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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Anatomy of a handaxe

.DSC_1310I am a visual person, and the above title is a reference to a film, Anatomy of a Murder. More specifically it is a reference to the poster for the film, designed by Saul Bass. This handaxe was made from a large flake, from the largest slab of Runton beach flint. I have angled it so that the step fracturing is clear. Generally speaking, step fracturing is not good. I used a soft hammer on a lot of this and the step fracturing is a result of that. I am still learning.

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This handaxe is from our teaching collection and is ‘real’, real being Lower Palaeolithic and therefore produced by someone called Homo heidelbergensis. Main thing, look at the step fracturing, it is not just me.

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If we look at the edge blunting this is largely to do with movement through an abrasive sediment, perhaps over millenia. Originally it would have been sharp like mine. The orange colour has been absorbed from the environment it has been resting in. If it were chipped again the original colour would be revealed.

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This is the poster I like, and paradoxically it illustrates what a handaxe was probably used for: dismembering a carcass. This is an interesting theme for me. I am now good enough to produce ugly functional stuff consistently, but I get satisfaction from producing the aesthetic pieces. It is definitely not an either / or situation. It does however throw light on how experimental production is used today, and of course the different ‘economic’ contexts of myself and Homo heidelbergensis.

 

A Bronze Age ‘Kilmarnock type’ flint arrowhead

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Same procedure as the last lot, except using my metal pressure flaker on some very hard flint. Again, I selected a pre-thinned piece, a blade produced by John Lord, of which I have about thirty. I took all the thick bits off with a stone, and then pressure flaked the shape. I am using Chris Butler’s (2005) book Prehistoric Flintwork for the relevant shapes and sizes and this is a useful exercise. I am learning about the flintwork from different periods by making the stuff. This flint was particularly difficult to work. I had an obsidian preform that I reduced and that was like soft glass, easy to work. This flint felt ‘dry’ and hard to work. Even with my favourite pressure flaker my invasive thinning was limited to 7 or 8mm maximum. When making it I made sure the thick section was the point and the thinner section could be the base, and therefore easily notched. And so it transpired. I am churning about two out per day at the moment, not sure what has come over me?

 

Meet the flintstones

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We have just returned from eight days in Sussex, and one of my aims was to get hold of some flint with which to practice. I know from experience that because nodules come in irregular shapes the quartering process can be complicated. Quartering is simply breaking the nodule up into pieces useful for the task at hand. Currently I do not have a systematic method for dealing with a nodule when I want to produce a handaxe. Less hit and miss, more hit and destroy. The flint nodules and cobbles I collected in Sussex came from two main sources: Birling Gap; and Selsey Bill. Birling Gap has nodules eroding from the chalk cliff face and so both smaller nodules and rounded flint pebbles were freely available at the foot of the cliff. I collected a small rucksack full. Selsey Bill offered a range of damaged pebbles of flint and other materials that look knappable. Again, I collected a sac full. I want to use the cobbles to learn how to systematically produce pebble chopper toolscobble chopper tool

The above is the best cobble chopper I have made to date, and it is the systematic production of these that I want to master. There is a really nice small example within the Brice Collection in our own department, and the aesthetic examples seem to be so because of their simplicity. A minimal series of removals to produce a useful tool. With the four or five small and flat flint nodules I want to produce four or five small handaxes. Let’s see how that goes.

Using old glass

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The above Kimberley Point has been made from an old piece of glass, the flat side of a Camp Coffee bottle. My aim was to retain the raised letters that spelled ‘chicory’ but it was not to be. If you look closely it is clear that there are bubbles in the glass and the section on the bottom left is the edge of one large bubble. These voids meant it was necessary to continually adjust in order to manage them, hence the small size.

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This second point is made from a side section of an old glass beer bottle. This is similar to one seen in the Manchester Museum and the main issue here was managing the curve and the variable thickness of the glass. The proximal section on this piece was much thinner than the distal. I am happy with it as a point, but in order to get that feeling of sharp serration on the margins I need to get the initial invasive flakes deeper, to reduce the angles. So whilst the microwave turntable presented its own set of problems, the transition to using old glass has highlighted some interesting issues that need to be considered when attempting to make these points as aboriginals did: uneven glass thickness; managing a transverse curve on longitudinal section; and accommodating bubbles in the glass. All in all an interesting process.

Hard Hammer Production

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Hard Hammer Production

The above is a link to a short (one minute) video illustrating the relationships between hard hammer production and the stigmata present on the resultant flakes. It is designed for students to help explain the stigmata they are recording for analytical purposes in order to infer method of production within a debitage collection. The idea was from Elizabeth Healey and it was edited by Brian Madden.

Materials against materiality

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I am currently reading a paper by Tim Ingold (2007) Materials against materiality. The gist of the paper seems to be that: if we focus upon the object first, and only then the materials it has been formed from, our understanding of those materials is constrained by our primary conceptualisation of the object. Ingold suggests engaging with materials directly to gain an interactive understanding of the material properties, and how these might change as activities change. I want to contrast a normative ‘Hard as stone’, ‘Solid as a rock’ approach with the relationship I have developed with four stones within my knapping toolbag. The first stone on the far left I use as a ‘soft hard hammer’ and I like its elongated shape for working on glass. In contrast, the second stone is harder and consequently I have used this as a ‘small hard hammer’ on flint. The third stone has a crystaline centre which is good for abrading. The final large white flint beach cobble is going to become something else at some point, but currently¬†works well as a large hard hammer. So whilst all stone, and all hard, particular characteristics have emerged within a particular stone tool making context. I now look at materials differently based upon my experience from stone tool making, and this different view is the subject of this blog.

This is a free link to a PDF of the above article