Eric Dorman – Stone Tool Making: A Cooler Process Than You Think

A few days back, I had the great experience of being in a session that included a hands-on activity in flint knapping, the process of making stone tools. By participating in the flint knapping demonstration, I learned about the arduous process of making stone heads for tools. A preferable stone is fine-grained and absorbs the shock of impact, like from another stone, evenly so that it is easier to shape. The stone to be flaked must be braced in one hand whose arm is planted upon the leg below it. The other arm, possessing a hammerstone, will strike the stone with a full swing causing a fragmenting from the impact. A well done strike can create a large thin fragment that can have its own uses. Examples of these preferable stones include: obsidian, flint, and quartz.

In addition to Historic Preservation, I am also studying Geology. I know that certain rocks and crystals exist in certain places. Therefore, as an artifact analyst, by knowing the geology of an area from which a set of lithics came, I can tell which are local and which are non-local, possibly indicating trade.

As with metal tool heads, it is important to note the shape of stone tool heads as the shape indicates different functions, not just arrow and spear heads, but also hoes, skinning blades, and weights. Within each function, the shape of a tool head will vary across the land due to certain peoples accepting certain shape variations for a given tool. As a Historic Preservationist, it is important to know what variations were practiced by which peoples for this can serve as an identifier as to what tribe or group used the archaeological site in question.

Projectile Point made by Nate Salzman. I won this point.

The session was very enlightening as to how to make these tools. It’s an art and a science that employs technique and physical strength as well as foresight into what the creator intends to make. It also invokes resourcefulness as knapping fragments can be used for a purpose as well. Overall, flint knapping was actually more fun than I expected it to be.

We began the session with the instructor talking about what it means to flint knap, particularly concerning how it works and what to look for in a stone. We proceeded to try our skills by practicing against glass as well as usual stones like flint and obsidian. I won the pictured point by answering a question correctly.

I also fiddled with some obsidian, flint, and mahogany obsidian. My inner geologist was rather geeking out. In conclusion, I found the demonstration to be quite entertaining. Although I’m far from a professional flint knapper, it was interesting to learn about the art, science, and technique behind these things and employing them in person. I recognize the importance of the geological perspective in identifying them as well as the aesthetical perspective. Also importantly, as an archaeologist, I have to keep an eye out for fragments of these useful rock types as they may be caused by flint knapping.

Flakes I produced while flint knapping.

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