Flint Knapping Workshop
Westmorland Archaeology Flint Knapping workshop at The Old Courthouse, Shap, on Sat Oct 31st 2015: the techniques of Pre-historic tool manufacture, a hands-on workshop.
This was something that several of us had wanted to do for a long time, but finding a teacher as well as the cost had put us off. However a visit to the Dockyard Museum in Barrow introduced us to Karl Lee of Primitive Technologies UK. who was giving a demonstration and importantly could offer us an affordable event based on a 12-15 group size. Karl is an Archaeologist based in the Forest of Dean with over 20 years experience of lithic manufacture, is very enthusiastic and was willing to make the long journey North. So all we had to do was to find a dozen or so participants.
During our August Archeology weekend we were able to start recruiting people interested in the actual manufacture of Stone-age tools and to find a venue: the Old Courthouse is a Community project and could offer us a suitable venue for the day as a fund raising event.
The day started at 10am, Karl commenced by reducing a large piece of chalk covered flint down to a workable size for an axe. ( flint is found in chalk, archaeologists call the chalky skin the Cortex). Flint often contains fossils which can cause weaknesses, these are removed if possible.The flint is then carefully reduced down to the desired shape by striking it in just the right place using a hammer stone, this is a highly skilled operation as we soon found out.
During this process we had a running commentary explaining every move, it was magic to see an axe gradually take shape from a rough piece of flint.
Other tools are : Abrading stones-used to blunt sharp edges prior to the next flake removal and Antler points used to pressure flake smaller pieces.
Later in the Stone age/bronze age copper points made very precise flaking tools.
We were then each given a piece of flint to work ourselves and shown how to hold it correctly for working – and avoiding damage to fingers. Wrist action is all-important in striking the flint. Our first success was to make on oval shaped scraper, a tool used for cleaning hides. Next we were each given a core, this is a piece of flint shaped in such a way that thin flakes can be struck from it. The “best” flakes are retained for making smaller items such as arrow-heads. This is when we realised what a vast amount of the flint becomes Debitage / waste,(about 70% ).
The safe and correct disposal of this is important, not only are the pieces very sharp but flint knapped today is virtually indistinguishable from
flint knapped 5,000 years ago, potentially a big problem for future archeologists. The safe thing to do is to put it in with the building rubble at the local re-cycling site , this stuff is ground up for aggregate and ends up as concrete or fill which is unlikely to be mistaken for prehistoric remains.
Karl then showed how to make a superb tanged and barbed arrowhead, by this time we had discovered what hard physical work is involved and
were ready for a brew and homemade brownies. Many thanks to Karl for a fascinating day and the opportunity to actually work with the flint. This was a good day for us all, we learnt a lot about a dying art and everyone enjoyed the workshop which was money well spent.
If you are interested in pre-historic tool making this workshop is a must. We hope to organise one another next year, let us know if you are interested!