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Flint knife | by MCAD Library
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Flint knife

Flint is a hard sedimentary rock, occurring naturally in nodules and masses within softer sedimentary rocks such as limestones and chalks, where it is probably formed by geologic compression. Flint was used in the manufacture of tools and weapons during the Stone Age, as it splits readily into thin, sharp splinters called flakes or blades (depending on the shape) when struck by another hard object (such as a “hammerstone” made of another material). This process is referred to as knapping. Knapping is the shaping of flint, chert, obsidian, and similar types of stone through the process of “lithic reduction” –

a technical term for the controlled fracturing of the stone, followed by the careful, systematic removal of excess material to create a desired form and provide it with one or more cutting edges.


The specific characteristics of each piece of flint help determine what objects can be produced from it, so to a certain degree the stone itself dictates the precise form each object made from it will take. Methods of working flint and similar stones for making weapons and tools are among the earliest technologies developed by prehistoric humans. Flintknapping was probably among the earliest specialized work activities, as it requires a high level of skill and training.


Flintknapping involves the use of specialized handmade tools, as well as considerable expertise. Early knappers could have used simple hammers made of stone, wood or bone to shape flint objects. The first stage of flintknapping usually involves hard hammering with another type of hard stone to split the flint nodule into smaller flakes and blades. Each of these pieces can then be worked with more precise soft hammering techniques to shape the object’s overall form. Finally, blade edges can be sharpened or serrated through carefully controlled pressure flaking using wood or antler points.


As a valuable resource, flint was traded from its sources to other areas lacking this material. The importance of achieving form and balance in a finished blade or projectile point may have taught prehistoric humans to value characteristics such as symmetry, or even the aesthetic pleasure -- as well as the functional value -- of a curvilinear forms.


This flint knife was created by expert flintknapper Harold Elam. The tapered blade is made of material from the Flint Ridge deposits in southern Ohio. It has been attached with sinew to a handle fashioned from deer antler. While this example is not intended as a copy of any specific ancient prototype, in form and materials it is similar to Paleo-Indian knives produced by the Hopewell Culture during the early First Millennium.


See MCAD Library's catalog record for this material.

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Taken on May 30, 2005