Friday, January 9, 2009

An Afternoon Knap

One of the things that fascinated me when Guitar and I helped the Forest Service with an archaeological survey this past fall was how the Indians made stone tools. Intricate tools like arrowheads and knives were made by banging on rocks with stones or antlers. When you look at some of the tools up close you begin to realize how difficult it must have been to create them....Or was it? I decided to find out by investigating the art of flintknapping.

There are any number of books devoted to this subject and I bought a couple. There are also DVD and online videos that illustrate how the process works. There is, however, no substitute for having a real live person ex
plain and show you how to do this. I had tried a little bit by myself, after watching the videos and reading some books but it's a difficult thing to do without a "teacher" I started looking for a teacher. Much to my surprise I found a very highly regarded instructor right here in the Denver area so I emailed him to see if he might be able to teach me.

Bob Patten is nationally if not internationally known in the field of lithics. He is the author of at least two books on the subject and is an expert craftsman in making stone tools. He also was willing to teach me so yesterday afternoon I had my first "knap".

It was fun and there is a lot to learn but it's not so difficult that a clutzy old guy like me can't do it. The picture above shows some of the native tools and some of the modern tools that I am using. The two items on the top of the picture are modern tools. The solid heavy brass rod is called a billet and it's used to do the heavy work of breaking down large pieces of stone. The tool with th
e black handle is called a pressure flaker and is used to flake off medium size pieces of rock.

The Native Americans did not have access to some of the tools we use today. They were limited to stones and antlers. The large stones are used as hammers to pound off larger pieces of rocks. Smaller stones caused smaller flakes and the antlers were used as pressure flakers to make the finest of flakes.

The black rock in the middle of the picture is a piece of chert that I found while on a hike last week. Chert is an excellent rock to use in flintknapping so I have something I can work with for now.

During the lesson we used some chert that Bob had gotten in Texas and we started by taking a big flake off of an even larger rock. The picture to the right is what I accomplished in about 45 minutes of knapping. It's just a rough form, about four inches tall and three inches wide. It's still too thick to be really useful and needs a lot more refinement. Like most things the roughing out is way easier than the finish work but I was thrilled that I was able to do this much.

So, it seems as if I have yet another hobby. This one also lends itself to RV trips to the mountains. Pretty soon I'm going to have to use a calendar to apportion time to my hobbies to every one gets equal time.....Life is good.

Thanks for visiting.


janeywan said...

This is truly fascinating.

I've always been in awe of the precision of arrowheads. I'm always looking for them, never have been lucky enough to find one.

Isn't it amazing what one can do if they need to and the fun one can have even if they don't. Looking forward to your post of the finished product.

Marian Love Phillips said...

That's and interesting hobby hiself...having French and Cherokee Indian blood in me I have always be fascinated by arrowheads and Indian mounds. Where I hunted last weekend before, I hunted the Arrowheard Stand because an arrowhead was found there once upon a time. They have 4 or 5 Indian mounds on the place. My profile pic with hat on was taken in front of an Indian mound at the Christmas Place Plantation and Hunting Club in the MS Delta.

Enjoy your new hobby!

Gene Bach said...

Looks fun. I went deer hunting with a guy who is big into the mountain man thing and he made a spearhead for my daughter in about 15 minutes. It was amazing to watch.

Marian Love Phillips said...

his-self..found out last week when we went back to the Christmas Place Hunting Club to hunt, Rex said it was close to 9 Indian Mounds on their land. I was on the Arrowhead Stand when I took a pic of the Bobcat, because arrowheads were found in that area and that's how it got it's name.


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