Stone-Age Flint-Working Techniques
About 3000 years ago the Danish flint-smiths abandoned their unequal contest against the competition of bronze and, as the old masters died and left no apprentices, the craft disappeared from the knowledge of man.
We know little of the character or intellectual capabilities of man in the ages before the Aurignacian Culture; and the flint weapons and implements which lie in our museums are dumb, until we attempt to fashion them once more, to haft them, and to see what we can perform with them. That the results of experiments carried out in England, Germany, France and elsewhere in the technique of flint-working have hitherto been meagre does not mean that modern man is the inferior of Neanderthal but that the experiments have hitherto been based on the mistaken premise of a striking technique using a "hammer stone" as striker and a shaped bone point as an agent of pressure. This is known as the direct method.
It is clear that "hammer stones" were widely used throughout the Stone Age, but they have probably rather been used as anvils, held in the hand, for retouching and sharpening the small implements used in daily life.
During the whole of the Stone Age from the commencement of the Chellean Culture almost the only method used in flaking has been the indirect method, first outlined by Dr. Haake of Braunschweig. Here the reaction point of the flint block is placed against an anvil and the block struck with a wooden hammer or the like, preferably with a spherical head. The flaking process, and the percussion bulb, then commences at the reaction point and follows a predictable course to the point of impact, instead of, with the direct method, losing itself in the bIock and then breaking sharply out to the side (cf. fig. A).
The indirect method requires a large variety of anvils depending on the size of the work-piece and on the type of work contemplated. All types can be found on undisturbed Stone-Age settlement sites, those illustrated, with the exception of the edge-anvil, being found on the settlement site at Gøl in North Jutland. The five main types are:
1. Spherical anvils, of various sizes (fig. 1 a-c), fixed on ground or workbench, or held in the hand.
2. Knee-anvils, of many shapes, of flint or stone, held between knees or in lap (figs. 2 & 2 a).
3. Edge-anvils. None found in Denmark, but retouche carried out with this type of anvil is easily recognised in Neolithic work (fig. 3). Large irregular blades can be struck on a large edge-anvil.
4. Point-anvils, of flint or stone, with rounded point, probably wedged into a hole or cleft in a wooden block. Used on concave work or retouche (fig. 4).
5. Flake-anvils, of flint or stone, with a flat base suitable for clamping and a more or Jess rounded head (fig. 5).
In all flint working it is necessary for the angle between the reaction surface and the flaking path at the reaction point to be less than 90°. Microliths can be struck against a hand-anvil providing the reaction surface of the block is at an angle of 70°, as is seen in the types known as handled blocks or keelscrapers.
The striking of large blades has been a two-man job, an assistant controlling the necessary intermediary anvil. Regular blades can only be struck from a cylindrical block when a little depression is in each case made at the point where the blade is to commence (fig. 7 b). Such a depression can easily be produced by the method shown in 7a, a conical blade with a slope at about 70° to the base being thereafter struck off (fig. 7 c). This preparation for the stroke was necessary for the four-sided passage-grave axes, the pit-ware culture's triangular arrowheads, etc., whereas it does not appear to have been used with the separate-grave people's flint axes.
Probable course of development in technique
The theory that the first flint implements were flaked by the action of fire is untenable. Fire-flaked flints are too brittle to be of use. It is more probable that before the opening of the true paleolithic period a period characterized by the use of flint split naturally by frost or surf was succeeded by the smashing of flints against other stones in the hope of finding usable swarf.
Thereafter in Chellean times flint was worked by the use of a spherical anvil of about football size and a wooden club (figs. 9 & 9 a), while in the Acheulean period smaller implements were struck on a knee-anvil and retouched against a hand-anvil (figs. 10 & 10 a). The Mousterian Culture formed its concave tools upon a point-anvil and retouched them upon an edge-anvil.
It was thereafter that, in the course of striking off blade-like swarf against a round-pointed knee-anvil, it was discovered that large blades could be struck when the reaction face was at an angle of 60-80° to the flaking surface. From this was developed the Solutrean technique of thinning implements by means of a prepared reaction angle of 70°, a technique which was later improved during the Danish Dagger Period (figs. 11 & 11 a). The striking of microliths on spherical anvils and of long blades from cylindrical blocks on a rounded point-anvil supported by a larger stone, after preparation of the reaction surface for each flake (figs. 7 a, b & c) was followed by the manufacture, in the Passage-Grave Period, of regular four-sided axes, likewise on a rounded point and after the same preparation for each stroke.
This story of technical progress does not imply that there were no regressions. But the fact that the technique evidenced, for example, in the Bromme settlement lies far below the Solutrian need not imply that the Bromme people could not master a higher technique, but only that their requirements were covered by the types discovered.
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