Flint Crecent Sickles,
The Fertile Crescent, Middle East. Circa 4,000 AD A time machine
A sickle is a hand-held agricultural tool, usually with a curved blade, typically used for cutting either green grass or mature cereals. It is the serrated sickle, and variations of it, that still dominates the task of harvesting grain. Modern kitchen knives with serrated edges as well as grain-harvesting machines continue to use the same design principle as prehistoric sickles. The development of the first sickle can be traced back to Mesopotamia in times that pre-date the Neolithic Era (18,000-8,000 BC).
The sickle offered a completely new approach to gathering food as a direct evolution of the role of humans from hunter-gatherers. The sickle represents a critical decision not to follow our instincts and chase food, but to stay still and grow it. In this way, the sickle has changed the course of history, in very literal terms. It allowed us to 'put down roots' by first seeding and then tending the roots of crops needed to sustain a community. This decision became the genesis of modern urbanism and what we today know as cities, for if it wasn't for the shaping of a simple sickle out of flint, we might well have followed an evolutionary path which simply would have seen us continually increasing the efficiency of our hunter-gatherer technologies, as represented by the flint arrow head.
From this decision (generated in one single technological innovation), a spiral of population and socio-economic changes began bringing about; trade through agricultural overproduction from which came new economies, which in turn required organisation, administration and manpower. With trade came social differentiation and the need for appropriate bureaucratic infrastructures to initiate and oversee public building programmes. Irrigation followed to further increase the efficiency of agricultural and horticultural production. Villages expanded into small towns and then large towns before becoming the first cities. With cities came palaces, residential areas, streets and canals. Houses were built for permanence for the first time, using plaster and sun-dried mud bricks. As people became settled, they began to create distinctive crafts to show their status through traded goods and possessions. As people began to live in one place, they developed new rituals and new skills. With cities also came temples and religious organisations that controlled large estates. Under the governance of these temples, irrigation was organised by institutions, trade networks were formed and writing was invented as a means of documenting trade.
All of this, which still exists today, was the by-product of a humble yet history-changing technology: the sickle.
Few modern technologies can claim to have achieved the same degree of human progress as the sickle. The sickle was of course only a tool that helped create the conditions for this progress, rather than the sole engineer of every element of what was a chain of events following a natural evolution.
The most immediate comparisons for modern technological equivalents might come to mind in the coupled technologies of the smartphone and the Internet. These two technologies have begun to significantly redefine, or 'disrupt', our lives in economic, social, political and ontological ways. The impacts and implications of these changes have only just begun, and by-products of these two tools might well have started a sequence of unrealised interrelated evolutions yet to be seen on our horizon, just like the city was once on the sickle's horizon.