Home > 88. The Quaggas of Creativity > Lithic Revolutions: The Quaggas of Creativity, Post 5

Lithic Revolutions: The Quaggas of Creativity, Post 5

The lion-man statue at left tells us something about our ambitions: to be fierce, powerful, and beautiful. Its age, by the standards of human involvement with stone, is not great, but you can bet that the Quaggas of Creativity have long been aware of its implications. Humans are hungry, they are clever, and sometimes they are capable of transcending themselves.

Stone technology has long been derided as ridiculously primitive; not so. If there is a ladder that we have climbed up to heaven on, it’s made of stone.

No joke. People have been fooling with rocks for more than 3 million years. That’s longer than we’ve been speaking (a mere 2 million years), and takes us all the way back to the Pliocene Era, when the global climate first cooled down to resemble the weather patterns of our own era (the Holocene). And who made the first stone tools?  Certainly Homo Habilis, the first member of the genus Man, knapped flint, but perhaps our predecessor genus, Australopithecus, did too.

Chip, chip; chip, chip. And here’s something else to think about. That means that the emergence of stone tools is roughly contemporaneous with the emergence of human thought. We are toolmakers, manipulators of our environment, at our roots. The making of the first stone implements may well be our first creative act.

Let’s take a look at an example of that earliest stone technology; to the right we have an  early Oldowan tool. Not very impressive, right? Couple of whacks with something big and hard, and there you go. Ah, but the plot thickens! We can tell from the tools that their makers were right-handed, indicating lateralization of the brain, which brought with it the development of thinking. The makers of these tools had to recognize the acute angles they were fashioning and to judge these edges against the tool’s proposed uses: scrapping, cutting, and cleaving. An intensity of purpose lay behind these tools. The effort and coordination required would not have been expended on a simple digging stick or other wooden implement. Whoever made this stone tooth of a tool had become human.

And now let’s look at some of the most advanced prehistoric stone tools, those produced during the Aurignacian period. Wow! What a difference! The blades to the left all exhibit fine motor control and a clear visualization of the final shape and implement. The toolmakers have achieved mastery–and perhaps even beauty. It is no coincidence, of course, that these blades date from the same period as the statue at top–one of the earliest stone statues ever produced. These people–and who else could they be but us?–have entered the realm of the imagination, of dreams and of the spirit.

Or maybe not. The basic skills used in producing the Aurignacian tools are present in the “primitive” Oldowan; doubtless such tools remained in use for basic chores–no need to waste one’s finest products on elementary work. And merely by the introduction of contrast to the Oldowan chopper, its maker added one of the elements of beauty to his work. We are not only toolmakers, but also artists, at our roots. The deep sense of satisfaction at work well done, an obstacle overcome, is common to both tool and statue.

The question has to be: have people mastered themselves as they have mastered stone (and now metal, too)? The answer lies locked up in our creativity, in the artist in us. The artist recognizes the achievement of the chopper, the blade, the statue.   RT


Photos: top: Lion-Man, WikiCmns, Public Domain; middle: Stone Chopper, WikiCmns, Public Domain; bottom: Solutrean Tools, WikiCmns, CC 3.0 Unported, author, World Imaging.


  1. November 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Loved this. I often ponder the journey of man’s effort to work imaginatively, and the evolution of that journey.

    • November 12, 2012 at 10:02 pm

      ABY: thanks for your appreciation…and for taking the time to comment! RT

  2. November 17, 2012 at 4:15 am

    I love ancient stonework, I am going to peru soon and hope to see some prehistoric work!

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