The Huge Value of Exposing Ourselves to Unexpected Evidence

Bill Bryson tells how much we learned from the remains of a man from the neolithic age, who has been called Ötzi:

(p. 377) His equipment employed eighteen different types of wood – a remarkable variety. The most surprising of all his tools was the axe. It was copper-bladed and of a type known as a Remedello axe, after a site in Italy where they were first found. But Ötzi’s axe was hundreds of years older than the oldest Remedello axe. ‘It was,’ in the words of one observer, ‘as if the tomb of a medieval warrior had yielded a modern rifle.’ The axe changed the timeframe for the copper age in Europe by no less than a thousand years.

But the real revelation and excitement were the clothes. Before Ötzi we had no idea – or, to be more precise, nothing but ideas – of how stone age people dressed. Such materials as survived existed only as fragments. Here was a complete outfit and it was full of surprises. His clothes were made from the skins and furs of an impressive range of animals – red deer, bear, chamois, goat and cattle. He also had with him a woven grass rectangle that was three feet long. This might have been a kind of rain cape, but it might equally have been a sleeping mat. Again, nothing like it had ever been seen or imagined.
Ötzi wore fur leggings held up with leather strips attached to a waist strap that made them look uncannily – almost comically – like the kind of nylon stockings and garter sets that Hollywood pin-ups wore in the Second World War. Nobody had remotely foreseen such a get-up. He wore a loincloth of goatskin and a hat made from the fur of a brown bear – probably a kind of hunting trophy. It would have been very warm and covetably stylish. The rest of his outfit was mostly made from the skin and fur of red deer. Hardly any came from domesticated animals, the opposite of what was expected.

Source:
Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

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