Ancient mammoth tusk re-interpreted


Well-Known Member
Mar 27, 2016

I love the way stuff gets re-interpreted. These are now thought to be tools for making twine/rope. Previously similar objects were believed to be ceremonial batons.

Here are the first few lines:

Forty thousand years ago, a stone-age toolmaker carved a curious instrument from mammoth tusk. Twenty centimetres long, the ivory strip has four holes drilled in it, each lined with precisely cut spiral incisions.
The purpose of this strange device was unclear when it was discovered in Hohle Fels cave in south-western Germany several years ago. It could have been part of a musical instrument or a religious object, it was suggested. But now scientists have concluded that it is the earliest known instrument for making rope. And its impact would have been revolutionary.

And here's the complete article:

Forty thousand years ago, a stone-age toolmaker carved a curious instrument from mammoth tusk.

I always get a chill when I read statements like that. For some reason it hits me more than the fact that there were dinosaurs 65 million years ago or forming planets 5 billion years ago. It's that... today we have all this culture and interaction, and we've got recorded history going back several thousand years, and all of that seems monumental... and yet it's a small fraction of what humans and human-like animals have been doing for tens of thousands of years. There are caves where tribes of early humans lived for a thousand generations, longer than any empire in human history, and yet all we know about them is a few tools left behind. All those lives, those inner worlds and imaginations and languages as fully formed and capable as ours... all those thoughts and words are forever inaccessible to us. It freaks me out.
I would love to see a demonstration of how that sort of instrument could be used to make rope. It had to be pretty complicated. And I agree completely that the ability to to create rope/twine is one of the greatest of humanity's earliest inventions.
I think it would be for braiding strands together. There is a Viking rope-making tool that works in a similar way.
Forty thousand years ago they had suits made of finely woven grass with shell buttons. They only reason this is known is because the hut the suit was hanging in caught on fire and the finely woven grass material ended up on a piece of clay which got got fired in the fire, preserving the pattern forever. I added the shell buttons for effect. I'm sure they had them. The grass suit was real.
Well, when you look at things like the lucet

Or the different lucets and loom weights and bobbins here

There is a bit of a cousin-ship.

However ropes can be made without tools like this.

But probably needs fewer people if you have tools.

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