More than half a million years ago, man took a tremendous
step. That step helped to distinguish him forever from
the less intelligent and unselfconscious animal world: he
began to make hand tools.
Because they were of such great antiquity, many of our
familiar hand tools had already attained a late stage of
development in classical or medieval times. The very
thing that surprises people today when they first see four
or five hundred years-old axes, planes, hammers, chisels and
saws is that they all look so 'modern'.
The basic principle of sawing was first devised in the
pre-metal age. Neolithic man adapted as tool s the
objects he found around him; he cut crude and uneven notches
or serrations in the edges of flint flakes. The
principle of abrasion man understood from his fire-saw or
This was a system of rubbing one piece of wood, bamboo or
thong (saw) against another (hearth) so that the sparks from
the friction fell into the sawing dust and made fire.
It was a technique common all over Europe, India, Australia,
South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Archaeological excavations in Southern France have provided
some very early examples of flint saws from what
pre-historians call the Magdalenian culture of the Upper
Paleolithic period (reindeer period). Many such saws
were still being used countless years later in the so-called
Bronze age, and were being copied in metal.
Saws six or
seven thousand years old made from a black vitreous lava
called obsidian were uncovered in the great excavations at
the ancient Sumerian capital, Ur of the Chaldees in
Mesopotamia. These small , two inch-long blades (now in the
University of Pennsylvania Museum at Philadelphia in the
United States) were the tools of Sumerian craftsmen in the
legendary lands of the Garden of Eden between the rivers
Tigris and Euphrates, two thousand years before the birth of
Prehistoric saws which were found in the tumuli or burial
mounds of Northern England, in French caves, in the
stone-heaps or Kjokken-Moddings of Sweden and Denmark and in
former lake-dwelling sites in Switzerland and Italy have an
average length of about three inches and vary in length from
one and a half inches to nine inches. Many flint artifacts
were not true saws but sickles, and these very tiny saws
were used to cut bone, wood and horn in the making of
Flint was favored, being hard and chipping into a keen,
straight cutting-edge. It is even thought that the
best kinds of flint for this purpose were used in
prehistoric trade. But the flint saw was thick and
easily wedged in the cutting groove.
The problem was not solved at this stage of history, despite
the more sophisticated models like those found at Palada,
Northern Italy, and Vinelz, Switzerland, on which serrated
flint flakes are mounted with natural asphalt in a grooved
wooden or stag horn handle.