Thinking Aloud on A Sunday

How did cave-men cut their toenails?

As my own toenails need a trim, I was thinking about this earlier. Before the widespread adoption of sturdy footwear, and the invention of sharp blades, the feet of the human population must have been in something of a state. Hard skin and cracked heels would have been everyday issues, as well as cuts, thorns, sharp stones, and splinters. I doubt it was very long before they started to wrap their poor abused feet in the skins of animals they had killed for food, to keep them warm, if for no other reason.

But then I wondered about their toenails. Those things grow fast, and given that ancient man had little but sharp shards of flint to work with, cutting their toenails must have been well-nigh impossible. It’s tricky enough using my ratchet-clippers designed for the purpose, forged in tempered steel. I can’t begin to imagine having to tackle that regular job with a sliver of sharp stone. Perhaps they waited until they were long enough, then somehow snapped them off? Maybe they kicked rocks to create weaknesses or cracks before attempting that? Any of the alternatives sound painful, and just letting them grow is not an option, as they would soon impede walking, or running after game. I came to the conclusion that they must have got another member of their clan to bite them off. That’s the only plausible answer. I think I would have been out hunter-gathering when that job came around. Yuk!

I confess that I often wonder about such random things, where cave-dwellers are concerned. Who first thought of collecting grains, mixing them together with water, and baking them in some form of oven or an open fire? That idea seems to have arrived to everyone at around the same time, as the remains of bread made like that are to be found in the archaeological digs of any country. What ancient genius decided to crush coffee beans, add hot water, and create a stimulant drink? Was it the long-forgotten ancestor of a certain Mr Starbuck perhaps?

And why did they cook meat? This is also a proven fact, as most meat eaten by our forefathers was cooked to some degree, before being eaten. Animals don’t cook meat, they eat it raw. But ancient man cooked his dinner, whether it was a leg of mammoth, or the cannibalistic repast provided by some unfortunate neighbour. Perhaps it was so cold, they needed something warm inside them? Cooked meat may also have kept longer than raw meat, and perhaps not have attracted the attention of predatory animals once the blood was cooked. But the person who came up with the idea must have been popular indeed.

Living an existence based on keeping a fire going, and hoping the sun rises the next day is not to be envied. But that harsh life developed a lot of invention born out of necessity, that’s for sure. Scientists can pretty much date the evolution of mankind as we know it on this planet, and in the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t been that long. Progress has been rapid, that’s undeniable. Lots of things have been invented, most of them bad for us, and the planet. But we can take comfort in one fact.

We no longer have to bite off each other’s toenails.

79 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud on A Sunday

    1. Random thoughts on a Sunday have become a big feature of my life, and on my blog. πŸ™‚
      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, and for following this blog too.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  1. I think about this kind of random “who first though to do x” stuff too. I think with toenails though where and tear must have come into it. I don’t cut Little O’s toenails because I value my life (well sort of) but they almost always just wear down… probably because he spends a lot of time barefoot.

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    1. That’s good to know, Abbi. I was watching ‘The Prosecutors’ the other night, and couldn’t stop wondering how a young blind woman featured did her make-up. My mind is full of such things, all the time. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. I so enjoy your random thinking, Pete. This was particularly interesting. I wonder if they let their toenails grow to be like claws, and adapted walking and running. Somehow biting off the nail seems, well, as iffy as my idea.

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  3. You’ve given plenty of us a weird image to think about. Perhaps if they were flexible enough through exercise they could bite their own (as noted, they didn’t usually live to be very old…). Happy week, Pete!

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  4. Given that teeth where thin in the mouth, hence the cooking of meat, I’d have to go for the wear and tear theory….or vinigar. Make up a solution on 1-2 10% vinigar solution, soak feet in said solution for 12 hours, peel softened nail and callouses from feet. Please note that outdoor activity should be restricted for the next twenty four hours to allow the skin to return to its natural gnarly self.

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    1. You need to send those tips back in a time machine mate. You could be a Caveman foot-saviour.
      Let’s hope they would understand. Or you could interpret the advice as a cave-painting)
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  5. A particularly curious post! It’s a topic that has always fascinated me (the activities of the first man, that is, not nibbling toenails). i bet their feet were in a right state. Interesting what you mention about the cooing for meat, though.. I do wonder. Maybe they started cooking it and dry curing meat to save it from rotting over a short period of time.

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    1. That’s my conclusion too. Cooked and dried; easier to preserve, and to carry around.
      (These Sunday posts started after you ‘disappeared’. They are often curious. πŸ™‚ )
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  6. When it comes to trimming those little slabs of keratin, I think some of your readers nailed it. Natural wear and tear, ground down by “rocks, sand, and stuff.”

    Even cave dwellers eschewed raw meat. Since cooking was the obvious answer, the cave dwellers set out on a quest for fire. Throw in some woolly mammoths and a naked girl, and you could have a great movie!

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    1. Julie had one of those once, in a shopping centre. It didn’t make much difference, but she liked the feeling. I think my toenails would need piranhas, at least on the big toes! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  7. The things you think of! Natural wear, of course. They only get hard and thick when you get old. If they lived to be 25 that would have been the norm. 40 would have been ancient. Rip, tear, or grind away by sand and rocks.

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    1. I DO have someone else to deal with my toenails. I cannot believe i was over 50 before i discovered the importance of those dear folks who perform pedicures! Now, at least 4x a yr. whether i need it or not. Yes!! Highly recommended.

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  8. β€œIt is unlucky to cut the finger nails on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. If you cut the on Friday you are playing into the devil’s hand; on Saturday, you are inviting disappointment, and on Sunday, you will have bad luck all week. There are people who suffer all sorts of gloomy forebodings if they absentmindedly trim away a bit of nail on any of these days and who will suffer all the inconvenience of overgrown fingernails sooner than cut them after Thursday.”

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    1. I didn’t know that particular ‘old wive’s tale’, John.
      Thanks for enlightening me. There’s a lot of truth in those. My personal favourite is “Ne’er cast a clout, ’til May be out”.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  9. It is my personal very enlightened opinion (Based on decades of research) that the task of biting off the over-grown toenails of the early cave dwellers and their evolved cousins was a task shared by a man and his mate and was part of their mating ritual .. (“Foreplay” if you prefer.). This became a problem as the people aged and their teeth wore down naturally or when their teeth fell victim to decay. Another popular scientific view is that the act of walking barefoot over rough terrain constantly would keep the toenails in check much the same as when a bird spends a lifetime perching on sandstone ledges. The idea of the nails being worn down through exposure to natural grinding processes such as I have mentioned is thought to be the reason that evolution provided for them to keep on growing. I have another theory too — The time span you mentioned was ideal for a family’s pet wolf (wolves) to be trained in the fine art of toenail biting as well.

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  10. Oh, Pete, you d o make me laugh! Your average Cave man wouldn’t have lived too long, and all that running around with no shoes on, I think the nails would have worn down naturally…rocks and sand and stuff

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  11. Lol, really had to laugh about that Flinstones joke in the comment above πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Well….this really is an interesting question though. It almost makes me sad that nobody has invented a time machine yet, so we could get to the bottom of this. All we now have is speculation…so I’m going to go with the Pterordactyl theory. It’s the only thing that makes sense😊 Have a great sunday Pete! πŸ˜‰

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      1. Lol…well…maybe, maybe someone invented a timemachine and placed some of them in that timeframe?? I don’t know it’s a just a though (sorry, sometimes my imagination just gets the better of me πŸ˜…πŸ˜…).

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  12. I think that this was answered on an old TV documentary series called ‘The Flintstones.’

    If I remember correctly they used a tame pterodactyl.

    Interesting fact about pterodactyls; you can’t hear them when they go to the toilet because the pee is silent.

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