We see ourselves as Man The Tool User, but our Chimpanzee cousins also use a variety of tools. Humankind does have the capacity to improve infinitely upon the nature and use of tools, but the basic ability of tool-use is not really one to which we can make a unique claim  There are many in animalkind who use objects as tools. There is even the clever honey-finder bird of Africa who has learned to use humans beings as a tool. They lead humans to beehives, then the humans open the dangerous beehive and expose the precious honeycomb for the bird. Apparently the instinct to use objects as tools is part of our animal inheritance. Indeed, our oldest myth-stories are of the animals who taught us how to survive. Even fire, considered wholly of our domain, is brought to us by an animal. This would seem to be tacit acknowledgment of humankind’s relationship with the natural environment from which we emerged. Curiosity and learning were our newest, greatest gifts and we used them to explore and to imitate the fascinating beings around us. Monkey see. Monkey do. And in so doing we designed ourselves into civilized beings.

The arts of weaving baskets learned from watching birds weave their nests is only the most obvious tool-working technique which we borrowed from our animal relatives.

Nest-building, however, inspired humankind to invent a class of tool that does not exist in the animal kingdom. Carrying eggs home in their nest gets you more eggs than you can carry in your two hands while climbing down safely from the tree. A container that carries tools, yet frees the hands, is the one class of tool to which humankind can make unique claim. Other animals make tools and use them. Some even carry tools for a short time, but only humans make a toolkit to carry more than one tool in order to free the hands for tool use. We are actually not so much The Animal Who Uses Tools as The Animal Who Carries A Toolkit.

Basket-weaving is one of the oldest arts of humankind, with many examples surviving from the early Neolithic era and even hints of their use in the Paleolithic. Every available form of plant fiber is used for basket-weaving. Egyptian basketwork demonstrated a solid tradition and extensive development of the technique.

I point this out because one of the oldest recorded Egyptian hieroglyphs is nob, translated as “lord,” “sire,” “sir,” “prince,” “nobleman,” “master,” etc., terms of nobility and respect. The hieroglyph is a basket. The image of nobility symbolized as “that which contains us as a basket contains loose objects” is an elegant metaphor for the responsibilities of the nobility. The nobility unify the group identity and contain the disparate elements of the group. Their persons and roles were the “emotional baskets” which carried the multihued emotional and cultural strengths of the members of their households, villages and territories.

The basket which contains all the baskets, of course, is the house. These metaphors evolved in the African environment where house-building and basket-weaving are closely related technologies. The word “pharaoh” is derived from por-aah (pr-aa) meaning “Great House.” Pharaoh was the Great House which contained the individual baskets of nobility, all that they carried and protected.

Pharaoh was, first and last, symbol of the civilized unity of the Egyptian people, the ultimate cultural metaphor of their unique identity and ancient traditions. Indeed, the best definition of pharaoh is in the gesture of “being civilized,” with every nuance of art, humanity, compassion, technology and power implied in that term. Pharaoh was the representative, par excellence, of the civilized human being. Pharaoh’s toolkit built the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx and the grand temples along the Nile.

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