This method may be said to have a world-wide distribution, and to have had no narrow range in time. It is a very interesting study to observe the many different practices that have been superadded to the simple task of twirling two sticks with the design of creating fire. It is also instructive to note how fixed have become tribal characters in so small a thing as the shaping of the elements of the fire drill. It has well been said by Dr. Schweinfurth, that —
A people, as long as they are on the lowest step of their development, are far better characterized by their industrial products than they are either by their habits, which may be purely local, or by their own representations, which (rendered in their rude and unformed language) are often incorrectly interpreted by ourselves. If we possessed more of these tokens we should be in a position to comprehend better than we do the primitive condition of many a nation that has now reached a high degree of culture.
This fact holds good with reference to tribes in a higher plane than the learned writer included in this statement, in this way. There are many little things that have not been subject to the modification of time, intercourse, or environment, but co-exist with an art. To particularize: Prof. E. S. Morse has shown the value of the simple act of releasing an arrow from a bow-string as a classifier. Close attention to the minor acts and arts will reveal much more than the nice measurements of man's practically unmodified skeleton.
Differences that have become functional in the arts have come down from an early period; when they can be found they are of the greatest value as aids in ethnology.
The ethnography of the simple fire drill is studied geographically, beginning in North America with the most northerly tribes that use it, and ranging from north to south in the different sections of the country, among the tribes from which there are specimens in the Museum. Other countries are examined from west to east.
The Sitkan fire-drill spindle is unusually long and thick (fig. 1). Both hearth and drills are of the Thuja gigantea, a tree that enters so largely into the life of the Indians along this coast. The wood grinds off very well with much friction; at ordinary speed there is soon a small heap of powder at the bottom of the fire slot. The latter is deeply cut in from the side nearly to the center of the fire-hole. The whole hearth has been charred at the fire. This repels moisture, and also renders it easier to ignite the wood, charring being a process somewhat analogous to the decay of wood by rotting. If kept carefully in a dry place, this apparatus was perfectly adequate for the purpose of the Sitkan, and in his skillful hands would no doubt give the spark in a minute or so. The long drill would indicate that two worked at it consecutively
- Schweinfurth.—The Heart of Africa. New York, 1874. I, p. 257.