Table of Contents
Vol.1: Noah's Three Sons: Human History
in Three Dimensions
THE TECHNOLOGY OF HAMITIC PEOPLE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1. Conquest of Environments
Chapter 2. Achievements of Primitive Societies
Chapter 3. Achievements of Ancient High
1960 Doorway paper No. 43, published
privately by Arthur C. Custance
1975 Part IV in Noah's Three Sons: Human History in Three Dimensions,
vol.1 in The Doorway Papers Series,
1997 Arthur Custance Online Library (html)
2001 2nd Online Edition (corrections, design revisions)
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IF YOU enjoy
reading catalogues now and then, you will probably enjoy this
Paper, although it is dull indeed if read merely as literature.
But if treated as intended, namely, as a list of technical achievements,
it may come as a surprise to find how many, how varied, and how
fundamental have been the inventions of Hamitic people, and how
great a service they have rendered to mankind in the field of
Hitherto our ethnocentrism in the
writing of history has obscured this fact, but we now have a
sufficient and ever-growing body of documented materials to justify
Some of these achievements may
be considered slight by those who have never actually contributed
anything new to the sum total of human invention. But one should
not be deceived by simplicity: it may be the hallmark of genius.
It could also be argued that if we can only point to one invention
of note in some particular tribe, that people can hardly be termed
inventive. However, if we have only mentioned one invention that
does not mean it was their sole achievement. It was mentioned
only because it illustrated a particular aspect of native ingenuity.
Scarcely an anthropologist can
be found who would not at once agree that even the most primitive
of people are peculiarly ingenious in finding practical solutions
to practical problems. That they do not invent more is merely
because they do not see the need for more inventions. When needs
arise their solutions tend to be uncannily effective and simple.
What may be said with a fair degree
of certainty is that up until the time when Indo-Europeans, i.e.,
Japhethites, began to make extensive contacts with other cultures,
Western man's technology was poor in the extreme. We have been
great borrowers, and somewhat tardy in acknowledging the debt.
Some of the reasons why this borrowed technology has been advanced
in such an extraordinary way are considered in Part V.
THE CONQUEST OF ENVIRONMENTS
I BELIEVE THAT
it was Luther who complained that his opponents demanded in the
very first paragraph a full explanation of everything he was
about to discuss, before they would allow him to proceed any
further! I find myself in somewhat the same position.
This Doorway Paper is actually one in a
series of four, the first entitled "The Part Played by Shem, Ham,
and Japheth in Subsequent World History" (Part I). The other three play a supporting
role and are very necessary for the validation of the thesis presented
in the first one. Without reading them, it is likely that many informed
readers will be continually aggravated because certain basic assumptions,
essential to the argument, are set forth as if unquestionable, whereas
in fact they require very careful substantiation. But, like Luther, one
soon finds the opening paragraph cannot be written at all if it must answer
all the objections raised against it before proceeding any further: no
more can any one of these particular Doorway Papers.
In the first of this series, a
''framework'' of history was predicated on the assumption that
the present population of the world is to be wholly derived from
the three sons of Noah ‹ Shem, Ham, and Japheth. It was further
hypothesized that the Indo-Europeans are Japhethites, which few
will challenge; that the Semites are of Shem, which scarcely
anyone will question; and that the coloured races (black, brown,
"red," and yellow) are from Ham, which many will deny.
But granted this premise, the pattern of the subsequent history
of these three divisions of mankind is remarkably reflected in
Scripture in a number of surprising ways, as suggested in Part
In this paper my purpose is only
to seek to substantiate a rather bold claim made for the descendants
of Ham, namely, that
as the inventors of
almost everything basic to World Civilization (in its mechanical as distinct from its spiritual
aspects), they have indeed been "servants of servants,"
servants par excellence.
The people whose inventiveness
is to be explored and illustrated quite extensively are all assumed
to be neither Shemites nor Japhethites, and therefore descendants
of Ham. This, in a word, includes all who are Negroid or Mongoloid,
which comprehends, as a matter of fact, the founders of virtually
all ancient civilizations in the Middle East, Africa, the Far
East, and the New World, as well as presently existing or recently
extinct primitive people. Hamites, it can be shown, have been
in unexpected ways the world's great innovators, though very
few people, except perhaps archaeologists, ethnologists, and
cultural anthropologists, have been aware of it. The acknowledgment
of our own debt to them is long overdue.
The arts and architecture of such
people have been recognized and admitted as remarkable enough,
but their technology is commonly believed to have been of little
account except for an occasional odd device like the compass.
In due time, when it was discovered that Eskimos, a people who
are generally held to be as nearly representative of paleolithic
man as one could expect to find, could be trained to operate
and even repair such delicate and complicated devices as sewing
machines or clocks more readily and more rapidly than it was
possible to train the "white man," considerable surprise
was expressed. Eventually, the ingenuity of these so-called primitive
people became increasingly apparent and writers began to vie
with one another in their search for superlatives to enlarge
upon their native ingenuity. But it soon became evident that
the Eskimos were not the only "backward" people who
were intensely practical. Their wilderness of ice and snow and
their inhospitable environment is shared in a different way by
other primitive people, whom it now turns out have proved themselves
to be quite as ingenious in making the most of the immediately
available resources of their surroundings. For example, there
are tlle Indians of the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona. Considering
their situation, it is quite amazing to find what they have succeeded
in extractin, out of it. Throughout this discussion of primitive
culture, and in much of the treatment of more highly complex
civilizations of non-Western tradition, it is necessary to bear
in mind that the greatest displays of ingenuity frequently appear
exploitation of the immediate
resources of the environment rather than the secondary or less
This recognition of their resourcefulness,
given somewhat belatedly, is now being accorded at high levels.
Claude LeviStrauss, speaking officially for UNESCO, made the
following admission in attempting to establish who has made the
greatest contribution to the world's wealth: (1)
criterion chosen had been the degree of ability to overcome even
the most inhospitable geographical conditions, there can be scarcely
any doubt that the Eskimo on the one hand and the Bedouin on
the other, would carry off the palm.
He might equally
well have used the Indians of the Sonoran Desert in place of
the Bedouin. And one could have included another rather rugged
environment, the high altitudes of the Peruvian Andes, where
the Aymara have shown themselves well able to hold their own
with the Eskimo, the Bedouin, and the Indians of Arizona.
Let us examine very briefly some
of the achievements of such people. One of the best modern authorities
of this aspect of Eskimo life is Dr. Erwin H. Ackerknecht who
is one of the great triumphs of our species. He has succeeded
in adapting himself to an environment which offers to man but
the poorest chances of survival. . . .
His technical solution of
problems of the Arctic are so excellent that white settlers would
have perished had they not adopted many elements of Eskimo technology.
Wulsin, (3) an
authority on clothing problems for cold climates, says candidly
that "there seems to be no doubt that Eskimo clothing is
the most efficient yet devised for extremely cold weather."
Of this we have had personal experience, and can affirm its truth
without hesitation. Moreover, to the Eskimo must probably go
the credit for developing the first "tailored clothing"
and, not unnaturally perhaps, the first thimbles. (4) In addressing a Scientific
Defence Research Symposium in Ottawa in 1955, Dr. O. Solandt
admitted frankly that:
1. Levi-Strauss, Claude, Race and History,
The Race Question in Modern Science, UNESCO, Paris, 1952,
2. Ackerknecht, Erwin H., "The Eskimo's Fight Against Hunger
and Cold," Ciba Symposia, vol.10, July-Aug. 1948,
3. Wulsin, Frederick R., "Adaptations to Climate Among Non-European
Peoples," in The Psysiology' of Heat Regulation and the
Science of Clothing, edited by L. H. Newburgh, Saunders,
Philadelphia, 1949, p.26.
4. Jeffreys, C. W., A Picture Gallery of Canadian History,
vol.1, Ryerson, Toronto, 1942, p.113.
Man has not introduced a single item of environmental protection
in the Arctic which was not already being used by the natives,
and his substitute products are not yet as effective as the native
ones. Only in his means of production has he the edge.
continued subsequently: (5)
A very short review of
the Eskimo's hunting techniques has already revealed an extraordinary
number of well conceived implements. Eskimos are described as
very "gadget-minded" and are able to use and repair
machinery such as motors and sewing machines vvith almost no
instruction. It is impossible to give here a complete list of
aboriginal Eskimo instruments the number of which and quality
of which have been emphasized by all observers. . . .
The best known type of Eskimo house
is undoubtedly the dome-shaped snow-house with its ice window.
With extraordinary ingenuity, the very products of the cold are
used here as a protection against it.
It might be thought
that once the idea was conceived, the construction of such a
house would be comparatively simple. Actually it is remarkably
difficult to construct a dome, without any means of supporting
the arch while in the process of completing it. As the wall rises,
it converges upon itself. Each new block overhangs more and more
until near the top they rest almost in a horizontal plane. The
problem is to hold each block in place until the next one ties
it in, and then to hold that one until it, too, is tied in place.
Given enough hands the process
is not so difficult, but the Eskimos have overcome the problem
so effectively that one individual can, if he has to, erect his
own igloo single-handed, without too much difficulty. The solution
is to carry the rising layers of blocks in a spiral instead of
in a series of horizontal levels. This is shown in Fig. 4. Thus
as each block is added it not only rests on the lower level,
but against the last block. One block would simply tend to fall
in and, by experience, so do two or even three, when a new layer
is started if the tiers are horizontally laid. But tle Eskimo
method entirely overcomes tle problem.
The solution is, of course, amazingly
simple ‹ once it is known. . . . Most solutions are, when
someone has discovered them for us. The problem is to visualize
the solution before it exists. We tend to assume we would discover
the way quite quickly, but experience shows that this is not
true. A. H. Sayce has put it so
5. Ackerknecht, E. H., "The Eskimo's
Fight Against Hunger and Cold", Ciba Symposium, vol.10,
July-Aug., 1948, p. 897.
well, "One of the
most significant lessons of Archaeoloy is that man is not essentiallv
creative but destructive," and among ourselves at least
"constructiveness belongs to the few." (6) H. M.Davies reminds us
of this fact when he pointed out: (7)
We drive an automobile because
it is nearly foolproof, with little appreciation to the hidden,
that powers it, and with no conception of the creative thought
that went into its development: meanwhile we demand the family
airplane. We listen to a radio receiver whose operation is utter
magic to us and demand the ever more complex television. We are
a race of lever-twiddlers, button-pushers, ancl knob-twisters,
enjoying the prodigious technical labours of a comparatively
joins with Davies in the article which was quoted above: (8)
As compared with the mass of
markind, the number of those upon whom the continuance of civilization
clepends is but small; let them be destroyed or rendered powerless,
and the culture they represent will disappear.
Returning to the
Eskimo again, we have to realize that his environment offers
him little in the way of raw materials, and his solutions must
always seen simple by nature. It is all the rnore to his credit
that he has achieved so much. Dr. Edward Weyer in an article
ri,htly ertitled, "The Ingeniots Eskimo," put tle matter
this way: (9)
Take the Eskimo's most annoying
enemy, the wolf, which preys on the caribou and wild reindeer
that he needs for food. Because of its sharp eyesight and keen
intelligence, it is extremely difficult to approach in hunting.
Yet the Eskimo kills it with nothing more formidable than a piece
of flexible whalebone.
He sharpens the strip of whalebone
at both ends and doubles it back, tying it with sinew. Then he
covers it with a lump of fat, allows it to freeze, and throws
it out where the wolf will get it. Swallowed at a gulp the frozen
dainty melts in the wolf's stomach and the sharp whalebone springs
open, piercing the wolf internally and killing it.
When the Eskimo gets a walrus weighing
more than a ton
6. Sayce, A. H., "Archaeology and Its Lessons,"
in Wonders of the Past, vol.1, edited by Sir John Hammerton,
Putnam's Sons, London, 1924, p.10.
7. Davies, H. M., "Liberal Education and the Physical Sciences,"
Scientific Monthly, May, 1948, p.422.
8. Sayce, A. H., "Archaeology and Its Lesons" in Wonders
of the Past, vol.1, edited by Sir John Hammerton, Putnams' Sons,
London, 1924, p.11.
9. Weyer, Edward, "The Ingenious Eskimo," Natural History
(Natural History Museum, New York), May, 1939, pp 278, 979.
on the end of a harpoon line, he is faced
with a major engineering problem: how to get it from the water
on to the ice. Mechanical contrivances belong to a world in whose
development the Eskimo has had no part. No implement ever devised
by him had a wheel in it. Yet this does not prevent him from
improvising a block and tackle that works without a pulley. He
cuts slits in the hide of the walrus, and a U-shaped hole in
the ice some distance away. Through these he threads a slippery
rawhide line, once over and once again. He does not know the
mechanical theory of the double pulley, but he does know that
if he hauls at one end of the line, he will drag the walrus out
of the water onto the ice.
thing about all his ingenuity is its very simplicity. He makes
all kinds of hunting devices that are effective, inexpensive
in time, easily repaired and uses only raw materials immediately
available. His harpoon lines have floats of blown-up skins attached,
so that the speared animal is forced to come to the surface if
he dives. To prevent such aquatic animals from tearing off at
high speed dragging the hunter and his kayak, he attaches baffles
to the line which are like small parachutes that drag in the
water. A bone hoop and a skin diaphragm stretched over it, some
thongs, and this is all that he needs.
To locate the seal's movements
under the ice he has devised a stethoscope, which owes nothing
to its modern Western counterpart, working on the same principle.
(10) And recently
a native "telephone" was discovered in use, made entirely
from locally available materials, linking two igloos with a system
of intercommunication, the effectiveness of which was demonstrated
on the spot to the Hudson's Bay Agent, D. B. Marsh who discovered
it. Marsh added at the end of his report this statement: (11)
amazing thing of all was that no one in that camp had ever seen
a telephone, though doubtless they had heard of them from their
friends who from time to time visit Churchill.
it is exceedingly unlikely that any friends who had seen a telephone
would have seen the kind of arrangment this Eskimo had developed
which, of course, used no batteries. We used to make a similar
kind of thing as children with string and ordinary cans, but
they were never of very much use, and in any case we got the
idea from someone else. In this case, the Eskimo
10. An illustration of such an instrument
is given by Alexander Goldenweiser, Anthropology, Crofts,
New York, 1937, p.85, fig.23.
11. Marsh, D. B., "Inventions Unlimited," in The
Beaver (The Hudson's Bay Co.), Dec., 1943, p.40.
had used fur around
the diaphragm to cushion it, and the sound came through remarkably
Finally, a word about Eskirno snow
goggles. An illustration of one of these will be found in Fig.
5. They are well known to explorers and no one will travel in
the Arctic without them ‹ or something to replace them ‹
if he wishes to escape the very unpleasant ailment of snow blindness.
Like everything else the Eskimo makes, they are very effective,
and often so designed that he does not need to turn his head
to see to either side of him. This is important, since the game
he usually hunts would catch the movement.
Turning now to the Indians of the
Sonoran Desert, Macy H. Lapham has written illuminatingly of
their genius for making much of little. He said: (12)
To the strangrer, these desert
wilderness areas seem to have little to contribute to the subsistence
of the native Indian. . . . Notwithstanding this forbidding aspect,
to the initiated there is a veritable storehouse of the desert,
from the widely scattered resources of which essentials in food,
clothing, shelter, tools, cooking utensils, fuel, medicine, and
articles of adornment or those sacred in ceremonial rites, have
contributed for generations, and still are contributing to the
needs of the Indian. . . .
many excellent photographs in which various plants are identified
and the products which the Indians have extracted from them are
also listed. These lists are very impressive. He remarked:
The desert ironwood, a small
tree, is known for its extremely hard wood, is prized for the
campfire, and has been used for arrow heads and implements. .
. . The beans of the Mesquite are made into meal and baked as
cakes. The split and shredded inner bark, along with similar
materials from the willow and cotton wood, furnish the fibres
and strands for building and for woven baskets. Some of these
baskets are so finely woven that coated with gum and resins obtained
from desert plants they may be used for liquids. . . .
Condiments and seasonings for food,
before the present era of the tin can, were obtained frorn native
mints, peppergrass, sage and other herbs. Ashes of the salt bush
which grows in saiine soils, were used as a substitute for baking
powder. Other plant products containing sugar and mucilaginous
substances yielded substitutes for candy and chewing gum. . .
Wild cotton was cultivated and
harvested by the Indians before the White Man and his wool-bearing
12 Lapham, Macy H., "The Desert Storehouse,"
Scientific Monthly, June, 1948, pp.451ff.
their way into the desert. In his arts
and crafts the Indian used gums and resins from the Mesquite
and the creosote bush, as adhesives; awls made from the cactus
spines and sharpened bone; and dyes from species of the indigo
bush, mesquite, the fetid marigold, seeds of the sunflower, and
In the absence of the family drugstore,
the Indian resorted to a range of desert plants for cures of
various ailments. Somc of these were of doubtful value, but others
are to be found on the shelf of the modern druggist. These remedies
included materials for poultices and infusions, and decoctions
of the manzanita, creosote bush, catnip, canaigre or wild rhubarb,
verba santa or mountain balrn, berba mansa, the inner bark of
the cotton wood, winter fat, golden aster, goldenrod, yarrow,
horsebrush, and species of the sunflower. They were used for
sore throats, coughs, respiratory diseases, boils, tootlhaches,
fevers, sore eyes, headaches, and as tonics and emetics. Mullein
leaves were smoked and used for medicinal purposes; while roots
of the yucca, winter fat, and four o'clock, and leaves of the
seepweed were used as laxatives and for burns and stomach ache.
There was even an insecticide ‹ a sweetened infusion of the
leaves of the Haplophyton or cockroach plant which was used as
a poison for mosquitos, cockroaches, flies and other pests.
random excerpts from Lapham's article might be sufficient indication
of the "inventiveness" of these so-called primitive
people. But there is much more to wonder at. A photograph of
a Mesquite thicket in a river bed is accompanied by this observation:
"Mesquite thickets supply fuel, poles, timbers for buildings
and fences, and fibres and strands for baskets and binding materials.
From the Mesquite's bark, seed pods, and bean-like seeds come
food, browse for livestock, medicine, gums, dyes, and an alcoholic
The roots of the Yucca trees supply
drugs and a "soap substitute." Like the pioneer farmers,
it seems that they used everything but the noise! He concluded:
Thus, as the Indian made his
rounds of this self-help commissary in an apparently empty wasteland,
he found an impressive stock to be harvested and added to his
market basket. We can only marvel at the wisdom and vast store
of knowledge accumulated by these primitive people as they made
the desert feed, clothe and shelter them.
This is a long
quotation. But it serves to indicate what ingenuity can do with
an otherwise unpromising environment. It is difficult indeed
to conceive of a more complete exploitation of the primary resources
of the desert in which they have been content to live.
One wonders if Lapham's use of
the word "found" is really
just. They seem virtually
to have exhausted their environment, extracting from it wisely,
ingeniously, and effectively all it could possibly afford. Would
we have "found" much of this? The point I should like
to emphasize particularly here is that such people, for so long
supposedly unimaginative and dull, have demonstrated a remarkable
genius for this kind of thing. Their ingenuity has been overlooked
so often because those who surveyed their works were themselves
unaware of the effort required to invent anything. It all seems
so obvious. Their solutions to mechanical problems in particular
are always characterized by a peculiar simplicity that is completely
To digress for a moment, we may
use as an illustration of this aspect of primitive technology,
a method used by the Polynesians to bind the plank walls of their
canoes. Anyone who has ever tried to bind two planks together
edgewise so that they will be tight and rigid ‹ and will
remain so ‹ will have quickly discovered how difficult it
is. It is, in fact, almost impossible. Yet the Polynesian canoe
builders do it easily. Fig. 6 shows how it was done. In a sense,
it really takes an engineer to see the genius of this. By using
gums and resins in the joint, a perfectly rigid, strong, and
watertight union is effected. The solution seems obvious enough.
Such ingenuity was exercised wherever their comparatively simple
needs were not completely satisfied because of some mechanical
Perhaps one more such "simple"
solution may be in order here. The Indians of North America used
leather for clothing ‹- the familiar buckskin. However, one
problem of all such materials is that after a while the edges
begin to curl up or to roll in such a way as to be both unsightly
and ill-fitting, and of course colder in winter. This was overcome
by making a series of cuts into the edge and at right angles
to it, each cut being about two inches long, and spaced about
one-sixteenth of an inch to one-eighth of an inch apart. This
imparted to the edges the familiar "frill" effect,
which is both decorative and fundamentally useful. It required
virtually nothing to do it ‹ except ingenuity in the first
phase. It prevents edge-curling entirely.
Desert areas always seem to hold
so little promise of survival to the sophisticated European.
The very appearance of barrenness seems to hinder the processes
of thought which would otherwise find how to render it more habitable.
But it seems to have been no great problem to non-Indo-European
people, whether ancient or modern.
In his UNESCO paper, Levi-Strauss mentions the Bedouin
along with the Eskimo, and archaeological exploration in the
desert area of Transjordania has revealed a remarkable triumph
of desert conquest by Bedouin peoples of early times.
Michael Evenari and Dov Koller
reported recently on the results of their work in Negev. They
The idea that anyone could have
farmed a desert as arid as this is today, seemed so incredible
that many authorities concluded the climate of the region must
have been more lush in the time of the Nabataeans. Nelson Glueck
went to Palestine in the 1930's and to Transjordania, to re-explore
the Nabataean Culture, and what he found led him to acclaim the
Nabatueans as "one of the most remarkable people that ever
crossed the stage of history." Their cities did indeed bloom
in the midst of a seemingly hopeless desert. Nowhere in all their
houses was there a stick of wood to show that any trees had ever
grown in the region. . . .
then explain how these ancient people achieved a greater mastery
of the desert than any other people since, and they underline
the fact that the Nabataeans "avoided the mistake"
of trying methods which are universally accepted Indo-European
ones, namely, the use of dams. Their method was cheaper, more
effective, more readily controlled, and brought a greater area
of desert land under successful cultivation. They so prospered,
in fact, as to be able to build and support the very famous city
of Petra. The authors then describe the method of irrigation
these people employed. In summing up, they remarked ‹ to
quote their own words:
The more one examines the Nabataeans'
elaborate system the more impressed one must be with the precision
and scope of their work. Engineers today find it difficult enough
to measure and control the flow of water in a constantly flowing
river, but the Nabatuean engineers had to make accurate flow
estimates and devise control measures for torrents which rushed
over the land only briefly for a few hours each year. They anticipated
and solved every problem in a manner which we can hardly improve
upon today. Some of their structures still baffle investigators.
that the yield was often seven or eight times the sowing. The
The Nabataeans' conquest of
the desert remains a major challenge to our civilization. With
all the technological and
13. Evenari, Michael, and Dov Koller, "Ancient
Masters of the Desert," Scientific American, Apr.,
scientific advances at our disposal,
we must still turn to them for some lessons. . . . The best we
can do today is no more than a modification of the astute and
truly scientific methods worked out more than 2000 years ago
by the Nabataean masters of the desert.
or sandy desert, bitter cold or stifling heat ‹ we have little
to contribute to such people in the conquest of such environments.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights