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Freelance consultant, learning facilitator, and writer, founder of extreme-inventing.com, ooleee.net (with artist Gary King), knowledgecafe0151. Teach technology entrepreneurship at School of Engineering at University of Liverpool, UK. I have a longstanding and avid interest in Technology as a unique human phenomenon. I'm actively engaged in research on how enterprising individuals shape material culture through inventing and innovating, with palaeoanthropologists at the Dept. of Archaeology, Egyptology and Classics, also at University of Liverpool.


Highly polished axe heads like the one shown here have been found all over Europe. It represents a category of extreme inventing I’ve called the social object. This example was found in Britain and is 5,800 years old and was featured in the BBC’s Radio 4 series: The History of the World in 100 Objects.  It is in pristine condition. It was never meant for practical use.  More than a hundred objects like these have been found in Britain and Ireland, but Jadeite, the material from they are made, does not occur there.  It came from the Italian Alps. These are symbolic or social objects, they are not tools in the normal sense, but instruments of social co0rdination. It is thought that Neolithic peoples considered certain stones, sourced as they were from difficult to reach places, such as high up in mountains, had special supernatural powers their owners could tap into.

Unlike the axes meant for practical use, the polished ones are beautiful. They are astonishing, they are mesmerising, they draw us into them for closer inspection, they engage us, they enchant—they induce emotions.  Imagine how they feel, heavy, smooth, cool against the face. Each property is a possible source of emotions. But what makes them really astonishing, and puzzling, and fascinating, is the mystery of their making. Who is involved—one person, or two, or three or more? How did they achieve the perfect symmetry, the highly polished surface. How long did it take them? What tools did they use, and what other material might they have used to grind and polish the surface? Sadly we will never know. The question is, aside from objects of high Art, do objects like the iPod, the iPhone, fulfill the same social purpose?



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