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Widecombe History Group Talk February 2007

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Widecombe History Group Talk on Flint Knapping


The guest speaker for February 2007 was Dr Bruce Bradley and he gave a talk and demonstration on "Flint Knapping"

This proved to be a very interesting subject and the meeting was fascinated by his skill in demonstrating how he believes our ancestors fashioned stone tools and weapons. The raw material was mainly flint and chirt but other similar stones were used like volcanic rock and Jasper etc. All these stones had a quality similar to glass, in the sense that it is brittle and hard but still having a certain elasticity within it.

The way to obtain flakes from these stones was to exert pressure in a controlled fashion. Energy applied at the right place in the correct manner and at the correct angle at an optimum point enabled the stone worker to obtain the required result.

The stone had to be of the required shape. The external edge had to be less than 90 degrees and the applied pressure would then aid the operator to strike the lump of stone (core) with a rounded pebble at the optimum angle resulting a useful flake breaking off the natural rock.

Antlers were also a very useful tool to use to fashion and shape the resulting flake into the item required. Either a knife, scrapper, arrowhead etc. could be quite quickly made by the methods demonstrated by Dr Bradley. One quite large piece was made into a ‘hand-axe’. The ability to remove what appeared uneven lumps on the raw material by the application of the correct pressure at the right place was fascinating.

The delicate art of creating arrowheads from the smaller flakes and knives from long narrow flakes made the members realise that with practice and perseverance our ancestors were able to craft these tools and weapons quite quickly and perfectly for their needs.

Dr Bradley has travelled a great deal particularly into Siberia and he told how he has been involved with excavating early sites that have been covered with ice and snow for thousands of years. These sites of habitation, have produced evidence of the skill of early man and the food that they hunted from polar bear to mammoth. These early sites have produced information that has assisted in the improvement of the understanding of how our ancestors lived and their skills in survival.

Each race, tribe and civilisation developed their own distinctive methods of making their tools needed for survival of the species and so much has already been found out, but there is surely more to find as archaeology evolves in its ability to understand the past.

Many of these flint tools and blades were fixed into wooden handles. Examples of handles made from antlers and wood have been found. These flakes held in place by the use of natural glues made from the sap of trees like the Cherry Tree and the pitch from Pines, even the sticky juices from bulbs like bluebells mixed sometimes with saliva were used and when set became very hard and secured the blades in position.

To summarise. With the use of raw materials readily available in the area or ‘imported’ from neighbouring areas man has been able to produce for generations tools and weapons to aid in the survival of the group. As they developed and of course the skills created were then passed down and improved upon from generation to generation. The ability to capture animals for food led to the provision of food, clothes, hides and equipment and as generations progressed some became more sophisticated. Improved techniques and understanding of the materials at hand, led to the evolution of man.

It has to be hoped that the items produced by the likes of Dr Bradley and his fellow knappers do not get mixed up with the genuine articles found at archaeological sites around the world. If this was to happen it could be detrimental to real research, and throw archaeology into turmoil.

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