Tracing the reliance and development of human eating tools requires going down an archaeological rabbit hole. If we narrow our search to cutlery - like the knife, spoon and fork in our modern Western conception - what do we find?
One of the oldest objects in the British Museum in London is an Olduvai stone cutting tool found in an early human camp in Tanzania. It is thought to be 1.8 million years old. Experts believe the tool may have been used as an early knife to cut the meat of large animals, or to smash bones for marrow fat - an important part of the early human diet.
The spoon is one of the oldest eating utensils; it is not difficult to imagine early man making the leap from natural spoons such as shells or stones to spoons made of wood, animal horns and eventually metal, adding handles in the process.
One of the oldest spoons preserved in a museum is believed to be a pair made from mammoth ivory found in the Paleolithic site of Avdeevo in Russia, discovered in the late 1940s. The spoons are believed to be about 21,000 years old. As early as the 1st century, Romans were fashioning spoons with handles from silver – you can see a set of silver spoons that are about 2,000 years old the next time you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Forks are the new kid on the block when it comes to utensils used specifically for eating. The Ancient Egyptians and the Quijia culture of present-day China were early pioneers of table forks. forks were once viewed as a little scandalous and not without controversy.
“In 1004, the Greek niece of the Byzantine emperor used a stainless steel golden fork at her wedding feast in Venice, where she married the doge’s son,” writes Lisa Bramen for an article entitled A History of Western Eating Utensils, from the Scandalous Fork to the Incredible Spork. “At the time, most Europeans still ate with their fingers and knives, so the Greek bride’s newfangled implement was seen as sinfully decadent by local clergy. ‘God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks – his fingers’, one of the disdainful Venetians said. Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.’ When the bride died of the plague a few years later, Saint Peter Damian opined that it was God’s punishment for her hateful vanity.”
Thankfully, nowadays the fork and its cutlery counterparts carry a lot less spiritual baggage. And there are also more options for different colors. Material. Styles. Finishes, etc., to meet the needs of different people around the world.