11 November 2006

A material life

Somewhere along the line, it’s not clearly known when, man began to make tools of a more sophisticated type. These tools were made not by striking one stone against another – the older method which gave rough edges – but by rubbing and grinding one stone against another using a hand-rotating movement. This was a remarkable upgrade in technology of that time, and early man began to make tools with smoother surfaces and sharper edges.

Apart from developing hunting and fighting weapons of better quality, this technology ushered in a whole range of tools for grinding grains, de-husking seeds, axes for cutting down trees, primitive hoes for digging soil, and even utensils such as bowls.

It is suspected that around this time, cultivation was ‘discovered’… most probably by women who, when the men were out hunting, went beyond their duty of collecting fruits and roots and seeds to actually planting seeds and roots in the ground and nurturing them. This increased their supply of food near their settlements and made life more convenient. And so, introduced agriculture in human civilisation.

With agriculture came domestication of animals, with cattle, goats and sheep providing milk and meat. As much as barley and wheat and several other kinds of grains were cultivated, animals were bred in captive stocks. The buffalo, which was a chief source of food, had not yet been tamed and, therefore, hunting was still a preoccupation with the men. But, the dependence on hunting was definitely reduced by then.

Weaving of baskets (from reeds and grass) had begun around this time, supplementing utensils made from mud and clay. Clothes were still made from animal hides, but perhaps some were made from weaving hair taken from goats and sheep. Bones were used as tools and, along with conch shells and beads made from soft stones, were also used as ornaments worn by men and women. It became a material life, with individuals identified by their possessions.

As life settled, villages grew in numbers and elementary houses of clay and mud-bricks were constructed. There is evidence that these houses were used both for living and for storage of grains. For, by this time, the villages and communities had learnt to grow more food than needed for their bare subsistence, thereby producing a surplus (see my earlier posts). It is likely that this surplus was appropriated, most probably by force, by some non-producing people as their right.

With agriculture, ownership of domesticated animals, production and appropriation of surplus, construction of houses and development of skills in crafts, a sense of social differentiation or classification emerged. The concept of private property became important. No longer was division of labour and social differentiation in the community a matter of gender – i.e. men were hunters, women were gatherers. Villages and communities fell into a structured social order. They needed to be managed – and governed.

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