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Moundville Archaeological Park

Ancient Art and Technology Weekend: The Story of Flint

Celebrate Moundville Archaeological Park’s Ancient Art and Technology Weekend by hearing Chickasaw Storyteller, Amy Bluemel, recount The Story of Flint!
Please use the templates for the activities below to join us in the celebrations.

Schedule of Virtual Events

To watch the events, click on the link below or watch on the Moundville Archaeological Park Facebook Page or UA Museums YouTube Channel. Please view the schedule below. Time is Central Standard Time.

March 26th 

3:00 pm     The Story of Flint

 

Common Misconceptions About Making Stone Tools

Any kind of rock can be knapped into a stone tool.

Only rocks that break like glass, e.g. have a fair amount of silica in them can be chipped into different shapes. Flintknapping is based on how glass breaks. Imagine a windowpane when it’s been shot with a BB pellet. Where the BB impacts, the hole is small. As the pellet goes through the glass, a cone shaped piece pops out. A flintknapper visualizes how a portion of that cone will break off of a stone’s edge.

People made stone tools by dropping water onto hot rocks.

Not only is this the most common misconception about flintknapping, it’s also the most dangerous. Flintknappers frequently “heat treat” the stone from which they create points. This fuses the silica contained in the stone, making it chip better and leaving a glassier finish. In order not to fracture, heated stone must cool slowly, unexposed to outside temperatures. Dropping water on a hot rock or plunging a hot rock into water causes it to pop, crack and shatter, often sending slivers of sharp stone in all directions.

Flintknapping is a “primitive” technology.

To the contrary, knappers use a large amount of “innate geometry” when working on a point. The angle at which the stone is struck, the type of hammer used, how hard one hits the rock and how far from the edge contact is made all affect how flint will break. If the stone toolmaker does any of these things incorrectly, is could ruin the point’s shape, sometimes even breaking it in half.

All triangular stone points are “arrowheads”.

All stone point are called projectile point knives (PPKs) by archaeologists. Larger points were used for spears or knife blades while smaller triangular projectile points were used as arrowheads. The bow and arrow was invented relatively late in prehistoric Alabama – perhaps around 3,000 years ago.

Arrowheads less than one half inch in length were only used for killing birds.

While arrowheads that size were certainly used to kill birds, they were also used for other animals. The smaller the point on the end of the arrow, the less it will affect the flight of that arrow. A large point would weigh the front end of the arrow down, making it fall downward more rapidly than desired.

Stone points with blunt ends were shot at animals to stun them.

Since projectile points are made out of rocks that break like glass, they can easily break in half, either while being made or while being used. Rather than throwing the broken piece away, a flintknapper sometimes resharpened worn points or refashioned broken points into other tools. Stone tools with blunt ends would be hafted onto handles and were likely used as scrapers.

Only Native Americans made stone tools and weapons.

Flintknapping is one of the planet’s oldest technologies. Prior to forging metal tools and weapons, virtually every culture that had access to flint, chert, obsidian or other flakable stone learn the art of flintknapping. Native Americans were one of the last people who flintknapped, still making stone tools and weapons when they were “discovered” by Europeans.

All knappers use the same tools and techniques.

There are about as many different ways to knap as there are flintknappers. Some knappers use only tools made out of antler, stone or bone to fashion their points. Others use copper covered, lead weighted billets they call “boppers” to hammer on their stone. Lapidary knappers use rock saws and heavy duty electric grinders to preshape their pieces prior to removing flakes. Even the way in which the rock is reduced varies. Direct percussion means the flintknapper hits or hammers on the stone itself. Indirect percussion is when another tool, usually a punch of some sort, is strategically place on the stone and struck by the hammer, driving a blade-like flake form the stone. Pressure flaking is when the knapper holds a smaller tool against the rock’s edge and applies force in one spot, driving a smaller flake off of the piece being worked.