What’s Your Point?

Along with my growing interest in learning primitive skills, I have become rather addicted to aboriginal (or “abo”) flint-knapping. I’ve been busting and beating on rocks for awhile, though now I have access to better quality material due to my geographic location. Up in Connecticut, the local materials are far from ideal for creating specialized tools. The abundant quartz and quartzite up there are tough rocks and can be very unpredictable to work. Down here in Kentucky, the abundance of decent cherts has, in some ways, spoiled me. I have acquired a fair amount of local Kentucky Hornstone, as well as a lot of Pedernales chert from Texas and some heat-treated Keokuk from good ‘ol Missouri. With all the quality material available, I’ve been knapping away during much of my time off…either that or tinkering around with other primitive skills.

As a result, my skill level has improved a lot, and so has my tool-kit. I have around 25 different hammer-stones of varying mass, from baseball-size for spalling large cobbles to small pebbles the size of a US quarter for finer work. Many of them are granite or quartzite, but a few are made of a softer material. I also have quite a few antler tools: an elk indirect percussion vertical punch, 2 pressure-flakers, and two indirect percussion horizontal punches. I do most of my work with 3 hammer-stones, my indirect vertical punch, and pressure flakers.

I quite like working with abo tools, because it gives me the same “feel” that indigenous peoples would have experienced. Copper tools are fantastic, but I want to connect with the ancients using natural tools and techniques that they would (or may) have used or been familiar with, to face the same problems and challenges they did, and work around them. Call me crazy, but I think you learn more that way, and I find it more enjoyable.

During Living Archaeology Weekend at Gladie Environmental and Cultural Learning Center back in September, I was happier than a child on Christmas morning. I spent most of my free-time (when I wasn’t directing traffic at the front or parking vehicles in the back) on the pre-historic side, surrounded by demonstrators who shared my passion for primitive tech.

I couldn’t help but wear an ear-to-ear grin. There was just so much to learn…and talk about eye candy!!!!

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Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer…I was going to beat on some rocks with my fellow knappers, bathe in the wealth of knowledge, and soak it up like a sponge. This gentleman below was thinning piece of ” Texas root-beer” chert using a copper-tipped indirect vertical punch.

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I only wish I could have spent more time with these incredible folks, but such is life.

Most of my “knap-time” (haha) is spent spalling cores or cobbles, or trying to replicate projectile points representing the stone too technology of the ancient peoples of this area using my abo tool-set. With the stone I currently have, there is varying quality and characteristics to each. I particularly like raw cherts , especially Kentucky Hornstone. Heat-treated stuff is great, but it can be rather fragile. Every time I work my heat-treated Keokuk, I have to remember to proceed with caution and not strike as hard as I normally would with raw material. This is where “soft hammers” come into their own.

This piece of Keokuk started out as a spall that I gradually worked down with direct percussion using a sandstone soft hammer, followed by indirect percussion. The photo below was taken during the thinning stage, wherein flakes are driven across the piece to thin down the profile.

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This is what I came up with. I was aiming for an Adena (Narrow Stem), but didn’t quite get the base or blade shaped the way I wanted to. I accepted the result and chose not to correct the shape for fear of snapping the piece, as I had snapped about 5 other preforms that day.

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More recently, I made these…

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The first one is my attempt at a Gary (“Class B”). The second is a Hardaway. Both pieces started out as debitage flakes I collected from a friend’s property, left behind by another knapper. From what I can determine, they are both Pedernales chert, judging by the cortex, colour of the chert, as well as its workability.

I must say, I like my vertical punch system quite a bit. I’m going to experiment more with my horizontal punches…I’m not used to them quite yet.

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