Tuesday 29 December 2015

Baba - Hammer and anvil

These are hammer and anvil, the two tools which are today most associated with smiths and metalwork.

An anvil is a block with a hard surface on which another object is struck. The block is as massive as is practical, because the higher the inertia of the anvil, the more efficiently it causes the energy of the striking tool to be transferred to the work piece. On a quality anvil the smith's hammer should rebound with almost as much energy as the smith put into the downward stroke, making the smith's job easier. In most cases the anvil is used as a forging tool. Before the advent of modern welding technology, it was a primary tool of metal workers. The great majority of modern anvils are made of cast or forged steel that has been heat treated. Inexpensive anvils have been made of cast iron and low quality steel, but are considered unsuitable for serious use as they deform and lack rebound when struck. But the original anvils were first made of stone as a lithic stone tool, then bronze, and later wrought iron.

A hammer is a tool that delivers a blow (a sudden impact) to an object. Most hammers are hand tools used to drive nails, fit parts, forge metal, and break apart objects. Hammers vary in shape, size, and structure, depending on their purposes.The usual main parts of  a hammer are a head (most often made of steel) and a handle (also called a helve or haft) made of wood or steel.

Hammer and anvil are among the simplest tools imaginable. Because of that they are among the oldest tools used by proto humans and humans. Originally both hammer and anvil were made from stone. As a matter of fact they were just two stones. A roundish stone big enough to fit into a hand (hammer), and a flat heavy stone (anvil). You would then place what ever you wanted to strike with your hammer stone on the anvil stone and you would then hit it with the hammer stone really hard...

Hammer and anvil are such primitive tools that even some animals use them for breaking open nuts and shells. Chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, capuchin monkeys crack open nuts by using rocks as both hammer and anvil.

Sea otters use stones to crack open shells. They place a flat stone on their chests and use it as an anvil. They then smash the shell against it.

When people started using hammer and anvil they basically did exactly what the chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, capuchin monkeys did. They took a big flat stone (anvil), like this one from Paleolithic site Üçağızlı Cave , Turkey

placed what ever they wanted cracked, smashed, pulverized on it, and then banged that thing with another stone (hammerstone) like this one from Wangfujing Paleolithic Site, Beijing, China.

And people still do that today. I did so many times when I was a kid when I wanted to crack open nuts. Here is a picture of a Berber woman cracking open argan nuts:

The same tools were used for cracking open bones to get the bone marow.

Hammerstones and anvils were not only used for cracking open nuts and bones. They were also used for pounding various materials into a pulp, like nut kernels, acorns, tubers and finally grains. This is a picture an Australian aboriginal woman using hammerstone and anvil to pulverize tubers:

Hammerstone and anvil were used to crack and pulverize acorns and turn them into acorn meal, except that these hammerstones (pestle) and anvil (mortar) had to be slightly different from ordinary hammerstone and anvil. Because we don't want the pulverized bits to go everywhere, hollowed anvils were used instead of flat ones. Because of the hollow in the anvil, the hammerstone had to be elongated not round, in order to reach the bottom of the anvil hollow.  I wrote about this in my article entitled "Eating acorns".

As I said eventually these new types of hammerstones and anvils were used for pounding and grinding grains:

Another use of hamerstones and anvils was for making stone tools. The simplest way to create a sharp edge comes from bipolar flaking. All you need is an anvil (large base stone), hammer stone, and a smaller rock (chicken egg size) to crack like you would a nut. Place the egg sized stone upright (pole to pole, hence the term bipolar) on the anvil and strike it with your hammer stone. This crude technique takes little skill and provides sharp tools like scrapers, sharp flakes, and small stone drill points. You could make and use these simple tools even with no flint knapping knowledge.

Even precision flint knapping work is done on a stone anvil. This picture shows rough shaping of a flake into an arrow head using a stone anvil and antler hammer:

Hammerstones eventually evolved into hafted hammerstones. Stones attached to sticks with strips of leather or animal sinew were being used as hammers with handles by about 30,000 BCE during the middle of the Paleolithic. This is one of these "advanced" hafted hammers with a handle mostly used for cracking human and animal heads...

Some primitive people still use these types of hafted hammerstones and stone anvils today. This is a kautaq, an Inuit hammer used to crush the bones which is made of an oblong stone mounted on a short slightly curved handle.

Hammerstone (hammerhead) design eventually, during neolithic, changed to resemble today's hammers:

Since then hammer design barely changed. All that changed was the material from which the hammer head was made. With the invention of metallurgy, hammer heads started to be made from first arsenic copper, then bronze and eventually iron and steel.

These are hammers which were used by the Urnfield Culture metalworkers during the late bronze age.

Finally people settled on the lower type, and since then hammers have been looking pretty much like this:

During all this time, while hammers were evolving into first hafted stone head tools and then hafted metal head tools, anvils still stayed just flat slabs of stone. Anything that needed to be cracked open, smashed, pulverized, chipped, ground could still be effectively done on a flat slab of stone.

Even the emergence of metallurgy didn't change the situation.

The first metal workers used pure native metals such as gold, silver, copper and perhaps some small amounts of iron. These were worked with bone and stone tools, stone hammers and stone anvils. These stone anvils were often natural but may have been worked stones as well.

At the beginning of the metal smelting age stone anvils would have continued to be used until the metal was affordable. The oldest known bronze age anvil was discovered at Pyrgos (also Myrtos-Pyrgos), an archaeological site of the Minoan civilization near Myrtos in the municipality of Ierapetra on the south coast of Crete. The settlement was inhabited around 2500 BC. In the east part of the settlement a copper (bronze) smith workshop was found. The workshop had a mud oven-forge, built from large slabs of calcarenite, and two stone anvils made of andesite.

This is one of the two (30kg) stone anvils, which could be considered the prototype of modern metalwork anvils. The anvil has a cutting on its “table” to shape blades.

This is a depiction of a bronze metalworker from the fifth dynasty tomb from Giza, Egypt dated to the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. We can see a metalworker hammering a bronze plate using a hammerstone and stone anvil mounted on a wooden block.

Bronze During the Bronze Age forging (a process involving the shaping of metal using localized compressive forces made by blows delivered with a hammer) was largely drawing of edges and decoration of cast items. Small stone anvils were originally used.

This is an early Bronze Age anvil stone found in Ribble Valley, Lancashire . It is incredibly heavy for its size (probably hematite) and shows evidence of continual impacts that appear deliberately placed. It is as likely that the anvil was used in the production of gold items, as well as coper alloy objects. The length is 72mm, width 60mm, thickness 45mm. Dates to between 2100 and 1500 BC.

These are stone anvils and hammers found in context with gold in bronze age Bell Beaker graves in Lunteren, Netherlands which were dated to the perdiod 2200 - 2020 BC. The person buried in the grave with the stone anvils was probably a gold worker, making gold spirals, hair clips etc.

First metal bronze anvils were basically imitations of the above simple cube stone anvils with the addition of the sharp pointy tong which can be stuck into a stump (log).

They were used like this:

Later on small bronze L shape anvils appeared like these ones described by Margaret Ehrenbery in her article "The Anvils of Bronze Age Europe" in The Antiquaries Journal. In her article she describes 37 small bronze anvils that are located in museums in Western Europe and the British Isles. Most have been dated from about 1200 to 700 BC because of the material with them. They are not just little blocks with a flat side, but some of them have horns, punching holes, swages of various shapes in them and a stake for mounting them. Although they are relatively small, they contain about every complexity or feature that has been used on smiths anvils to date.

At the beginning of the iron age in the West the anvil had to develope all over again. The reason for this is that gold, copper, bronze are produced in a fundamentally different way from iron.

Copper and bronze were refined in crucibles, and then poured into stone or clay moulds. Bronze was only finished or decorated on the Bronze Age bronze anvils where most work was done cold. This is why anvils made for bronze working were small and made for precision work.

Iron, on the other hand, was forged by being beaten on an anvil and most work was done hot. This is why anvils made for iron working can be divided into two groups: smaller anvils made for precision work with cold and worm iron and larger anvils made for  heavy pounding of hot iron.

This difference between the bronze and iron metalwork is even mention in the Bible: "The ironsmith is naturally called ‘he who strikes the anvil’, while the bronze-worker, who had to trim rough castings by hammering, is called ‘he who smooths with the hammer’ (Is. 41:7)"

The problem was that while bronze anvils could be cast using moulds, iron anvils had to be forged. That is quite a procedure which requires a lot of skill and a lot a iron. And this is why originally iron smiths returned to stone anvils. Stone anvils ended up being used used again for two reasons:

1. the iron could not be worked on the lower melting temperature bronze anvils.
2. the small bronze anvils were not strong enough to withstand the force used in iron work.

Soon a new type of forged iron anvils developed like this stump anvil seen here in a working iron age forge.

Eventually anvils assumed the shape that we today associate with anvils, like this one. It is similar in shape to bronze age L shaped anvil but much simpler and heavier.

However stone anvils continued to be used for iron work in Europe until late medieval time. This is a stone in Powys area of Wales, known locally as the Blacksmith's Anvil. The stone marks a junction on the path to Grwyne Fawr Reservoir, Capel y ffin and Bal Mawr.

The above stone could actually have once been used as an anvil stone. This is an actual Viking anvil stone at Aðalból in East Iceland.

This picture is taken from a very good article by Patrick Ferneman, which explains how to use primitive tools to work iron. He uses stone anvil and hamerstone:

Stone anvils were used well into the 20th century by primitive peoples in various parts of the world such as Zulu in Africa. This picture shows Zulu spearkmaker beats a spear blade with a stone hammer on stone anvil.

Now one important thing about stone anvils. Anvil stone has to be exceptionally hard, like basalt or fine grained granite or andesite (like the stone from which the Minoan anvils were made), or some other type of bedrock. Again it all depends what you want to do and what kind of hammering force are you going to use. Alternatively you can make the anvil from metal-bearing rocks (ore). That will allow you to work metal of hardness up to the metal that can be extracted from the anvil stone. The best naturally occurring metal bearing rocks are meteorites, which are almost pure heat tempered iron. So it is not surprising that meteorites were used as anvils for metalwork.

Gold-rush traveller Asa Bement Clarke and boundary commissioner John Russell Bartlett both reported seeing a meteorite used as an anvil by a Tucson blacksmith called Ramon Pacheco around the mid 19th century. Bartlett provides this description of the meteorite he examined at Tucson and provides an accompanying sketch:

"...A remarkable meteorite, which is used for an anvil in the blacksmith’s shop. This mass resembles native iron, and weighs about six hundred pounds. Its greatest length is five feet. Its exterior is quite smooth, while the lower part which projects from the larger leg is very jagged and rough. It was found twenty miles distant towards Tubac, and about eight miles from the road, where we were told are many larger masses..." This is a replica of the Tuscon meteorite in it's original position whn used as an anvil, currently displayed in the Flandrau – Science Center & Planetarium.

Hammerston and stone anvil have been used for millions of years by both humans and animals with pretty much no modification. The use of these tools have changed but the tools themselves remained pretty much the same. This is a remarkable example of "if it works don't fix it" maxim.

Knowing all this, is it possible that some languages have preserved the fact that both hammers and anvils have essentially been just two stones for best part of human history? Well there are.

The word "hammer" comes from Old English hamor "hammer," from Proto-Germanic *hamaraz (cognates: Old Saxon hamur, Middle Dutch, Dutch hamer, Old High German hamar, German Hammer). The Old Norse cognate hamarr meant "stone, crag" (it's common in English place names), and suggests an original sense of the Germanic words as "tool with a stone head," or just "hamerstone" which would describe the first hammers. Cognates: Proto Slavic dialectal:  kam, kamy, kamen, kamor  - stone, rock.

In Ancient Greek words for stone are λίθος (lithos) and πέτρα ‎(pétra). However the Ancien Greek word for anvil is  ἄκμων ‎(ákmōn). This word comes from the same root as the word hammer "(a)k(a)m" and originally just meant stone. Its cognates in European languages are:

Slavic: kam, kamy, kamen, kamor  - stone, rock
Germanic - hamaraz -  hammer, stone, rock
Latvian: akmens - stone
Lithuanian: akmuo - stone

This is very interesting I believe. If anyone knows any other language where the word for hammer and anvil also means stone, please let me know so that I can update my post.

What does all this have to do with the word baba you might be asking yourself?

This is a type of anvil used for peening the scythe. Peening is the process of working a metal's surface to improve its material properties, usually by mechanical means, such as hammer blows. In case of scythe it is done to sharpen the blade. The traditional method of preparing the scythe edge uses a cross peen hammer and a small anvil. The peening process takes advantage of the plastic nature of metal. Hammering the cutting zone draws the metal out, thinning it for easier sharpening. This beating also work hardens the metal and enhances edge retention. This is exactly the kind of work done by bronze age metalworkers.

What is interesting is that in Serbia this peening anvil is called baba, babica, bapka,  bа̀pčić, bakva, bakvica (from baka, diminutive of baba). And the wooden block into which the peening anvil is stuck is called babac.

Why is this anvil call "baba" in Serbia? Is it because the word baba in Serbian once meant stone, rock? I believe so. I will talk about this in detail in my next post. 

Until then, stay happy and healthy.


  1. I enjoyed your article on hammers and anvils.
    I wanted to mention to you about the recent science articles I have read regarding the Bronze Age Irish skeletons that were DNA tested and the results showed a definite connection to the Pontic Steppe.
    This website and all of your work, and research has been vindicated.

    1. Thank you William. I saw the article about the latest genetic data from Ireland and I have to say I giggled like a kid. I just wish all the Irish archaeologists who spat on my idea that when it comes to the Bronze Age the Irish Annals contain real histories, would have enough decency to apologize for all the name calling. But I doubt that will ever happen. Their bad.

  2. I don't blame you if you revel in your satisfaction. When I read about it your website was the first thing that came to mind. You obviously made the connection linguisticly and culturally having some insights they did not. It's exciting for me to see such ideas as yours to be proven correct. I'm enjoying learning things about our ancestors and the answers to questions I've wondered about. It's a great time to be alive. Keep up the good work.

  3. Great investigative work, as usual! I was thinking about how the stone pillars erected in the ancient world marked places of ancestor veneration and how often the deified ancestors were carried from place to place as small stone figurines. Sometimes they were identified with the ancestral ruling parents. This is the case in Genesis 31:34 with the so-called "Teraphim" which simply means the figurines of the ancestor Tera/Terah, Abraham's father. Tera also refers to the priest. I have been thinking about the Baba, the central pole in the traditional Serbian house. Might it also be a symbol of the ancestors?

  4. Superb work, thanks on behalf of all species of hammer users.

    As with the Irish, aboriginal legends get scoffed at by academia. They had legends of hairy men here before them, that they killed. Now we have Flores Man and ancestors, and just over our fence here, in a geologically very stable small riverine rainforest patch, a huge set of tools simpler than those of Olduvia. At an ochre site. Evolution happens mostly where there are large collections of islands, and animals and plants leave some of the gene code behind. So, humans evolved where? Out of Africa is now seriously questionable. The hammer stones and anvils here can have their impacts Dated and trace elements checked. Watch for news - and an avalanche of denials.

    PSR geologist, casually observing stone tools - Africa, west coast North America, Fiji, Cook Islands, Australia - for 60 years now.