2013 FLINT KNAPPING
On Sunday 2 June 2013, we booked onto a flint knapping course with master knapper Karl Lee (see his website, Primitive Technology). For Paul and Gary in particular, this was an opportunity to learn a skill relevant to the portrayal of life in the Bronze Age, when flint tools were still common especially during the early Bronze, or Copper, Age. Out of all of us, only Paul had ever flint knapped some time ago, so we were all looking forward to an interesting new experience.
Our instructor Karl reconstructs replicas of flint and other tools from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age: from handaxes used for butchering mammoths to the barbed arrow-heads and small flint hide-scrapers which would have been known to the Beaker people whom Paul and Gary aim to emulate. Fortunately, unlike some of our experiments earlier in the year, the weather was in our favour, so we were able to sit outside the Yorkshire Museum, where a new exhibition on ‘Stone Age’ Yorkshire has just opened, to be followed next year by one on the Bronze Age in our local area.
By the end of the morning, we had learned the core skills of flint knapping. It was intriguing to find that the key to success lies more in the technical skill – particularly the judging of angles when striking the flint – than in strength. Karl demonstrated how to use a range of flint knapping tools from different periods: basic hammer-stones and antler hammers used throughout prehistory, and fine-pointed copper and antler retouchers used for making delicate arrow heads. Otzi the Iceman was found with such a retoucher, suggesting that he was skilled in making his own arrowheads for hunting. Of course, we were most excited about getting stuck in ourselves, and under Karl’s guidance, we all made our own flint scrapers used for scraping down animal hides – one of the most common prehistoric tools in the archaeological record.
Now we have been introduced to this craft, we intend to continue to practice and improve, and to try making other implements. With our Bronze Age interests, some barbed arrowheads would be ideal to aim for. Also, some small flint axeheads have been found on sites believed to be Bronze Age both on the continent and in the UK, such as a site at Churchill, Somerset, and the Iceman was found with a flint dagger, showing that this craft persisted even after the start of metalworking. As we continue to learn this skill, we will upload pictures of our endeavours within the Bronze Age section (Alex)