The Wood Age —The First “Age” of Man

THEODORE Roosevelt in an address to the members of the American Forest Congress remarked that “wood is an indispensable part of the material structure upon which civilisation rests, and civilized life continually makes greater demands upon the forest. We use not less, but more wood,” and he proceeded to show that the more “material” of other kinds is used, the greater demand is there for the mother-stuff. How remarkable his words were, perhaps he himself was unaware. For the part played by wood in the world affairs of man has really been tremendous.

Forest Homes

Man, primitively a savage, or wood man, lived, literally, in a material age he was a genuine sylvaticus, a forest lover, a tree liver. He was, besides and necessarily a climber, into his arboreal haunts. His hands and his feet were as near to him then as they have ever been since, adapting him to his more social existence, which was to be his adopted heritage.

The human hand has, especially, played a prime part in man’s rise in the world. It lent itself directly to the grasping of the spreading branch, bough, or beam, which served as a rung in the primitive ladder by which the leafy home was reached. When man first grasped a tree branch he took his fate in his hand. If an accident had not happened, he might have been a tree dweller still. The accident by means of which he acquired greatness was the result of what man was to afterwards come to understand as gravitation. Taking hold of a branch, it broke, and he came to the ground with the branch in his hand. This branch was what he was to ever after call a “stick,” and he multiplied its uses, forms, and names.

When man took a stick in his hand, he was ready to go forth and conquer. It was his first weapon, not only of offense, but of defence; it lengthened his arm, giving him a wider swathe and sway in the world. It was, too, ever after to be the symbol, patent and potent, of authority and office. When man, therefore, took this stick in hand, he actually staked his future and reputation upon it. The history of the stick, and its varieties, would need a chapter to itself; it is an immense family, of all kinds, leading up even to the almost canonized “big stick,” whose rise to fame was thus anything but accidental, and which is not likely soon to degenerate into a condition of innocuousness as a mere “bauble.”

The first age of man and its place in the structure of our civilisation, comments of striding and instructive style upon things oft overlooked in our wording world

In his primitive arboreal existence, man was an inoffensive animal he had

neither tooth nor claw to defend himself or attack others. Therefore, he had to seek the obscuring umbrage of the tree tops, to avoid the penetrating gaze and search of his terrestrial foes. It was not until he precipitately bit the earth with his future weapon in his grasp that he discovered himself capable to meet his enemies face to face and obtain a “square deal” in the fight. Hence the stick developed the possibility of his hands as things that could take hold, and, hence, gained him full possession of what made him what he was to be man, in mind.

Primitive Houses

He commenced at once to “build upon” his experience and observation while cogitating is his leafy eyrie. He may have become acquainted with the practicability of the more yielding stems of younger trees, and in coming forcibly to earth, he no doubt soon put into effect some ideas he had gradually conceived appertaining thereto. He selected a suitable young grove of trees, and brought the slender stems together at their tops and formed them into a tent like shelter, which was rendered more comfortable by clearing the ground space within and then filling in the spaces between the stems with twigs, leaves or bark. This became not only man’s first real place wherein to lay his head, but the first shelter of his homely hearth and sacred altar. The part here taken by the birch or other bark was destined to become an important one.

The stems which he had utilized in their growing state, he eventually applied artificially as he advanced into his “groving” or “graving,” that is, cutting stage, and the stem or stick became the stake which made the stockade, and that the “stokes,” which occurs in the names of many towns. The stick and the stake were thus the first enactments for the protection of the home and its industries.

The establishment of such shelters suggested their congregation, not in isolated spots, but in communal or social clusters, around which better and bigger stockades were developed. The same evolution is seen in the series indicated by “pile,” “pale,” “palisade,” and, perhaps (to violate a confidence), “palace,” for why not? To the same form of protection, we owe the names “haw,” “hag” and “hedge,” to which cluster of homes so surrounded the name “ton” or “town” literally applies. These are facts proved by the word “hag,” equivalent to which (the woman or wise or “witch woman” of the hag or hedge or town) by such a place name as Haughton, and by such a city name as the Hague.

Boles and Bulwarks

At last the boles the very bellies of the trees themselves were used not only in building homes but in protecting them. These boles, stuck close together, formed an actual wall: the bole works were not only actually, but literally (that is philologically), the wall works of the town. “A walled town” is ever a conventional description applicable to certain ancient cities on the continent of Europe. But these boleworks were also the bulwarks of the cities and thereby hangs another tale. These wood works, following the course of events as in other lines of constructiveness, became replaced by the more enduring material of stone and mortar. These walls or boles of the city thus became transformed into very unlike progeny and were forgotten. The bulwarks degenerated, with the advance of peaceful over warlike manners and methods, into the more elegant “boulevards,” which are now known as the beautifully tree lined avenues around the old “walls” or ramparts, the use of which became quite obsolete but which might be retained, as far as they could be adapted to ornamental purposes. But there are bulwarks of another kind yet to make themselves “felt.”

These bulwarks or boulevards, in the meantime, remind us of the lobbies leading to the shaded oak groves which in- closed in a circle the sacred oak tree so much venerated by Druid and Dryad, and which gave us the names of such cathedral seats as Dryburgh and Dresden, oak groves to be freely synonymous, or spots where the “sacred bole” as the solitary oak or even its shapeless stump was worshiped and its altar maintained. This sacred bole or stump was primitively known by a name which has assumed such forms as nau, naos, and naves. These terms at once draw the curtain aside upon some wonderful tableaux. For the nau, representing the sacred bole, in its central place of worship, developed into the grand nave of our cathedrals. The nau, as the solid bole, becoming the centre-piece of the wheels of all commerce, became the nave or hub that facilitated all progress. The nau, or single stick or trunk dug out, became the first fashioned vessel, the central aim of the future navies of the world that floats its seas. Thus, the original plaited tent like shelter of man was the beginning of all architecture of all building construction on land as well as water.

But let us see what has further come out of this primitive wicker sort of work. Perhaps the most curious is that which actually gave us of all things the umbrella. From the umbrage of the tree tops, man, we saw, constructed for himself an umbrage or shelter upon the ground. The idea embodied in this tent like structure was utilized by the adaptive inventor, resourceful man. He conceived the idea of cutting the stems or stakes of his early home away from the ground and of hoisting the same upon a centre pole. This furnished him with a transportable shelter, umbrage, or canopy. Thus, we have before us what gave the idea of the umbrella itself, an affair that has long been the symbol of royalty among certain Eastern monarchies. It was by the number of umbrellas such a ruler could “sport,” that he was to be “rated.” The bearers, protectors and constructors of these umbrages were, doubtless, among the chief officers of state, where they were in vogue. These umbrellas were the distinctive prerogatives as well as insignia of the royalties affecting them; they alone could have them; they alone could have them borne in front of them to protect them from the fruitful sun.

Wagon and Ship

But the same primitive shaped “dome” gave origin to another sort of transport- able shelter. Modified and evolved, but similarly lifted from the ground, it was placed upon a primitive platform which resting on primitive naves or wheels was movable from place to place. Thus, the first wagon or animal-drawn car was evolved. We see its descendant in the prairie schooner of today. This structure was called by our ancestors carpenium, and the builder was the “carpenter.” By it the restless populations of old moved their households from site to site, founding as they went towns and cities. From this sort of craftsmanship then we have our word for our builders in wood, a designation that is now applicable, not to car or carriage builders, but to house and shipbuilders, while the more modest prototype became known by the homespun name of wheelwright.

While it was out of the hollowed single sticks or trunks that the first boats or ships were made, the navigation of early man was even as much indebted to the idea furnished by the bark or hide covered shelter with its primitive frame work. The birch bark canoe and the Irish coracle, for instance, were thus constructed; and the one and the other must have been capable transports for they seem to have been able to hold quite a number of persons. This wicker or pelt-wrought ship further received an addition in similarly constructed protective bulwarks. Coracle is a word derived from the name for the hide used, and likewise the name for a birch-bark boat, was itself called a bark, or barque, a form of which, “barge,” had a significance of state among medieval royalties.

But what is of importance here to point out is the several applications of the word bulwarks or city fortifications, of the Norman style as they were, to the side protections of a war ship and lastly to the ships themselves constituting a fleet or navy. And as the first ship was made out of a single tree and the first bulwarks out of solid stakes, we can at last appreciate the full value, literally as well as materially, of the “wooden walls” or “impregnable bulwarks” of England as an instance, a description that has had as much inspiration for her as for Greece at Salamis.

Stick and Cane

Herein there has not been attempted any full demonstration of the tremendous part wood has played in the affairs of man and his world. There have, however, been slightly suggested along a direct line some of the developments of man’s first acquaintance and manipulation of the stick. It will be seen that that has really been always to the. fore and always strenuous enough as it should be. And there has never been any “veneer” about its furnishings.

Cane, of course, we all know is a synonym for stick and really seems to have been one of the original big sticks. It has, therefore, an autobiography of its own. Belonging to the common (Aryan) source of language, and understanding the primitive nature of boats and ships for these are once more involved as merely hollowed-out sticks, the primitive cane became in fact the veritable canoe of world fame, for which we have not to go to the West Indies for its source. In Aryan India the cane was the name for a hollow tree that grew as thick as a man’s body, and one of them split and cut the proper length actually made two very practicable ready-made boats. The common word is preserved in the German Kahn, a boat; and in the old French cane, a ship, and canot, a boat. Without enumerating the tribe of canes, it is worth noting that the Latin had canna, a hollow reed, thence applied to a sort of dandy’s cane, perhaps; and hence “canon,” a straight rod or “ruler:” while, reverting to the primitive sense of hollowness we have the idea of a tube, of capacity, and of a passage. And it is in this way that we got our cannon, ordnance; Canongate, a passage; and, likewise, canal, wherein ships may ride, and canon. Thus, also, the modest looking cane brings again into conjunction the big stick, and the big ditch. And herein we find a good deal of material for some canonization of the symbolic stick, of we may believe happy memory to be. This slight appreciation of the part wood has played will begin to show the inner significance of Mr. Roosevelt’s words. Wood we see was the first actual “material” handled by man, it was what enabled him to become separated from the beast, what, though literally also making him a savage, brought his hand (manus) into play, and with that his mind, which in fact actually made him what he was to become man. But let us unfold the aeriform wrapper of this word “material,” so curiously used by Mr. Roosevelt in his address. Doing so we find, what? That the word means no more, no less, than timber, that is, wood its very self. Materias was the earlier form, and materias is of the same tribe as mater and thus meant the mother stuff! It was out of this mother stuff, then, that man became a maker, a shaper of things with the hands he had. Materials, as a significant for wood, subsequently became applied to an island, a mountain, a river and even a wine!

Material, from first meaning mother stuff, or easily manipulated wood, became linguistically extended to include all other substances, among them stone. Material was coextensive at last with substance. The students of material or substantial things, we know, materialised into materialists.

Tree and Stone

But, just as the word for this mother stuff, matter or material, came to apply to stone, which as we know was itself called Petra, and as Petra, or peter, is identical with pater, the twin word with mater, might not stone, therefore, in contradistinction to wood, or material, the mother stuff, be called petral, or father stuff? A combination of stone and tree was what was necessary to enable man to rise to his destiny though it was the more enduring edge of stone, that first transformed the shapeless stump, into temple, or tabernacle, into wain, or carriage, into ship or navy. It is evident, also, that the stone age was not the primitive age of man as of humanity. And the wood god was Sylvanus, that is the god of “savages” who were wood or forest livers in a real and primitive sense. The meaning of savage is tremendously significant to anyone who seeks a means of tracing his origin and early condition. The word “savage” proves man’s primitive, arboreal, life and helps materially to indicate that long previous to the well-established Stone Age, there must have been an earlier Wood Age a Sylvestrian or Sylvan that became ideal and idyllic. The Sylvestrian’s, or Sylvanian’s chief cult was in wood, the mother material – materias- and, though the name has been already appropriated for a lower anthropoid, he might properly be called homo sylvestris, or sylvaticus. The Wood Age, therefore, has never been scientifically differentiated. But notice is now given that it should be. While it has only been possible to give an inkling of the stupendous part wood, mother stuff, or material, has played in the world; what has been disclosed should enable the attentive reader to take some measure of the material background out of which our vaunted civilization has loomed so portentously. In doing so we may also realize the truth of our dependence on wood in the “material structures of civilisation” and this is equally true of society as well.

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