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Lucy's braid... A bedtime's story!

by margouillat Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 03:51:34 AM EST

This is a story... Just a story. No mind-blowing invention or peak oil...
It's a time machine that brings you back to the origin of our species and show the incredible progress we've made since...!

Fasten your seat belts, here we go...


Let margouillat weave you a fascinating tail.. er, tale - afew

Lucy's braid... A bedtime's story!

Or "The right angle outbreak in buildings"...

At the beginning of the human times, the Homo "something" and his cousins, the great apes, leave the primal forest for a more healthy jogging lifestyle in the savanna. Some hothead of the tribe had already ventured in those great infinite spaces and those who didn't get killed by some predator, came back with a good deal of prestige among the females of the species.

The tribe, pushed to carelessness by the "Great Leader's" muscular keynote speech, ended in a  half-heartedly approval to this definitive move in the savanna... As anyhow the global warming was there!

After several nights sleeping out on hard rocks, while various predators took their toll on the group, many started to miss their tree !

It's quite useful, a tree. The big animals  can't really climb it. The foliage can be tender and easily set as an aperitif salad. And mostly, a fork in a high branch would allow for a very cozy nest, easy to build for one who has hands with fingers on it... And the knowledge of knots! (Notwithstanding palaeologists' theories, the "long hairs" of our ancestors must have been braided in thousand fashions, ensuring the social status in the group... The knot civilization in some sort!)

In the savanna, trees are scarce and already reserved to the dominant cast. The lower class, as always, had to contend with the hard and dangerous ground, among the grass and high weeds.
As there was not enough trees, maybe the tribe could act "as if" they had some make believe ones... Building nests with weed, grass and bushes.

Braiding, knotting, again and again, the first straw hut emerged... It was much more wearing then the classical nest in the tree!
The males, with their usual laziness character, stated that they wouldn't do it everyday, and that each had to use it for several nights... If not, till it broke down.

Quite surprisingly, the straw hut held out in the instantaneous time of  the first humans. Some, more clever (usually the females), found out that some weeds aged better then others, once dried, and that the tensile knot science they had used in the forest, could be quite useful in the windy plain.
As they promised, the males, exhausted by this creative design, didn't modify the basic model for some thousand years... The females, on the other hand, improved regularly the 1.00 version.
The straw hut was a success... It still is !

In braided or knotted weeds, one gives rigidity to a material that doesn't have that property at first (as the corrugated steel sheet, or the 2CV Citroën's hood).
The grand-mother's wicker basket allows for great stress constraints without falling apart, whether the forces are applied inside or outside the basket. Today, in Asia, most breakable objects are dispatched in wicker cases... As the aerostat's nacelle, even though there are new high-tech materials !

Defoe's Robinson Crusöe, clad in green, is not without analogy to the Japanese peasant of last century. Watertight cape in rice straw, hat, winter shoes ( wastes of the local agriculture).
The first manufactured products able to hold non-coherent products as flour, water, fire, must have been such baskets with a clay lining (the technique is still used by modern alcoholic travelers... They just replaced the clay with pewter and flour by the beverage of their choice)!
This supple framework, resistant, lightweight, cheap follows, ever since, our suffering human kind (suffering of having lost Eden, the primal forest that has been mythified since)!

Ötzi, the man found in a glacier was better prepared then Rambo. Hat, cape, shoes, jacket, trousers, backpack, scabbard, fist aid kit, meal bag... Most of it in braided weeds and bark...

When you see that "poor shepherd" you doubt of the usual illustration of lake-dwellings of that era. Crude log houses, and poor bare interiors. When even in the poorest Favella today you have several layers of material, carpets, mats, cardboard, paper sheets, and even corrugated iron sheets that differentiate the different interior functions, allows for insulation and intimacy.

I wont speak of the buttons, fibulae, hooks, used by the man of the glacier for his clothes and bags. Those lake-dwellings would have had doors, hinges, shutters, trammels and many other ligaturing and bonding means...(Uh ho... this story isn't supposed to be X rated.)

The drawback in using organic materials in housing, is that it rots in time. In archeology, only stone and other minerals are perennial ! Basketry...?  It doesn't hold longer then a mere five hundred years, it vanishes without leaving residues...
No physical remains indeed. But what about indirect remnants in culture, art?The Celtic art of interlaced designs and other "greeks", the maze drawings, the grids...?

Is not primitive who want's to be! And from Etruria to Hallstatt, those way of life were much more modern the we usually think of. (Celts exchanged soap for wine with Greeks... We are far from the Julius Caesar propaganda on the "filthy" people of Gaul) (I might agree on the garlic part, though).

As organic material isn't there anymore as a "proof", we are left with our "sole imagination" to describe dwellings where only a few holes in the ground are left over time...

In the meantime, mankind shifts from tribe to clan. The mastering of fire, the hunt management, the gathering, the numerous chores, have organized the social life of an ever growing population (try to reproduce in a tree and on flat ground, you'll quickly find a difference in efficiency)!

The usual males suspects were weary and had sore feet, moving always to find food. After a quick symposium, they declared that agriculture was the way.
As, anyhow, the females could do all the work without danger, the males being on the lookout chatting about hunting prowess's and drinking some fermented grain beverage...

The trouble with being sedentary, is that local "good weeds" for building materials are quickly depleted and the next ones are quite at a distance... (the increase of a better fed population being exponential... As the Lily pad story)

After all, agriculture is about moving earth and watering it ? So clay, peebles, stones, straw are the "left-over" of agriculture...
The first adobe wall is born. The laziest of the Males, even returned it as a vault (because thatch is hard to do)... Il (primitive) Duomo !

Most of human dwelling designs are there. A bit more stone then clay and it's the "Opus incertum" (roman's favorite). More trees and less rocks, and it's "the litlle house in the prairie"...

But what happens when you have neither in great quantities ? Well, maybe the straw could be replaced by hair ? You find thousand of those on herded animals, every year after winter...

The first agglomerate of humankind, felt, the non weaved material with so many nice properties... (among which, it can be made by the older females, chewing those balls of hair). We still use it daily...

Straw huts, shanties, cabins, yurts... All these "houses" that survived through time have on identical peculiarity... They are round (half-sphere like)!

All of a sudden,  about 4000 years B.C. some houses with square angled walls appears. It's a great mystery for archeologists.. Why?

Many hypothesis can be formulated. I'll just sort a few, issued from my fertile imagination...

 1-The beam on two supports...

After experimenting straw, wood has become the standard for building. It's rigid by itself (no more painful braiding), it can be post or beam, it's plenty!

Our good old male "Homo" was already quite "Sapiens", he became "Sapiens" again when he discovered the "law of less effort" and  crossed it with the very important law on "offer and demand"...

Man's life in those times was quite short. Most trees need about a 100 years to grow... Infinity for those men of the "Carpe Diem" era.
After having ruthlessly ruined the nearby forests (already!), wood became a "value" (after all it's also used for cooking and heating and lighting). It is a part of the marriage portion or of an heritage. It is used and re-used, often with family markings on it.

In semi-sedentary tribes, they could even travel with those long beams of wood. Using them as sleighs while moving and has a house frame when settling.
The family marks plus the magical ones, connecting the "heaven" to "hell" through the living plane of humanity. The "Tree of the Origins" in a symbolic shamanistic trance... (the "ladder" to the nine heavens)!

And what about the square angle ??? (the now, a wee bit, impatient crowd).

Grumble... Let's picture wood beams of about 4 meter long for  the frame of a rounded house. With a maximum chord of 2,5 meter for the biggest rafter.
If we think of an extremely flat frame, it can be reduced to a circle with a radius of 4 m, a chord of 2.47 m. We will need 10 beams to shelter an area of 50,24 m2 (3,14x16).
Now let's shift to a rectangular structure. Two parallel walls (or supports) with a 4 m span. keeping our 10 beams (heritage) with the same rafters with a 2,47 m spacing, we shelter then an area of 24,70x4= 98,80 m2


About 1,96 more surface then with a rounded hut...! Let's say twice!

Gee Whiz... More "free" area for the same bill of quantity ! "Dear, we really should call an architect..."!
Of course, laziness in the usual male was a strong as ever, and "You know, she really wants kids... So with my income I had to..."!

Anyhow, that why we live in square houses...

Er... And the other theories ? (shocked assistance)

Still grumbling... OK, just one more, but 'ill make it short !

 2- The "Force" be with you...

Heavily inspired by Arthur.C. Clarke...
One day, a monolith looking like a gravestone, was discovered at dawn, stuck upright in the middle of the village's piazza... It's proportions held the knowledge of the universe.
An "emerald table" that Hermes Mulder and Athena Scully would study all their life (Truth is elsewhere... Very zen). Even the great Abbé Moreux studied it with his pendulum and his HP11 calculator.

The locals were embarrassed with this publicity that didn't help their own small trafficking. They came to a decision of hiding the "damned thing" by building their houses on the same model, upon the well known principle of "the stolen letter" of Edgar Allan Poe...

Since, houses and frozen fish have right angles corners...


  • Of course, all analogy with the newest nanotechnologies, or carbon tubes fiber weaves, or even with the great African rift, would be pure speculation...
  • The suspicious use of various weeds for experimental purposes wasn't even an option...
  • No "Sapiens Sapiens" were hurt while writing the story (maybe my left wrist ? )!

The management hopes the trip was pleasurable... And wishes you a very good week! You can now return to more useful occupations...

What a treat, margouillat! Two great diaries from you on the same weekend, wow and thank you! :-)
by Fran on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 11:47:35 AM EST
This was a "quick" one... Full of typos and spelling errors ! I really must learn english one of these days... :-)

I'll be very busy next week... So I decided I might just as well throw this one in... As it doesn't fit in my usual schedule !
And it's better to read it with a glass full of something...!

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 12:09:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Trust me, your English is much better than that of most Okies.  

We all bleed the same color.
by budr on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 12:40:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Despite its heavily sexist bias, thanks for this nicely written story...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 02:08:37 PM EST
Which side the bias ...? :-)

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 04:40:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 04:49:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Phew... I was in doubt for a moment...!
Well... It's true in a way! While typing I was thinking of Matriarchy and Patriarchy's influences...!

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 05:52:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As if  bilineal societies did not exist.!!!. from ancient times.. and present gender divisions had nothing to do with the past (or with the present in other places)

No matter what the patriarchal or feminist movement tell you...it is hard to figure gender roles in the past... I doubt that yuour anti-male diatribe could hold water :)

Great diary

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 04:13:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sure it "leaks" from everywhere... :-)

But it was a funny thought, seeing those "old ancestors" as a modern day, south of France, Pétanque players, group...  In the "Chi va piano, va sano..." sort of way!

About real sexism, most ancient dwellings areas are measured by the distance that can do a women with a 30 kg load twice daily... The next measuring distance tool would be the donkey or the oxen...!!!!

Not enough attention was given to the "Abduction of the Sabines women" in the constitution of early societies !
On a lighter note, the Kalahai's Meercat does that sort of "abduction" in neighboring burrows...

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Mon Feb 26th, 2007 at 04:28:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some hothead of the tribe had already ventured in those great infinite spaces and those who didn't get killed by some predator, came back with a good deal of prestige among the females of the species.

...reminded me of this by Lin Yutang.

I believe the mystery of the origin of sexual modesty in man, which is totally absent in animals, is [due to our] erect posture.  For by this new posture, which Father Nature in his scheme of things probably never intended, certain posterior parts of the body at one stroke came to occupy the centre of the body, and what was naturally behind came in front.  Allied to this terrible new situation were other maladjustments chiefly affecting women, causing frequent abortions and menstrual troubles.  Anatomically, our muscles were designed and developed for the quadruped position.  The mother pig, for instance, carries its litter of pig embryos logically suspended from its horizontal spine, like wash hung on a line with its weight properly distributed.  Asking the human pregnant mother to stand erect is like tipping the wash line vertically and expecting the clothes to remain in position.  Our peritoneal muscles are badly designed for that: if we were originally bipeds, such muscles should be nicely attached to the shoulder, and the whole thing would be a more pleasant job.  Anybody with a knowledge of the anatomy of the human womb and ovaries should be surprised that they keep in position and function at all, and that there are not more dislocations and menstrual troubles.


t'was a bad idea to follow those guys out onto the plains...nature didn't make our backs for...that kind of terrain, posture, or behaviour.

But you suggest it was global warming what done it.  The forests shrank...and here we are...

Great idea about the knotting of the long hair...the celtic designs...of course...knots...

also useful for building boats and sailing them...and didn't someone say the first counting was done by tying knots along strings?

Another great diary!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 04:36:38 PM EST
Not so sure about the womb's position though...! Nature can be incredibly complex and has shown us much worse!

Below an example of great apes knots with tree branches... Quite elaborated !
Since we've learned that the young females chimpanzee re-invented the spear (or was it already there) (a wink to Melanchton's reply)... :-)



"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman

by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 06:01:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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