Evolution of Technology (TEC 154 2014S) : Readings

Questions from Whittaker


Whittaker, J. C. (1994). Flintknapping: Basic principles. Chapter 2 of Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools (pp. 11-21). Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

Whittaker, J. C. (1994). A Brief History of Flintknapping. Chapter 3 of Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools (pp. 23-63). Univ. of Texas Press.

What does society have to gain from having anthropologists record and distinguish between features of ancient pieces of flint such as flake scars and radial fissures? [Good]

What is the drive for people in this modern day to keep flintknapping even though society offers better technologies? Does it serve a purpose other than nostalgia? [Fair/Good. It feels like Whittaker already answers this, at least a bit. On the other hand, he felt compelled to write another book on the topic.]

Is there any special characteristic that differentiates a tool from a weapon? [Good]

Would Whittaker believe that early technology effected the development of politics in early civilizations; and that if the technologies had developed differently the civilizations would have also developed different political systems? [Good]

Whittaker mentions more than once that as new tool making technologies evolved throughout history, the older flaked-stone technologies continued to be widely used. How does this continued prevail of an old technology over a new technology relate to Wendell Berry’s ideas about when it is appropriate to upgrade technology? [Good. My first reaction was that Berry's stance is a more conscious one, but this would be something we could discuss.]

Does the increasing of human intelligence over time necessarily mean "better” technologies are developed? [Good]

How is knowing how to make stone tools helpful to us in our study of technology? [Good. A bit broad, but still a good opening question.]

Can we do a lab on this to have a greater appreciation of the very first human tools? [Good. A nice suggestion. We'll see what Whittaker thinks. He'll certainly do demos if he can.]

Whittaker states, "The only definite tools that have survived are the stone tools." What other types of tools did these hominids use? [Fair. Strict factual questions are basically a test of knowledge. It would be useful to have a deeper question. Even "What other types of tools might not have survived?", which would get us thinking more broadly about technology.]

What would you argue is the main reason for such differences in tools among these early hominids? [Good]

Whittaker claims, "the only definite tools that have survived are the stone tools." Do you think he states this in order to note the importance of a technology's ability to adapt and function under rapidly changing social, economic, and technological climates? [Fair. It's pretty clear that he states this because stone survives and plant matter doesn't tend to.]

Does thinking about technology in terms of stone tools change your definition of technology? [Good.]

Whittaker goes into a very in depth history of flintknapping and stone tools. Do you feel he was more concerned with the specifics of stone tools rather than his general thesis? [Good.]

In Whittaker's 3rd chapter, is our definition of technology in terms of development and modification altered or reinforced? [Mixed. I like the question of how our definition is affected. At the same time, Whittaker's third chapter is a big piece of writing. It would be nice to see the question focused on a particular part of the chapter.]

In addition, the second chapter about the specifics on Flintnapping seemed excessive to me, did you (the class), find it aided your understanding of technologies as tools? [Good.]

What role do stone tools play into the larger context of Anthropology? Are these tools and how the evolved along with dietary habits, etc a part of basic anthropological studies or is this technology just an interesting particular study within the field? [Fair. Not a question we can really answer as a class.]

Did the change in human bone structure change along with the change in dietary habits and stone structures? What is the correlation between the three evolutions? [Fair. Not a question we can really answer as a class.]

Do the channels cut on the faces of clovis points add any utility? Or are they just a feature that distinguishes them from other industries? [Fair. Not a question that we can really answer using our knowledge. Could probably be expanded into an interesting question, though.]

Would archaeologists who believe in pre-Clovis culture suggest that Clovis culture is descended from pre-Clovis people or that the two are separate entirely? [Fair. Not a question we can really discuss.]

What is term associated with creating tools out of wood? [Fair. Not a question that we can really discuss, and doesn't really help us think much about technology.]

Whittaker's article talked about flintknapping and the different form of knapping in order to obtain the desired weapon. The different forms of essentially performing the same task prompted my question: Is technology found (existing in a realm waiting to be discovered) or is it created? [Very good, although could probably be phrased a bit better. I think we can't answer this for all technologies, but we might be able to answer the question "Are some technologies simply discovered, or are all technologies created?"]

In retrospect, the byproduct of knapping (debitage) is a monstrous waste of material. What are some modern production techniques that might have the same level of "debitage," so to speak? [Very good.]

Since much of Chapter 3 concerns the archaeological benefits of studying knapping techniques. What might some of the remnants of our current technological advances say about our present society and culture? [Good. Phrasing is a bit awkward, but asking about viewing a society retrospectively through technology is a good approach.]

Whittaker comments on the shift in archaeology where there became increased focus on understanding the people and their cultures and decreased focus on description and chronology. What advantages can come from investigating artifacts in such a way? Does the extremely small amount of artifacts from certain time period make it a waste if time to make claims about a culture with such little evidence? [Very good.]

The Lacandon Maya still produce traditional-style stone-tipped arrows, but use shotguns and rifles to hunt. The production of the arrows are for tourist trade and are not intended for traditional functions. What does this mean for stone weaponry? Have the traditions of hundreds of civilizations become sold-out cheap products that fail to recognize the important cultural aspects of the weapons? [Mixed. A few too many judgemental words to make this a good open question.]

Flintknapping may not be the easiest trade to understand and master, but it certainly is easier to understand than most technologies that have emerged in the last century (i.e. the computer, cell phones, etc.). Can the influence Crabtree and Bordes had on the number of skilled knappers be translated to other technologies just as easy? [Very good. Can help us think more deeply about some technologies.]

What would Weinberg think of the technology of stone tools? [Fair. Needs some explanation as to why you are asking this question. And I'm not sure that stone tools address social engineering issues (well, maybe hunger).]

What biases might Whittaker have in his discussion of flintknapping and the modern flintknapping community? [Fair. It's a useful question, but it's an obvious question that you could ask without having read anything.]

How does Winner's argument that technology is inherently political relate to Whittaker's article about stone tools and flintknapping? What politics, if any, do we see in these technologies? [Good.]

Within both sections of the readings, Whittaker stresses that these tools are the fulcrum of society. Whittaker points to successfulness of the tool, the value of the parts that make up the tool, the use of each tool (i.e obsidian for medical purposes (19)) even the symbolic value that each of these tools carried (51) and insinuates that we can learn massive amount about individuals and groups by the tools they carried. Though this poses the question- while it is clear that the people and tools developed along side each other and this development impacted the evolution of the people, can we correlate these evolutions with changes in social structure? [Mixed. Evolution and changes in social structure seem to be very different time scales.]

I previously stated that Whittaker claimed that the stone tools developed along with the people and had a massive impact on their evolution, while he focuses on correlating the change in successfulness of the people and the evolution of their tools - he fails to mention what happens to the older model of tools. Are they simply discarded, are they repurposed? [Good. Could be extended to a more general question: What happens to older technologies? Do they continue in parallel, or do they disapppear?]

Also, some of the tools he mentions (in particular the obsidian tools) seem to serve many purposes- is this tool a multipurpose tool at one time, or was it used primarily for one purpose and then later on used for medical purposes? [Okay. A bit factual, but still something that could give some productive discussion.]

How does the change in technologies and crops in this reading compare to that of Friday's reading regarding tomato production in California? The California case seemed to demonize technology and its ability to improve yield whereas the stone tools aided in the efficiency of crops and ability to eat meats/proteins easily. (Obviously the tomato example included a large loss of jobs, but what else about it does/doesn't correspond to the more primitive/early food technology innovations.) [Very good. I like the implicit question of what power structure the tools might support, and by focusing on comparing agricultural practices, it helps us think a bit more carefully about both situations.]

Whittaker mentions on page 51 that archeologists typically need to remember to ask not just what the tools were used for in their hands, but what the purpose of the object was in the user's mind. Does the common consumer, today, think about the larger implications of their technogies' purposes or so we evaluate them for their more surface utilities? (As in, do we critically evaluate our needs/use of technology beyond a superficial level?) [Very good. I like this as a broader way of thinking about technology, as it gives us three perspectives on the technology: What purpose the creator thinks it serves, what purpose those who analyze the technology think it serves, and what purpose the users actually think it serves.]

In considering technology’s purpose as both utilitarian and something fulfilling a social or psychological function for the user, can we think of any social "structures" that might have ascribed meaning to stone tools in particular aside from their function as tools? [Good. Asks us to think more broadly about technology.]

Was anyone persuaded to start flintknapping by these chapters? [Hmmm. A fun discussion starter, but not deep.]

Copyright (c) 2014 Samuel A. Rebelsky.

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