What do chimpanzees, Leonardo Da Vinci, the goddess Shiva, and the first-ever printed advert have in common? Surprisingly, it’s the humble needle. So, pull up a chair and let me tell you how it’s all connected.
For a long time, it was suspected that needles were tied into the history of embroidery, however, long before we regarded art forms, we needed to clothe ourselves. Original estimates suggested that we threw on some fur and strode out into the world, however cave paintings from Aurignacia (modern-day South Europe) suggested that needles were made from bone and antler back in 28,000BC (Yes, that’s 30,000 years ago). It took them until 17,500BC to create something similar to an eye like modern needles, but with this came a change to a tapered point.
We’ve marked this at point (1) on our map, and is where our story begins.
HOLD UP! Not so fast. In August 2016, a yearly dig in the Denisova Cave, Siberia, Russia (1b) found a needle. At first glance, this looks like a standard needle, made of a bird bone, with an eye. But this needle actually predates not only Augrignacia but Humans themselves. Denisovans are closer in the bloodline to chimpanzees than to modern humans and offer a glimpse into a world 50,000 years ago when they were using needles very similar to ours.
We’re yet to see proof of the age of the needle, but we thank the Siberian Times for the story.
As homo-sapiens started to reach across the world, so did needles. Our next stop is in Armenia (2) where metalwork starts to take shape in 7000BC. Starting with copper and later bronze (one of the first bronze items in the Bronze age period) needles changed to the metal in 2500BC.
Not to be outdone however, Indian sword smiths cast amazing Khanda swords, the sword of Goddess Shiva, in iron (3). This miracle quickly starts to move to Europe in 1195BC.
Moving closer to modern history, commercialism comes into play. In 500BC a drawing plate, how modern cross stitch needles are made, is developed (4).
To go along with this, in the Song Dynasty in China, a copper printing plate has been found to print posters in the form of a square sheet of paper with a rabbit logo with “Jinan Liu’s Fine Needle Shop” and “We buy high-quality steel rods and make fine-quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time” written above and below. It’s considered the world’s earliest identified printed advertisement. (6)
Not one to be outdone, ever, Leonardo da Vinci designs a lapper for grinding needle points, and actually constructed it in 1496AD (7).
Finally, we end our journey with Germany, where, in Aachen 1615AD (8), the first steel needles are made.