The Wood Age
How Our Relationship With Wood Transformed Us from Tiny Tree Shrews to World-dominating Industrialists
Most histories of humanity begin with us coming down from the trees and striding out into the plains, and then follow a hackneyed journey through the successive ages of stone, bronze and iron. This book tells a far longer and more enlightening story…
As the dominant life form on Earth, humans have progressed a long way since our ancestors came down from the trees. But how did the descendants of small arboreal primates manage to stand on their own two feet, become top predators and spread about the world? How were we able to transform the world’s vegetation and build large settlements? How did we manage to develop civilisations and produce a globalized economy?
In The Wood Age, Roland Ennos shows that the key to our success has been our relationship with a material usually whitewashed from world histories: wood. Drawing together recent research and reinterpreting our existing knowledge in fields as wide-ranging as primatology, anthropology, archaeology, history, architecture, engineering and carpentry, he charts for the first time how our ability to exploit wood’s unique properties has shaped our bodies and minds, societies and lives.
Our binocular vision, upright stance and grasping hands, our intelligence and empathy, the ability to make and use tools, and even to walk on two legs – all evolved to help our ancestors live among the narrow wooden branches of the rainforest canopy. Wood was also vital to our success as hunter-gatherers: we burnt wood to keep warm, protect ourselves and cook our food, and carved it to make increasingly sophisticated weapons. Novel woodworking tools enabled us to clear forests, plough the land and build the first houses, boats and wheels. And during historical times wood shaped our culture and history through architecture, shipbuilding and industrialization, responsible for the rise and fall of empires and the emergence of the modern world.
Wood is still among the world’s most important structural materials and fuels, and in the past 150 years we have learnt to transform it into a whole new range of wood products – paper, plywood and laminates. So great is the demand for these energy-intensive materials that their use is starting to degrade the global environment. At the same time, by treating trees as commodities, we have paradoxically begun to devalue wood and turn our back on it.
We need, Ennos argues, to relearn what we have forgotten about trees and traditional woodworking practices. Since our relationship with wood is so engrained in us, for our own welfare and for the benefit of the planet we must return to more traditional ways of growing and using trees locally. We must return to the Wood Age.