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Volume 2

A Story of Bad Timing: The Tongva Arrive in Santa Fe Springs, the Europeans get Bronze Tools

Stone Age Californians – No Match for the Iron Age Europeans

The huge wooden sailing ships of the Europeans must have been an amazing sight to the indigenous people of Southern California. After all, the long beams of the square sails were fastened by metal nails, cut by metal saws, feats that would have been impossible with stone and bone tools used by the natives of California. Even the sail cloth must have looked exotic to people who dressed in animal furs and had never woven cloth. Yes, the first Californians could make small boats fashioned with bark, tule bundles and hollowed out logs, but a ship the size of a Spanish galleon would have been impossible to build with flint knives, stone axes and animal skins.

For 95% of our time on earth, humans have been hunters and gatherers. Discoveries of flint arrow and spearheads throughout Europe and Asia indicate that people the world over lived much the same as the indigenous Americans for thousands of years, as people who used stone tools. What happened in Europe to turn Stone Age hunters and gatherers of that continent into farmers who made metal tools?

According to historian and Tongva tribal member, Mark Acuña, the difference was caused by the lack of a single animal on the American continent. The missing animal was the horse. Horses were around during the Ice Age, but mysteriously became extinct in California and the North American continent. Horses did not return until the Spanish brought them back to the New World in the 1500’s. It was very different in Europe. Horses thrived as a species, and over thousands of years became the most important domesticated animal in Europe. 

Why did the horse make such a difference? This animal made it possible for humans to travel great distances and carry cargo. Most important, the availability of a pack animal gradually led to the development of the wheel. The ancient Aztecs are credited with the invention of a wheel, but they used it only on toys. Dogs were too small to carry human loads or pull a vehicle, and North American deer proved impossible to domesticate. The wheel could only be developed to its full potential in a place where there were horses. So while the native people of this country were traveling on foot and dragging their possessions around with poles, the European and Asian people were traveling great distances by horse to trade and explore.

After the domestication of the horse, ideas, trade and technology spread at greater speed across the European and Asian continents. The use of the horse and wheel clad vehicles also made it possible to move armies to wage war with stone weapons.  

The Stone Age in Europe ended when bronze-making began to take place around 2000 B.C.E. The discovery of metal was as important in its own way as the introduction of the steam engine and electricity. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin. Copper had been in use as an ornamental metal, but was too soft to make weapons or shields. Bronze changed everything, especially the way war was waged. Those with metal equipment had an advantage over those without. While stone was abundant, copper and tin ore were hard to find. The search for it created social change as governments organized to find it. The control of the bronze trade became a great source of power.

Life Behind the Plough 

Farming began only about 10,000 years ago. There are several theories why Europeans left their hunting and gathering lifestyles to undertake the burdens of farming. The discovery of casting metal weapons may have led to the development of large armies that needed a steady food supply. The agricultural trend began in the Middle East and spread through Europe and Asia. This transition was called the Neolithic Period. It was marked by technological advances that included the domestication of animals like pigs, sheep and cattle. It was the time when people learned to cultivate wheat from seed. The first villages were born and a wave of inventions followed… the loom, the house, the plough, and the sickle.  

The development of bronze, eventually led to the development of iron and the Iron Age. Iron, a cheaper more durable metal, once again changed the way people made weapons, buildings, and boats. (The Vikings were the first to use iron nails in their boats.) Europe, the Middle East, and China entered the Iron Age while the indigenous people of the Americas were using stone tools. The domestication of horses, the refinement of the compass, development of weaving, the discovery of metals alloys, catapulted Europe into an era of world wide exploration by the 1400’s. Meanwhile, Stone Age North America and Stone Age Latin America remained isolated from these changes, and vulnerable to the Europeans who would soon arrive.