From the Pit is a place for PA readers to ask questions about flintknapping and stone artifacts. I will do my best to answer your questions or point you in the right direction. In this edition of the column, I divided the questions into two categories: aboriginal (abo) and everything else. This division makes it easier for me to answer the questions. Also, there are many knappers hoping to gain insight into abo knapping without having to sort through a lot of modern flintknapping explanations.
Q1: Does “battering” the edge make it easier for an antler billet to remove a flake? What is battering, exactly? When was it used?
A1: I use battering to strengthen the edge prior to removing large blades or spalls from large cores. Tapping the edge lightly in the direction of the center of mass of the work—piece (battering) causes the edge to crush and become difficult to flake. If you want to remove small flakes, you shouldn’t batter the edge. But if you want to remove large flakes, a battered edge will respond to heavy blows designed to remove large flakes with less chance of losing energy to the production of small flakes and tiny fragments.
There are differing opinions on why
this tactic works. In Bob Patten’s book, for example, he states:
I haven’t personally
experienced Bob Patten’s results (that battering causes flakes
to be removed more easily) in the reproductions I’ve made of Clovis
points (or any other points for that matter). I don’t believe “insipient
flakes to be started more easily. Quite the contrary, I believe that
these fractures only travel short distances when force is applied, causing
the edge to crumble and, ultimately, leading to a loss of energy. The
site of impact, therefore, needs to be moved above the battered portion
of the edge in order to produce a “clean” crack that starts
with the maximum amount of energy. Also, the practice of preparing an
entire edge wasn’t the only way Clovis knappers prepared their
edges. In fact, although most Clovis bifaces were ground and/or beveled
at some point, some waste flakes (debitage) show very little signs of
platform preparation at all. This is especially true in the beginning
and ending stages of the bifaces when only light abrasion was
Q2: Other than stone, what is the hardest or toughest material that is not metal?
A2: : Dentin is the hardest non-metallic material that can be used for knapping, as far as I know. Alligator gar scales are primarily made of dentin, and I use them for small, narrow notches and serrations, for example. Teeth can also be used. Teeth have a layer of very hard enamel as a thin crust, but this wears down quickly. The underlying support is dentin. Ivory is another name for dentin.
Q3: What is the easiest way for a new person to get started with abo knapping? Is indirect percussion the best technique?
A3: I would like to say that indirect percussion is best, because that is what I use primarily, but skill in direct percussion cannot be overemphasized. Pressure flaking is also essential but you can get by with minimal skill in that area. In my opinion, the best way to get started in abo knapping is to get your hands on a bunch of antler, some thick veg-tanned leather, some soft hammerstones, and lots of obsidian or dacite. Make some simple billets, punches, pads, and pressure flakers. Don’t get caught up in fancy “composite” tools or jigs until you’ve gone though a couple hundred pounds of material and have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Don’t get expensive rock in the beginning, but don’t go to the other extreme and get free rock that requires explosives to crack either. Make sure to abrade (you can use hammerstones for this) and learn to dress your tools regularly. Abo knapping is a labor of unique difficulty and can seem impossible at times. You have been warned!
Q4: Does indirect percussion work best with heat treated stone? Does it work with raw stone? I’m having trouble getting long, flat flakes on all the material I’ve tried.
A4: Indirect percussion works with all types of stone. But in order to get long, flat flakes you have to do four things: immobilize the workpiece, prepare platforms, strike at the correct angle, and apply just enough force. The first requirement is where many knappers fall short. They understand the forces and angles but they don’t understand the support needed. To understand support, the best thing to do is show your technique (and failed workpieces) to someone who is an experienced knapper. He will show you where the support issues are and, hopefully, how to correct them.
Q5: How often was stone heat-treated? I mean, was it as common as it is today? It seems like everyone is using heat-treated stone.
A5: From the information I have, it appears that heat-treating, in general, was done about 10% of the time. If we narrow it down to projectile points in the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, West Texas, and Northern Mexico), the percentage is about 20% for medium sized and larger points and as high as 50% for true arrowheads. As a rule, the more refined the point, the greater the chance that the stone was heat-treated. I don’t know the percentages of heat treatment occurring outside the Southwest, but heat-treated stone has been found in most areas of the U.S. The difficulty in knowing the exact numbers lies in the fact that many archaeological sources do not mention heat-treating or “thermal alteration” of artifacts or debitage.
Q6: Do you think jigs were used to make points like Clovis and Cumberland? I see a lot of guys using jigs for fluting paleo points. Is there any archaeological evidence of any jigs used by Native Americans?
A6: As far as I know, there is no evidence of any type of jigs being used. However, when flute flakes are examined, it appears that a relatively soft material was used to detach them. This tends to rule out the use of direct percussion with a hard hammerstone, for instance. Looking only at the current evidence, it is possible that jigs were used but it is also just as likely that the fluting was done “freehand” or with simple tools. In my opinion, fluting was done with indirect percussion using “punches” and this skill was used to remove flakes from the sides as well as from the base of the point. I’m currently experimenting with “percussion assisted pressure techniques” and I think this holds a lot of promise in explaining some of the more difficult fluting. This involves applying heavy pressure to the platform and then “tapping” the tool or the workpiece to remove the flake.
Q7: Was a Clovis point a harpoon tip, an atlatl dart tip, a thrusting spear tip, or a knife? Is there any concrete evidence for any of these uses? I’m seeing a lot of opinions on the subject.
A7: There is no concrete evidence for the primary use of Clovis points. All we know is that Clovis points have been associated with mammoth kills and other animals such as mastodon, bison, peccary, and deer. It’s equally likely that they were used for all of the above. Opinions vary widely concerning paleo points, in general, and seem to be attracted to Clovis points in particular. I don’t know why. Archaeologists cannot even agree on how Clovis was hafted! There have been arguments put forth to suggest that Clovis points were part of a toggled harpoon system with a tethering line, a non-toggled harpoon system, or mounted to a bone foreshaft. I’ve also seen arguments for the use of bone sockets. The list goes on. One thing I will say is that if you study harpoon tip designs of the ancient world, the similarity to Clovis will raise your eyebrows.
Q8: Where do I find archaeological data? I’m getting frustrated by all the useless information I see that is not backed up by data. Why is it so hard to find reliable information?
A8: One of the best sources I have found is the “mountains” of literature produced by archaeological societies. Membership is open to amateurs in most cases, you can subscribe to the literature, and you can look through the back issues if they stock them. You can also gain access to museum collections if you have a good reason and good references. Universities are full of resources, but you’ll have to find a way to gain access to their libraries and then find someone to guide you that knows the subject matter well. You also can find resources online but most of this data is questionable. Which leads to the second part of the question: Why is it so hard to find reliable information? If you’ve ever had to write a research paper in college, then you know the answer: reliability of information is second to reliability of the writer in being able to produce content. In other words, the most productive writers get printed. It’s just a fact of life that you’ll have to pick through the garbage to find the good stuff. Good information will stand up to review, verification from other sources, and careful, unbiased testing.
Q9: Do you recommend any books on abo knapping?
A9: Regretfully, I cannot recommend a good book on the subject. I have found that the field of experimental archaeology is wide open and that ancient lithic technology is still not well understood. Concrete ethnographic data is woefully incomplete. In other words, it’s anybody’s guess. And to make matters worse, many archaeologists and anthropologists are not even looking to the modern flintknapping movement for answers.
the best way to make a pressure flaker? Is there a
A10: The best way to make a pressure flaker is to cut and shape a long pin from the hard shell of an antler and then tie that onto the side of a stick lengthwise, with a portion of one end sticking out. This type of pressure flaker is shown in several different books. I don’t know of any books that are dedicated solely to ancient flintknapping tools used throughout the world. There are many books or journals containing local types, you just have to search and then weed through all the non-flintknapping stuff. I recommend looking at Google images of ancient flintknapping tools for starters.
Q1: Can copper produce identical results that match ancient artifacts? If it can, why isn’t it being considered an option?
A1: Yes, copper can produce identical results, especially when pressure flaking. The reason it is not considered and option as a tool in the ancient past is because of the lack of copper artifacts that look like pressure flakers. There have been copper arrowheads, rings, bells, awls, beads, celts, fish gorges, and pendants found, for example, but nothing that quite resembles a pressure flaker. However, I know of one reference that shows two copper artifacts that look like billets. With all these copper items in the archaeological record and the fact that the largest naturally-occurring copper deposit in the world is inside the U.S., it makes one wonder why copper was NOT used for flintknapping. There must have been a very good non-metallic material available. Most people think that material was antler.
Q2: What is the earliest use for copper in flintknapping?
A2:The earliest use for copper for flintknapping was believed to be in ancient Egypt, but the evidence is pictorial. And as far as I know, the earliest documented traces of copper found on flintknapped blades occurs on some specimens from Northern Europe form the late Neolithic period. I’m sure someone will write to me and correct me on this if I’m wrong. I’ll post a correction if that happens
Q3: I’m basically an artist when it comes to flintknapping. I’m still kind of new to knapping. My question is, why aren’t there more books on how to create lithic art? I’ve seen some really amazing works but I have no idea how it was done. For instance, how do you knap a hole inside a point?
A3: A lot of modern flintknappers keep their techniques secret. This is especially true if they are selling their work. As for how to create a hole inside a point, that’s relatively straightforward: a hole is drilled though the stone with a diamond tipped bit and then expanded or finished with punchwork.
Q4: Can I use steel for my entire knapping kit? It seems like I’m switching over to steel from copper because it’s cheaper and easier to get. I haven’t tried steel billets but I think other people have used them.
A4: Yes, you can use mild steel for an entire kit. The softest steel can be effectively used for billets and pressure flakers and the harder steels can be used for notching tools.
Q5: What’s the secret for knapping flints for flintlock rifles? I have a friend who needs some but I don’t have a lot of time. How did they make so many in the past? I’ve heard that a single knapper could make a thousand or more flints in a week.
A5: The secret is practice. As for the tools used, they were originally made of iron and the kit was comprised of a soft hammer to knock blades from the core, a hard hammer for shearing off flints from blades, and an anvil that the blade is placed on during the shearing process. There’s a good video on Youtube by Paleoman52 called “Gunflint making follow up” that shows how he makes gunflints in just a few minutes.
Q6: Have you heard any good flintknapping myths lately?
A6: I had to think hard about this one. I guess the latest myth I heard was actually something I read in a book. The author claimed that supporting the sides of a biface when fluting actually causes “end shock” and increases the chance of breakage. He goes on to say that only minor support of the tip is needed when fluting a Clovis point. Nothing could be further from the truth. All I can say is be careful what books you choose to invest your money in.
Q7: Who is your favorite knapper?
A7:My favorite material is really tough chert I’ve gathered myself and then heat treated to a state that is a pleasure to knap. For me, it’s a great feeling knowing that I’ve learned to “master the stone.”
Q8: The hardest thing for me to do is getting rid of “turtlebacks” and lumps in the middle of my points. I feel like quitting flintknapping because I can’t overcome the thickness issue.
A8:One of the techniques that new guys try over and over again but fail at is the idea that you can get under a lump or turtleback and pop it off. This technique is actually quite challenging and takes a lot of practice. It seems easy when they see someone else do it, so new guys think, “No problem... I’ll just get under that mess with the next flake.” Then they get very discouraged when it doesn’t happen, the width is now too narrow, and the piece is way too thick. The stone football is then promptly thrown into the nearest open area with tremendous speed and with a perfect spiral. Anyways, yes, it can be done but here’s the deal: you must have a convex surface on the opposite site of the lump and strike well below the centerline of the workpiece. Also, the platform cannot be too far way from the lump or the bulb of percussion will not “scoop out” the bottom of the lump. You will end up with a step fracture or a shallow flake running across the top of the lump or turtleback (arg!). You must set up a platform close enough to the lump so that the bulb of percussion will be underneath it. You might have to lose some width but you’ve got to move the platform closer. Pick the side that is closest to the lump before setting up the platform. That’s the secret.
Q9: Is there a way to tell if the bottom of a bottle has thick glass? What bottles have the flattest bottoms? I’ve tried a lot of bottles and the glass is always thin and curved at the bottom.
tried a lot of bottles and the cheapest, thickest, and most consistent
bottle bottoms come from Riesling wine bottles. They use very long-necked
bottles. Why this style of bottle has a thick bottom and
FromThePit BY PATRICK BLANK
Primitive Archer Magazine
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