Flintknapper’s Bench

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When I visited Dan Stueber’s flintknapping area at the University of Victoria he was just finishing up with his students. I had come to make a timelapse video of him making stone tools. So, we tried that (video to come in a subsequent post); then I was helping clean up. I picked up the bench Dan sits on, or rather I tried to – it pretty much pulled me into the ground. So I asked to see inside – It was full of blanks, partially completed tools ready for the fine finishing, and some less finished pieces ready for shaping and then finishing. Of course I had to get a few pictures, a continuation this mini-series on Dan’s work.

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Dan Stueber, showing me the contents of his bench.

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That’s the bench, with the coffee cup on it.

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Canon 5Dii, SMC Takumar 35mm/f3.5 lens (m42 mount), various exposures.

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21 thoughts on “Flintknapper’s Bench

    • Hi Andy. It would have been up for today, except for technical difficulties. I don’t think I will have time tonight either, so in a couple of days.
      The edges can be extremely sharp. A flake edge that is not further shaped can come to a thickness of a single molecule so they are sharper than the finest surgeons tools. One very modern use for flaked “stone” (using glass) is the cutting edge of the device that makes thin sections for electron microscopy. A lovely combination of one of the oldest tools with one of the most modern and complex.

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      • I meant to add that those edges are very fragile, so the shaping of a flake into a tool of some kind is done in a way that leaves a robust edge, but with many very small sharp serrations along its length.

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      • Ephem, your remark about a robust edge sounds a bit like the combination of “cutters and rakers” — raker teeth and cutting (pointed) teeth on a crosscut saw blade.

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      • Hi Richard. Good observation. I think it is the same principle at work. And both can be resharpened, a certain number of times.

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  1. Pingback: Hands Full of Knapping | burnt embers

  2. It’s fun to see these photos; they take me back oh-so-many years to the obsidian pit at the UBC arch lab. David Pokotylo was our flint-knapping guru.

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    • Hi Richard. protection from the flakes is absolutely necessary, not only for the hands, but for the legs too which support one or both hands in various stages of tool manufacture. Early in the process gloves are worn, at least on the hand steadying the rock to be struck and when large flake are being removed. At finer stages of work, such as pressure flaking maybe a glove is used, or when I was photographing, a pad of leather was held on the palm under the tool being formed. You will see that in the timelapse in a couple of days.

      In yesterdays post, first shot, is a leather glove in the top of the bag.

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    • Hi Ken. It was a dying art around the world, but for the last half century or so archaeologists have been figuring out how to do it again, and now there are hundreds of expert flintknappers around the world and thousands upon thousands of people that can make do in a pinch. Someone like Dan can figure out how to make everything that has ever been made out of stone, and has the skills to make them as well. So in a sense the current masters are at the peak of all time as they know so many methods from all over the world and throughout the history of toolmaking.

      Where they are less broadly fluent in tool making is the associated organic components of tools that rarely survive in archaeological contexts, such as the sinew, wood, pitch and feather components of arrows and darts and spears; or the quivers, or so many other things. It is not that they can’t make these things, but there are so many ways that this has been done, and so many local materials and circumstances and few examples to work from, that there are much more limited opportunities for learning.

      But, you are right. The chance to work with someone of such skill is a rare opportunity and it was a real pleasure to do so. We have plans to continue making some timelapse movies of tool making, so I will get more chances!

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