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A Handbook of Aboriginal Skills
by Steven M. Watts
Review by Thomas J. Elpel
'The future is not to be found in the past. Yet, we know that the outermost bud on the uppermost branch is fed by the deepest root. Ninety-five-plus percent of our history as humans cannot be ignored. "Written" by scavengers, hunters, gatherers and early agriculturists; the story of the Stone Age is our story' --Steven M. Watts, Practicing Primitive
No matter what our heritage is, we all share one thing in common: Our ancestors lived in the Stone Age and lived by their bare hands and bare wits. In Practicing Primitive Steve Watts, director of the Aboriginal Studies Program at Schiele Museum (Gastonia, North Carolina), takes us back to our roots with a collection of how-to articles on native skills and documentation of replicative studies with great artwork and photography, interspersed with archaeological notes, tidbits of philosophical insights, and a dash of comic relief. Much of the material in the book has been published over the last twenty years as individual articles, mostly in the pages of the Bulletin of Primitive Technology. Indeed the book is a bit of an archaeological dig, with each drawing and article individually dated--a sort of walk through time with one of the world's top authorities on aboriginal skills.
Skills-wise, the primary focus of Practicing Primitive is on the aboriginal skills, covering everything from shelter construction to making tools of stone and bone, fire-making, pottery, weaving, fishing and hunting, blow guns, bamboo rafts, mocassins, basketry, and musical instruments. The emphasis is more on making items than on using them, focusing especially on southeastern tribes, but with a few eclectic additions, such as Hawaiian war clubs and bull-roarers from around the world. My favorite part of the book, and the part I wish there was more of, is the philosophical Steve Watts: "as prehistorians we are all virtual time travelers. Virtual not in the joy stick-roller ball-3-D-headset-cyberspace sense, but in the space between our own ears sense... that natural, folded, gray-matter space that helps to define us as a species and wherein resides our own inner net." 2004. 225 pages. ISBN: 1-58685-299-X.
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