The nutcutter saga

#1 Dec 11th, 2017, 21:58
Join Date:
Dec 2008
In the land of awesomeness
  • aarosh is offline

A nutcutter depicting a parrot with a turned neck. The blade is near the stomach.

It remains a fresh memory. I stared at my grandfather, mesmerized, my five-year-old eyes—big as saucers—watching him expertly shredding a betel nut. The slivers of nut fell into a neat little heap. Soon they would vanish into his mouth.

There was something magical about the tool in his hand. The nutcutter. Sitting perfectly in his hand, with an ergonomic ease that belied its seemingly ancient provenance, it sliced through the nut effortlessly. Years later, as a teenager on a leisure trip, I was somewhat taken aback when I encountered the nutcutter again at the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in Pune. I stood open-mouthed in front of a display case filled with dozens of nutcutters—in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes.

A nutcutter in the shape of a horse-rider. Rubies are fitted as the horse’s eyes.

The nutcutter was not merely a curious kitchen implement. It was a cultural object.


Animals, including man, have been consuming nuts for millennia. Nuts, of course, are far from being the easiest, most accessible, things to eat; especially for primitive man, who depended on nothing more than his teeth. Until, that is, stone tools came along. At some point in human history, somebody cracked a nut open with a stone tool for the first time. Things, as far as human-nut interactions were concerned, would never be the same again.

Archaeological excavations have revealed pitted stones and shells at many sites of primitive human habitation. The most primitive stone tools ever found, in the Olduvai Gorge, date back some 2.6 million years. The development of these tools mark an important stage in the evolution of man. Tools, one could say, made the man. And if nuts were one reason for these tools, then surely nuts play some part in the emergence of the earliest tool-using humans?

But it is not just the human who has learnt to access the nut with stone.

Mother chimpanzees of the Taï rain forest in West Africa’s Ivory Coast teach their infants the art of nut-cracking.

Experts estimate that this schooling takes up to seven years before a young chimpanzee has mastered the art. The trained chimpanzee can then race through huge piles of nuts at a splendid rate. During nut-cracking season, from February to August, a trained chimp can break about 100 nuts in a day. Scientists believe they use stone hammers to crack nuts—not at all unlike primitive human beings.

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