Videos of a skillful guy making stone tools
November 14, 2007 12:19 AM   Subscribe

Ever wonder how flaked stone tools such as the famous 12,000 year old Clovis spear points were made? A series of videos from youtube user flintknappingtips leads you through primary shaping, blank preparation, blank shaping, thinning, and fluting of a Clovis point. Total manufacturing time is about 40 minutes. Unscrupulous flintknappers have sold such replicas for tens of thousands of dollars (PDF), leading to a micro-business of stone tool authentication, after which, naturally, fake authentication papers started to appear came to light.
posted by Rumple (23 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
blank preparation video link should be to here
posted by Rumple at 12:58 AM on November 14, 2007

Do you have to use a fossilized penis or can you use a piece of antler, instead?

My 10 year old self would have spent weeks doing this.
posted by stavrogin at 1:10 AM on November 14, 2007

Wait a minute! I just traded two Sabre-tooth-tiger tusks and a Giant Cave-Bear scrotum for THIS ; and now you're telling me it might not be authentilithic?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:32 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I live just a short (by Texas standards anyway) drive from the Alibates Flint Quarries, and when I was a kid the park ranger who gave my school group a tour made a few arrowheads while we were there.

He was quite good, at least his arrowheads looked exactly like the ancient ones. And stavogin he used a piece of antler, not a fossilized penis, so I'd guess the answer to your question is yes.

Dunno if any of the current rangers at Alibates can do it, though the guy I saw was young so unless he moved on to another job he might still be working there.
posted by sotonohito at 3:52 AM on November 14, 2007

I took it upon myself to learn a little about knapping a few years ago, after meeting someone who dabbled in it, and foun there is a thriving online community of flintknappers out there. The also make points out of bottles and porcelain plumbing fixtures. Other glass works as well, and the most skillfull can do some really cool stuff. (More here)
The blades can be incredibly sharp; the technique is pretty much the way microtome blades are made to this day.
posted by TedW at 4:34 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

So awesome. Someone should convert these videos to a format that our post-apocalyptic, cave-dwelling descendents can view. You know, to give them a leg up.
posted by DU at 4:39 AM on November 14, 2007

Grind, grind, grind.
posted by orthogonality at 5:14 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a knapped obsidian dagger that was made for me by a guy I used to see at all the gem and mineral shows. I don't think it ever occurred to him to represent his work as authentic and use it to rip people off; he was having too much fun demonstrating the process and selling the results.
posted by localroger at 5:47 AM on November 14, 2007

When I was in high school I attended a summer archeology course where we helped excavate an old Iroquois site. They taught us how to do flint knapping. One of the guys in the course spent a few days carving a little stone pipe and then pretended that he had smuggled it out of the site. The instructors freaked out and it took a while for them to be convinced that it wasn't a real artifact. Maybe he can sell it on ebay now.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:08 AM on November 14, 2007

This is awesome. Wish I'd known about it during my teenage obsession with Clan of the Cave Bear.

Wait, did I just admit that?
posted by bassjump at 6:50 AM on November 14, 2007

My wife took a lithics technology class in college. They really did just sit around and pound arrow heads and axes out of rocks all day. Of course, there is also a follow-up class as well, which I hear involves actually hitting things with your stone tools.
posted by baphomet at 7:18 AM on November 14, 2007

antiquities fraud goes way beyond clovis points, i saw an article couple years back about fake jades on the jade market. the situation was exacerbated by the hurricane (gilbert, iirc) which hit central america and exposed jade-bearing earth, some of which was dug up and sent to china for cutting by computer-controlled machine tools...nowadays, unless you have a verifiable provenance for that object which predates modern technology, there's no way to tell whether it came from the ming dynasty or the bush dynasty.
posted by bruce at 8:36 AM on November 14, 2007

My uncle was an archeologist/paleontologist and I visited his lab once. There was a sandbox in the corner big enough for 3 or 4 people to sit in and make stone tools. There were some beautiful stone knives and spear points on display, all made by genuine authentic Canadian graduate students!

It was neat to see ancient skills practised with such care by modern people. The blades were quite varied in size, shape, and material, and represented a huge span of time and geographical era; some were downright crude, such as the earliest scrapers from the earliest hominids. A few didn't even look like purposefully made tools so much as conveniently busted rocks that someone picked up because they looked useful. But some of the later more sophisticated ones were true works of art.

These new stone blades were as close to the real thing as possible, because they were used to butcher animal carcasses so the scrape marks on the bones could be analyzed by scanning electron microscopy to see which tools left which type of marks.

By the way, I asked my uncle about the beautiful delicate leaf-shaped blades like the Clovis points (and there are some that are even more delicate and lovely) and he said they were fairly fragile, so he didn't think they were used very often. They were probably a status symbol or ceremonial object, since they take a long time to make (even for a skilled graduate student) and they were usually made out of extra-special nice material, be it flint, obsidian, etc. But they were certainly sharp!
posted by Quietgal at 8:45 AM on November 14, 2007

Knapped obsidian scalpels have an edge over surgical steel scalpels. Aztecnics (no longer in business) offered several models in the 80's.

The Flintknapping blog has many interesting posts about the history of modern flintknapping, including one about Erret Callahan's beautiful and fantasy (ouch!) blades.

One glimpse into prehistory may be KanziWP, a Bonobo chimp who was taught to make simple stone flakes. (He's a fast learner, but he's got a long way to go.)
posted by cenoxo at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Incredible. How nice to learn about this.

Excellent post, Rumple. Yet again, one of the surprising and fascinating attractions of MetaFilter.

Visiting Guatemala in 1965, my kid brother, sister and I dug up obsidian arrow heads and spear points. Always amazed me how beautiful they were: arrowhead, another, spear head, another, another.

And now I can see arrow and spear heads with a brand new appreciation for how they were made. So cool.
posted by nickyskye at 9:20 AM on November 14, 2007

In Les Eyzies de Tayac (in Perigord, in France) there's the Musée National de Préhistoire. With a phenomenal academic collection of paleolithic technology, particularly stone tools. There is case after case of chipped and flaked rocks demonstrating the development of stoneworking technology.

To me it was just a bunch of boring rocks, but if you find this stuff interesting it's probably one of the best places in the world.
posted by Nelson at 9:25 AM on November 14, 2007

This can't possibly be real. Everyone knows that the earth is only 6,500 years old. They must have been forged on another planet and given to the native peoples to hunt the 4th dynasty dinosaurs.

Yeah, that's it...
posted by Benway at 9:25 AM on November 14, 2007

In grad school I made hundreds of glass ultramicrotome knives (on precisely the knifemaker that TedW links to) and can testify that they are amazingly, insanely sharp. (Of course, they have to be, as they are designed to, for example, cut a mitochondrion cleanly in half.) One day I had a newly made knife on the benchtop next to me, clamped into its holder and therefore standing up. I was distracted and reached toward the back of the bench for something. I retrieved the object and was shocked to look down and see my lap covered with blood. I was baffled as to where all the blood came from but ultimately realized that while reaching I had grazed the fleshy part of my forearm over the glass knife, which had smoothly opened up a 10 centimeter gash on the fleshy part of my forearm. The knife was so sharp I had felt absolutely nothing.

So from that point forward I had new respect for "primitive stone-age tools made from rocks."
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:43 AM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Facing macuahuitl, it's no wonder the Conquistadors kept wearing all that hot armor.
posted by cenoxo at 10:01 AM on November 14, 2007

As a long time knife collector, and a one time knife smith, one of my favorite possessions is a obsidian knapped blade (a scraper by design) that a guy who showed up in my college made for me.

I love the fact that it took him about 10 minutes to make something out of stone, that would have taken me the better part of a day to make out of steel, and mine would never be as sharp.
posted by quin at 12:00 PM on November 14, 2007

One day I'm going to make a macuahuitl, I swear. The only thing that has kept me from doing it, is I'm a little afraid of having one around. They just strike me as being crazy dangerous
posted by quin at 12:01 PM on November 14, 2007

I seem to end up around flintnappers from time to time in my life, they're a fun bunch and I'm saddened that some of them have turned to the "dark side," so to speak.

I remember one chap in Tennessee who conducted a quickie class for beginners using a huge smoky grey chunk of glass, it made a beautiful point (similar to this ) and I asked him where he'd found such neat glass. He cracked a crooked grin under his handlebar mustache and told me it was a chunk from a TV tube. He'd go buy non-funtional televisions for scrap value from a TV repair place then take them home and bust out the screens with his rifle from his back porch. Yeah, I'd be a pretty happy guy if that was how I unwound at the end of the day too...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:25 PM on November 14, 2007

That's it. I'm ordering some flint again. I took a pre-industrial arts class and learned on flint, then did some obsidian work when I was digging in Missouri. Man, obsidian is evil - my experience is much like Turtles', only I was the one making the blades and having fragments graze my knuckles.

And unlike some other grad students I know, I won't knap in the office.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:36 PM on November 14, 2007

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