prepared."

A curious fact in engineering is recorded by that most careful of observers, Rev. J. O. Dorsey, regarding the Omaha tribal circles. He says, "The circle was not made by measurement, nor did any one give directions where each tent should be placed; that was left to the women" (§ 9). "Though they did not measure the distance each woman knew where to pitch her tent." She also knew the proper distances apart for safety, on the one hand, or for the convenience of dressing hides on the other (§ 11). . . . .—O. T. MASON, , 33–82 (Charles Seribner’s Sons, 1895).

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Chicago: Origins of Invention in Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, ed. Thomas, William I. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1909), 335–350. Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2023,

MLA: . Origins of Invention, in Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, edited by Thomas, William I., Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1909, pp. 335–350. Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: , Origins of Invention. cited in 1909, Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, ed. , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.335–350. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2023, from