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September 20, 2016 > Stone Age technology returns to Coyote Hills

Stone Age technology returns to Coyote Hills

By Victor Carvellas

Patience was the primitive toolmakers greatest resource. It took time to knap a blade or grind the edge of a stone adze. Once it was fashioned and put to use, however, the tool freed up time and energy that could be put to other purposes. Mechanical leverage was another important aspect of tool making. A hand axe, a blade fashioned from stone, in the hand of an experienced worker could chop through wood well enough, but mounting the tool to a handle gave leverage, and therefore increased force. Fields could be cleared of trees and plants more easily, substantially advancing the spread of agriculture.

The same was true for hunting weapons. A spear could be thrown with only so much force, but employing a lever, a specially designed throwing stick, extended the reach of the throwers arm, increasing the mechanical force and the weapons penetrating power. Such leverage was the advantage of using an atlatl of the kind attendees of the Stone Age Olympics will witness first-hand at Coyote Hills on September 25.

At the Stone Age Olympics, participants will get to experience the kinds of tools early humans used to hunt and to make fire. Participants can enter a spear throwing accuracy contest sanctioned by the International Standard Accuracy Contest (ISAC), the competitive arm of the World Atlatl Association. Plaques will be awarded in mens, womens, and youth divisions. Other hunting weapons, such as the rabbit stick (a boomerang-like tool used by some Native American tribes) and bolas will also be among the tools demonstrated. Fire making with hand drills and flintknapping fill out the program.

Stone tools first appear in the archaeological record more than 100,000 years ago, but most of the tools we now associate with the ÒStone AgeÓ were perfected in the Neolithic period (New Stone Age), which began around 10,000 BCE, before the use of copper, and later bronze, made stone tools if not obsolete, less widely employed. The dates at which societies adopted metal technology varies, but in general the Neolithic Revolution (a term coined by Australian archaeologist Vere Gordon Chile) saw the transformation of hunter-gatherer societies into settled agrarian ones. Some of mankinds first tools were used for hunting, but with the advent of settled life, animal husbandry, and agrarian societies, the techniques learned from weapon making were turned to the practical projects of adzes for hewing wood, digging tools for turning the soil, and fine tools that aided in making pottery, fashioning clothes, and preparing food.

Weapon making never ceased to be important, as settled societies tended to be easy targets for neighboring resource-hungry tribes. The advantages of settled society, however, in terms of resource sharing, stable social structures, and increased life span outweighed the risk of attack. Increased productivity that came with tool use meant more mouths to feed, but also meant the establishment of villages, towns, and ultimately city-states. The pattern of settlement and society building finds parallels in the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Eurasian contexts.

In some parts of the world where game and wild foods were abundant, such as the Bay Area, hunter-gatherer societies such as the Ohlone faced less pressure to cultivate than others, whereas other Native Americans tribes, notably of the American South and Southwest, raised corn, beans, squash, wild rice, potatoes, and much more. Metalworking was known where native gold and copper were available for fashioning into tools, though these metals were not good at holding an edge. Metal smelting for the production of bronze and iron tools remained in the Old World until the arrival of Europeans.

When park Naturalist Dino Labiste started the Stone Olympics 2011, he had been thinking of Òan event that would bring out families.Ó There had been some weekend events prior to that and Labiste decided to build on those, turning them into a single annual event with experts in fire making, stone tools, and hunting techniques, including the Òrabbit stickÓ and the atlatl. ÒEvery year the attendance picks up,Ó says Labiste, and 2015Õs event drew about 150 people. So-called ÒprimitiveÓ technologies are often misunderstood, as it is easy to misjudge their effectiveness because Òwe simply do not live with them every day as our ancestors would have,Ó he says.

Along with Labiste, flintknapping expert Ken Peek will be on hand to demonstrate stone tool making, as will atlatl expert Mark Dellinges.

Stone Age Olympics
Sunday, Sep 25
10:00 a.m. Ð 12:15 p.m. & 1:00 p.m. Ð 3:00 p.m.
Coyote Hills Regional Park
8000 Patterson Ranch Rd, Fremont
(Meet at Dairy Glen Campground)
(510) 544-3220
Free admission
Parking: $5

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