Fire, Stone, and Wood: the First Tools

Fire, Stone, and Wood: the First Tools
Some of the primitive tools on display at Tamara Wilder’s booth.

At Maker Faire you’ll find any number of cutting edge technologies—3D printers, CNC routers, flying robots, and gestural interface devices. But the fair is also the place for primitive technologies and tools, the technologies that form the basis for every other technology that followed. The Maker Faire tent is big enough for both.

The first technologies were fire and stone and their use dates back 1.5 million years, says Tamara Wilder, who teaches “paleotechnics.” She has a primitive art and tool making booth in Maker Faire’s Homegrown Village. She ran a popular soapstone bead making working shop where kids and adults used a wooden drill to bore holes into stones.

The BioLite Stove fuses old and new technology.

“The first technologies, fire and stone, are the roots of the tree of technology,” she said. “If you don’t have strong roots you have a weak tree. We need to know how (primitive technologies) work to understand everything based on them.”

Modern technology hasn’t supplanted old technology, she says, but draws from it. Look at the BioLite Stove. The wood-burning stove was on exhibit at Maker Faire. It generates heat that powers a fan that can charge your cellphone or other devices with about four Watts of power.

Handmade arrows on display at the Trackers booth.

Off in a the northeast corner of Maker Faire, Jack Foley introduced kids to Trackers Earth, outdoor education with a focus on primitive skills like arrow making, tracking, wood carving, and other “ancient” arts.

“All of this,” he said, sweeping his arms around in a gesture to take in all of Maker Faire, “started with this.”

He hopes that once children are exposed to simple skills like starting a fire with a wood bow they’ll appreciate more complex technology even more.

Andrew Huang and his bows.

Near the Trackers tent, 13-year-old Andrew Huang taught himself to make beautiful bows with nothing but a draw knife and file. They’re simple, yet highly effective tools. He shot several blunt tipped arrows deep into the grass. For Andrew they’re also a lot of fun. He had half a dozen bows on display at Maker Faire and was busy making another one.

“It’s a very addicting hobby,” he said.

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Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook


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