Otto caught several of the younger members of Lyta’s band practicing their knapping skills. This is a rare insight into
Oldowan tool making, mankind’s first effort at stone tools. Homo habilis was the first to utilize these roughly-shaped tools, though some think our earlier predecessors–Australopithecines–used them, also. Otto doesn’t show that, despite the fact he often returns to the life of Boah, an orphaned Australopithecine who ends up traveling with Lyta.
“Ahnda. Hand me that one.” Raza frowned as he indicated a dusty gray fist-sized rock. With the basalt and chert exhausted, the selection of cores–the stones that would become flakes, choppers, anvils, or any number of other stone tools when knapped with skilled hands and patient eyes–was poor. To create tools that could separate carcass from tissue, cleave bone, and penetrate the parched grassland soil required volcanic rocks like those found in the talus mines of Smoking Mountain. Soon, the hunters would go there. It would take days, and would endanger those going and staying, but it must be done or they would die.
Ahnda wanted to join the hunters. Few were invited until they brought meat to the group. Ahnda hadn’t done that yet. He’d tried, many times, but always failed. Still, his feet were fast, his eyes sharp. He could float through canopy and grass without even the wind noticing. But, the same reasons that made Ahnda want to join the males made Raza want to leave him behind: The females and children must be protected. They were the group’s future.
Ahnda handed the gray rock to Raza and watched him run his fingers over it, grumble and point out an almost invisible fissure. “It will crack.” He tossed it aside.
Ahnda pawed through the diminishing pile and found a palm-sized chunk of chalcedony. Hard, almost transparent, with smooth flat surfaces that felt cool to the touch. It would require more time, but time was plentiful.
Raza’s deft hand movements, steady gaze, passive face, explained everything necessary about stone knapping to the children who eagerly watched. Control, calm, never hurry.
“Is it large enough?” He extended his hand so the children could study it. The stone covered from his wrist to the base of the fingers. When Raza closed his fist, it peeked between the tight fingers.
Ahnda pondered Raza’s question, but his mentor opened his hand and continued, “Can it split the grain-that-adds-power without destroying it?” As usual when Raza was teaching, he didn’t expect answers. Ahnda had adopted the same method when he showed the youngest children how to gather roots and bulbs.
Ahnda sighed. Day after day, he sat with Raza, learning the secrets of knapping. When the sun burned and other children hid under shady trees or in the cool water, Ahnda knapped stone tools with the males. He adopted their impassive expressions, their grunts. He never giggled or romped anymore—because adults didn’t. His every action prepared him for the day Lyta and Falda would no longer be able to contribute, when the group became responsible for feeding them and their new infants. His arms had strengthened and his legs grown. He hoped if he conquered tool-making, Raza would allow him to hunt.
He studied Raza as the male placed the core in his left palm vertical to a flat grindstone base.
“Hand me a hammerstone.”
This was easier to find. The group had a ready supply of the hard cobbles used to strike flakes off the core. He picked one of Raza’s favorites, recognizable by the damaged patches on both ends. Once a hunter found a hammerstone strong enough to prevent the core fragmenting it upon impact, they used it until it was too small. Raza raised the hammerstone, slammed it against the edge of the core and a sliver exploded in an arc, upward, falling gently to the ground beneath.
“Ahnda. See if this flake is good.”
Ahnda slashed his fingertip and showed Raza the blood beading in a bright red line. “As easy as Mammoth’s trunk through water.”
With a grunt, Raza rotated the core clockwise, knapping a steady stream of unifacial cutters. None looked alike, as oryx in a herd all differ, but Ahnda had found no stones this sharp in Nature.
“You try, Ahnda.”
Raza handed the core and hammerstone to Ahnda. Never before had he asked Ahnda to show the youngsters how to flake. The boy chewed his lower lip and looked into Raza’s blunt face just starting to wrinkle around the eyes and mouth. Ahnda felt his lips tighten into a flat line, just as his mentor’s did when he sat to knap. Somehow he knew his actions here would decide whether he joined the males tomorrow. Raza nodded and rolled back on his haunches to watch.
Ahnda focused in until nothing existed but the flat base, the hammerstone and the core. He checked the height of his uplifted hand, the position of the hammerstone in his fingers, and the core in front of him. The angle and its point of collision had to be perfect. With the confidence of youth, he raised the hammerstone high, steadied the cobble, and smashed one against the other, making the most beautiful flake he had ever seen.
He paused with a satisfied grunt and felt power flow through his arms. He’d done it. His eyes met Raza’s, prepared for congratulations, but found instead disappointment.
“How long does one flake last?”
Of course. Raza never created just one. The boy’s mouth clamped shut and he started over, trying to create the rhythm so natural for Raza.
Deft actions, sure and fast. Why is it so difficult to do?
When the core became too small, he selected another at random and tried again and again with the inborn patience of all hominids. Ahnda matched the coordination of his hand to the focus of his eye as he smashed hammerstone into cobble.
That flake is too thick.
Checking Raza’s reaction and turning back to his work.
He sends razor-sharp flakes, one after the other, scattering to the ground. I can do that, too.
And makes it appear easy.
Trying again, without complaint, for why would he complain?
Around his folded legs lay the stone debris. When he used up a core, Raza invariably tossed the flakes aside. This brought a scowl to Lyta’s face, but a nod from Ahnda. Males had patience. Males turned weathered rocks into talon-sharp tools. He would learn.
How does Man-who-Preys connect this flake to a stick?
Ahnda absently fingered the razor-sharp cutter, holding it against the tip of a nearby twig.
First, I learn to knap. Then I learn to make stick-that-kills.
When he was too exhausted to continue, Sun had moved a hands-width across the sky and no one remained except Gleb. Ahnda was sure Gleb would go tomorrow, even though he couldn’t knap, because Gleb had his first kill. This was the mark of a hunter, and a male. His mind drifted back to that day, when Gleb had killed the ostrich…