|This stone spade 铲 (chǎn) was used between 5 and 7 thousand years ago to till earth on a farm. Neolithic people probably broke ground for planting with a sharp stone held in the hand when they began to farm. The motivation to find a better method is obvious. This stone spade has a hole through which a peg and straps can pass to secure it to a handle.
The discovery of the principle of the lever with its increased power might have come first and then been applied to digging tools, or the handle may have been added to protect the hands and the lever discovered as a side issue. Quite a few different implements were made with handles; from the spade shown here, to mallets and hammers. Later in the Neolithic era, the cutting edges of tools were refined.
As amazing as the development of tools is, of even more consequence was the creative leap to connect seeds with plants and then the organization to deliberately plant favorites for later harvest. The trial and error process of learning which foods could be stored probably occurred earlier as they stockpiled food for the winter in the cave. For thousands of years they foraged the available plants from their natural habitats until they noticed seeds. This simple act of putting a seed in the ground changed everything about their existence. Once planted, the seed both required that they stick around and allowed them the luxury of sticking around until it matured. Permanent shelters were built near good farm land; land that was flat and easily cleared and tilled. Leisure time increased and with it the time to invent new implements. Since fields will support more people than it takes to plant and harvest them, specialization of trades and skills could begin. Villages provided plenty of labor at planting and harvest times; with crafts, building, and hunting filling the off-seasons.
Excavated from Lijiacun Village, Xixiang County, Shaanxi.
Last update: March 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2010