It is always fun to imagine people from the Paleolithic past appearing in our modern world. We can only imagine what questions they might have of us. But what would we ask? I have been reading essays and articles about human inventions recently, one of which wonders, “Why did it take so long to invent rope?” link
Plain old everyday rope. Stone tools have been found in Ethiopia dating back two and a half million years; at least that is the earliest discovery so far. It is easy to criticize early humans for not thinking of tying stuff up until 28,000 years ago; hindsight, always so clear. Lots of useful things were invented before rope: glue (200,000 years ago!), clothing, pigments for painting and dyeing, spears, weaving, the mortar/pestle, the flute. link
As is so often the case, once rope was in use, it spread across the world. And ladders. One would think, a human who could craft a cooking pot or a flute could make a ladder. The “first” ladder is shown in a cave painting in Spain, dating back 10,000 years. The painting shows highly motivated humans trying to reach a nest of wild honeybees.
At the top of my personal list of “Why did it take so long?” is the invention of writing, used first by Neolithic humans. The excuse given by historians is that some form of paper had to be invented first. But Asian tortoise-shell carvings, pictured on the right, date back to 6000 BC. My list would also include sterilization: Hippocrates boiled instruments used in caring for wounded Roman gladiators but this practice was abandoned until the late nineteenth century. Apparently we can take forever to invent or discover something useful and then forget it.
The most debated question is described in a thoughtful article in Scientific American: “Why Did it Take So Long to Invent the Wheel.” link Natalie Wolchover writes that humans were enjoying sailboats and harps, building canals and making metal alloys when the wheel was invented during the Bronze Age, 3500 B.C. Large trees were necessary to create wagon size wheels; and, the stroke of brilliance was the carefully fitted axel. Nevertheless, the consensus seems to be all this occurred very late and long after the “toolkits” were available.
Of course it it unfair to look back and gripe about what humans should have done earlier. We put men on the moon before it occurred to anyone to put wheels on luggage. I watched a movie set in the sixties last week and marveled at the characters carrying large suitcases.
It is inspiring though to think that there is something there for us to find, or discover or invent. Some obvious thing that we are just not seeing. Like…rope.