Thursday, September 30, 2010

The History of Fire Making Tools

I attended a lecture last week at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum in Yucca Valley called The Quest for Fire, The History of Fire-Making Tools. Speaker Tom O’Key. Pictures have been uploaded to my Flickr page. Here’s what I gleaned from this nearly two hour long lecture:

-Nothing exists without fire.
-Vesta is the goddess of fire. Vestal virgins maintained fires. They might have used a concave mirror or solar lens to spark fires.
-Touchwood was the first material discovered that could transfer embers, thanks to its soft pulp. The magic mushroom (yes, that’s what he said the name was) also has these properties and was used as tinder. Plant down also used for tinder. Starting that ember in the tiny hearth of these items was critical.
-Then tinder boxes and steel were invented. Flint and steel hit together to make fire. Ember stored in tinder box. Tongs were used to transfer the ember. People discovered pyrite has fire-making capabilities.
-Tools remained standard for millennia. The hand bow and drill was the number one method to make fire and consisted of two parts: the bow and the hearth into which the fire was started. Bow drill was the advanced method of fire-making.
-Concave mirrors were used to get fire from the sun.
-At some point fire pistons were invented, but no one knows the history of this device. It’s believed to have come from the aboriginals.
-Iron doesn’t create sparks. You must use steel.
-Sulfur (brimstone) was discovered to have fire-making abilities.
-A lens was used to light tobacco.
-In the 1800s scientists were called philosophers, not scientists.
-Sulfur match making was the job of the poor because of the work and stench involved in the process. Making matches was poisonous in nature, causing a condition called fozee jaw. Matches were carried in a basket and sold on the street.
-The steel was chained to the wagon in pioneer days so it would be readily accessible.
-Tinderboxes were common on all fireplaces and hearths.
-Fusee matches were in England only.
-Diamond Match Company is biggest in the United States and a long-lived business.
-Spills were rolled wood shavings made with a spill planer and were used to transfer fire.
-Historical fire-making tools are rare finds. Most burned up or were reabsorbed by nature.

It was very interesting to see Mr. O’Key’s collection, quite fascinating how fire-making has progressed over the years. I had been hoping for hands-on demonstration, but that wasn’t part of the lecture. I hope I’ve done his lecture proud, i.e., accurately.

When speaking to another attendee, I learned there is a private foundation for the care of meerkats in the neighboring town. This organization was featured on Animal Planet. I never realized it existed.

:) Caitlyn

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Spear Throwing

I recently attended a Brown Bag lecture at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum on spear throwing. You'll find the pictures on my Flickr page.

The lecture was presented by Paul Campbell. Paul has a fascination with all things old, particularly those relating to the Native Americans in California. Through research and trial and error, he's rebuilt many artifacts California Native Americans used in their daily lives, including the spears and atlatls (spear throwers) demonstrated during the lecture. The best part? After the lecture those of us who were interested in learning to throw spears got hands-on experience!

My photos show how much fun everyone had. I was surprised with how quickly adults and children learned to throw. And throw far! The photos also show many different types of spears (also called darts), atlatls, quivers (one from straw, the other from a coyote pelt).

Here are some miscellaneous facts I gleaned from the lecture (any mistakes are my own):

- You can throw very far with an atlatl. Range depends on where you hold the atlatl.

- Think of your arm as a catapult when throwing.

- Spear tips are fire-hardened. Stones are used to make the point.

- Few ancient spears and atlatls are found because they were made of wood and wood disintegrates.

- Spears were made of wood or cane.

- A "male" atlatl has a spur protrusion. A "female" atlatl has a groove.

- A cane dart (spear) has more momentum than a .357 Magnum.

- A flexible atlatl creates a whip effect and can make a dart sail.

- This Alaskan spear (reddish brown with string around it) is designed so that the point stays in the target. The string keeps the point with the spear, and the spear floats. This makes it easy to retrieve weapon and prey.

- The most common quivers were made of coyote pelt.

Paul Campbell also has two books out: