Neolithic points produced using a stone and antler tine pressure flaker

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This is the debris from my large slab of Runton beach flint. It has generated lots of flakes and I have a couple of Neolithic arrowhead events in mind. At uni we have a film crew recording part of a project we are doing, and they want some footage of experimental work going on. I have now mastered Neolithic arrowheads made from flint and produced using the correct methods: stone and antler. I think I can probably teach someone to produce one from a flint flake in about 40 minutes. That is my hypothesis and I get to test it out with the students in a week or so.

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Today has been a funny day. I had a lot of small tasks to do and this morning laid out my piles of paperwork to get through them one by one. They have remained untouched and I have been in the backyard and among other things produced these three points. The one in the middle was finished using my metal pressure flaker, the other two with my antler tine. I could feel unproductive having unfinished piles of paperwork, or I can feel productive having finished these points. It is obviously how I choose to contextualise it. I gravitated towards making these today, unplanned, and they have emerged into the world. They are an unconscious link between my positive feelings around the Bronze Age arrowhead workshop last week, and my thoughts about a future Neolithic Day at the same venue. They are also the result of my wanting to get better at using flint and leaf shaped points being simpler to produce. So a lot of things were going on for me and my body led the way into the backyard, and I came back in with these. Karen has just got back and we are going for a curry. I think I will choose to feel productive.

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I have rescued this evening

Today I have got very little done. I had a busy day yesterday and it tired me out. The only really productive thing I managed to finish today was to de-flea the dog. However, this evening was bright and I was able to spend a little time in the backyard after tea and it was productive. DSC_1269

Judicious flake selection is key for me currently and I used my last three remaining nodules in order to generate suitable flakes. Using flint is different because there are more variables in form and size, however these variables can work in our favour if the flake is already usefully shaped and suitably thinned. Flint is also harder as a material, and looking at my antler tine pressure flaking the maximum invasive flaking on these is 5mm. Essentially I am simply shaping already pointy thin flakes with the one on the right being the most ambitious (and still thick in places). I am still getting used to using the antler, however I can say that my leaf points do look like many archaeological examples. I mentioned to a friend earlier that I am overly concerned with aesthetics, whilst they simply wanted to kill something. This is both true and untrue as there are some amazing archaeological examples, however I am firmly on the functional platform when using flint. Currently I work the flake using my thigh as an anvil, and I think this may have its limitations as I have to apply more pressure to a harder material. This is food for thought, however now I have to book my ticket for the Archaeology and Classics Ball, which I have inadvertently agreed to go to on Friday. Whilst this may sound exciting to you, I am 56.

Flint Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead

Yesterday I was talking to my friend, Brian Madden, who edited my self promotion video. He thought a video of me making a flint arrowhead would be good, more archaeological. Consequently I have just had a half hour in the backyard combining three factors: Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead; a flint flake; my new antler pressure flaker.

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This is the result, and it was quick. I used a stone to get rid of the really thick parts of the flake. Then my special dog chew antler hammer that works really well for thinning arrowheads. Finally I moved onto my new pressure flaker.

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As you can see, the shape is good. Thickness (5mm) is fine due to judicious flake selection, and my invasive flaking is not very invasive at the moment, but good enough (10mm at one point). The edge feels different to the glass, more serrated and robust and I can see how it would work well. The only factor I didn’t include here was a video camera, so this needs to be seen as my warm up exercise.

Neolithic leaf shaped arrowheads

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These two leaf shaped arrowheads are both made from the glass bottle bottoms found at Chorlton Ees. I started out aiming to produce Kimberley points, but ended up thinning the pieces with my antler hammer. I have an antler hammer that is the perfect tool for arrowheads and ended up doing most of the thinning and shaping with that. I like them both, but I used my metal pressure flaker to make them, so technologically they are not correct. However, yesterday my new antler pressure flaker arrived in the post.

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Today I had a go at making a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead using only stone and antler. This is another piece of period glass from Chorlton Ees…

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And this is today’s leaf shaped arrowhead. I am pleased with the end result and using the antler was interesting. It took a little getting used to, and I sharpened it to a nice point. This didn’t work as it just crushed as soon as I applied any real pressure. It needs to be rounded and it can then engage with the edge better. Although it is not obvious, each face has a little step fracture island in the centre. This illustrates my depth of pressure flaking with the new antler.

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I am meeting some friends at Chorlton Ees in an hour or so. Dog walk, forage, and then we are going for some food. Let’s see what we come back with.

Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead

Whilst away on holiday I paid a visit to the Whitby Museum, well worth it if you should get the chance.

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Inside there is lots of treasure, and this is a photograph of a lovely Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead found locally.

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This, by contrast, is my point from today (and yesterday) made from a really thick piece of glass given to me by a friend, Stephen Poole.

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It started out as an exercise in exploring the differing functions of hard and soft hammer in the process of reduction. In this respect it was successful as I now have some nice flakes for reference purposes.

However, the striking difference between the flakes produced by the different methods was also useful for me in deepening my understanding. Thinning a nodule to produce a handaxe is a process that I have observed (and filmed) a number of times. Karl Lee always emphasises the import of understanding angles. The stark contrast between these flakes is allowing something to fall into place for me (conceptually, not yet practically!) The hard hammer is perhaps more about producing angles to work with. The soft hammer more about exploiting those angles to thin the piece effectively.

I don’t like this arrowhead. It is too thick and lumpy and will probably go into the box in my back yard where my not quite resolved experiments end up. However, I have made it my point for today (made yesterday, finished today) which keeps the process, and therefore learning opportunities, going. What is intriguing for me is how the actual flakes themselves are helping me understand  the process differently. Learning from the materials seems to encourage me to think about something I already know about in a different way. This thinking through objects is obviously something we do a lot within archaeology. It will be interesting to pick apart how the objects have added to my understanding in a way that observation and explanation have not. Perhaps the theme for another post.

Flint knapping, 3D printing and primary school workshops

I have some workshops planned aimed at primary school children studying the prehistory of Britain. Following the theme of this blog, one of the activities is to bring together the components necessary for the kids to make a Bronze Age arrow. Rightly or wrongly, I am a little cautious about letting small children loose with flint or glass arrowheads so I thought I would get some 3D prints. The flint originals were a Neolithic leaf shaped example and a Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead both produced by John Lord for Elizabeth Healey’s teaching collection . These originals were scanned in by a colleague Tom O’Mahoney.

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Tom also scanned one of my glass barb and tang arrowheads to see how the scanner would cope with a reflective and transparent material. This example had to be covered in talcum powder before scanning.

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After scanning, two prints of each of the flint versions was produced for me by Ed Keefe from the print unit at Manchester Metropolitan University (ManMet).

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The first two examples on the left have some horizontal lines running across. Ed described this as similar to when a photocopier is running low on toner. Consequently he printed them again in the more transparent material. The second two are excellent ‘plastic’ reproductions of ‘original’ flint reproductions. However, the most impressive aspect is the price. Because prints are priced by the cubic centimetre each arrowhead worked out at £2.50. Full colour versions would have cost £3.50. My scans can be uploaded to sites such as Sketchfab or Thingiverse and therefore downloaded free of charge by teachers with the print costs being minimal.

The workshops are still at the planning stage, but I have been impressed by the results and the prices for this process. I would certainly recommend the 3D print facility at ManMet to anyone who thinks the process may be useful to them. Ultimately though, it depends what the kids think!

Neolithic Milk of Magnesia interlude.

I had the opportunity to have a wander around Chorlton Ees one morning last week and came home with quite a few pieces of old glass recovered from the roots of fallen trees.

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This lovely blue piece in particular caught my eye and I like to think it is the base of an old Milk of Magnesia bottle.

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As you can see it is chunky and I wasn’t quite sure how well I could reduce it. This is because it is both narrow and thick and I was worried that I may run out of width before it was adequately thinned. Anyway, today has been a beautiful day here in Manchester and I got to spend a couple of hours outside playing with it.

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I am pleased with the result. It has become a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead, similar in proportion to some of the stone examples I have seen. The edges are sharp, the tip is good and it is fairly symmetrical.  What really makes it stand out though is the lovely blue colour. When Nick Overton sees this photograph he will immediately focus upon the very, very small section of original surface left in the middle. All I can say Nick, is: “when a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees is pockets!”.