Science-- there's something for everyone

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Early bamboo knives

Sometimes I choose a story just because I like an accompanying title or picture. This is one of those times. The article I read had the following subtitle: Bamboo knives were efficiently crafted and able to cut meat, but not hide. What, I wondered, were these knives trying to hide from? Okay, that only lasted a second, but it’s the little things in life that matter.

Since I’ve now piqued your interest, here’s the story. Anthropologists have long assumed that our ancestors living in East Asia used bamboo tools for a variety of purposes. Certainly, there has been a dearth of advanced stone tools at time periods when similar groups in other regions had them in abundance. However, it wasn’t clear whether carving tools out of bamboo was even possible, given the materials to hand at the time.

Researchers, led by Metin Eren of Southern Methodist University, traveled to China to attempt to make bamboo tools. Although the team was able to make bamboo knives and spears, the bamboo knives would not cut through pig hides. You can watch a video on stone-age bamboo tool manufacture here. Given that the process requires starting with stone tools anyway, it’s not clear why hominids in the area would have bothered with bamboo for most situations.