Has opposable thumbs, walks upright, and makes stone tools.
October 14, 2010 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Since 1990, Woody Blackwell has been seriously flintknapping: shaping flint, obsidian and other stones into tools, using a process called lithic reduction.

His portfolio section has a lot of beautiful photographs of his work, featuring tools made from a wide range of materials like green obsidian, quartz crystal, and red imperial jasper. Several of the pieces have some incredible textures, and seem almost otherworldly in their color. He's also taken his craft and experimented a bit with sculptural forms.
posted by avoision (19 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Those are spectacular. I love rocks.
posted by rtha at 10:30 AM on October 14, 2010

That is so wonderful. I have done some knapping and and it feels kind of amazing, to turn a lump of rock into something useful with just other rocks and bits of antler. I need to get back to it, but it feels a little weird to do it in the city. I love the results, but obsidian will cut you up and you won't notice.

I also learned, during a period when I was helping a friend with an experimental lab, that if you need to flense a whole bunch of deer legs, flint tools work better than dull X-acto blades. Since then I've wanted to try actually using stone tools in my kitchen.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:37 AM on October 14, 2010

Oh man, they are gorgeous. As someone who at one time tried really hard for months to learn knapping and failed spectacularly (I still have the scars), I'm super impressed. It's very much harder than you would think, and these look fantastic.
posted by gemmy at 10:37 AM on October 14, 2010

Oooh, and lookit! Lots of videos!
posted by rtha at 10:38 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless I read the passage wrong (it was densely poetic!), there was a suicide by flintknapped obsidian in Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:43 AM on October 14, 2010

His photography is (almost) as good as his knapping - those are some spectacular product shots any catalog designer would give their eyeteeth for.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:47 AM on October 14, 2010

I love his about me page: "Has opposable thumbs, walks upright, and makes stone tools."
posted by Toekneesan at 10:49 AM on October 14, 2010

It's a big piece, right at five feet long. Or was a big piece -- UPS Ground managed to lose it in shipment. If you happen to see it, give me a shout. I'd really like to have it back.

I bet if UPS knew he had all of those pointed weapons laying around, they wouldn't have dared to lose his sturgeon.
posted by Think_Long at 10:57 AM on October 14, 2010

When I was experimenting with knapping, I got yelled at by an anthropologist friend for doing it in the back yard and leaving little knapped chunks of obsidian all over the place. She said I was screwing up someone's data two thousand years from now.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:07 AM on October 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

Gorgeous! I've wanted to learn flint knapping but have been hampered by the total lack of flint in our region (Northern Front Range of Colorado). All we seem to have is granite and sandstone out here :^( I talked to an archaeologist about it, wondering where the local paleolithic people like those from the Lindenmeier site got their stone, and he said that we think they were trading for the materials with tribes far to the east.
posted by richyoung at 11:42 AM on October 14, 2010

These are lovely! Gorgeous anachronisms - although if they weren't so hard to make and easy to break, I bet some of them would be very useful tools for cutting tough fibrous stuff. (My uncle used to be an archeologist/paleontologist and made stone tools in his lab, and they'd cut paper quite cleanly. Although he was more of a purist - no metal knapping tools for his students. They used pieces of deer antler and carefully chosen river rocks.)

He had some actual ancient stone points in his research collection too. I once asked him about some of the larger, more delicate types of blades, since they were clearly rather fragile. He said that, as far as archeologists could tell, ancient people made them for ceremonial or decorative purposes rather than for everyday use. In other words, people made them because they were beautiful. 10,000 years later, Blackwell carries on where they left off.
posted by Quietgal at 11:44 AM on October 14, 2010

His colleague's exotic "fancies" are just amazing. Exotics are actually not terribly uncommon in North America, especially in the midwest. As far as their being "ceremonial," this is merely a term that academics use to avoid admitting ignorance. Thin blades would fracture easily once they penetrated into a creature or human, so they may well have been useful for hunting, though clearly not durable enough for repeat use.
posted by Sukiari at 12:08 PM on October 14, 2010

I took flintknapping in college (for credit!) and it was so awesome. The lab was full of crates of obsidian (often variegated and quite beautiful) and we were allowed to dig through them to pick out our raw materials. I still have most of my finished pieces, which at least look vaguely arrowhead-shaped, though I wouldn't go up against a boar with one.
posted by nev at 12:18 PM on October 14, 2010

Wandered into a knapping circle at the Cahokia Mounds last year. They were having a great time making neat pieces, but none as fine as these.
posted by scruss at 1:06 PM on October 14, 2010

These are staggeringly beautiful. Seconding what's been said already about the quality of the photography - the man's got an eye for light.

And an eye for other details as well - the knots holding the bird's stone wings on are really lovely.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 2:14 PM on October 14, 2010

I always wondered whether it'd be useful to have a small knife or mandolin with an obsidian blade.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:08 PM on October 14, 2010

I always wondered whether it'd be useful to have a small knife or mandolin with an obsidian blade.

Some researchers use obsidian scalpels for work where trace metal contamination is unacceptable. I don't think they'd be much good for more general work because of how brittle obsidian is.
posted by atrazine at 3:53 PM on October 14, 2010

There are cardiac & plastic surgeons who use them as well. There's even a paper or two on wound healing and scar width differences (IIR, wound healing times are the same, but scar widths are narrower). Ancient Technology in Contemporary Surgery (PDF) shows a 10000x magnification of steel and "prismatic glass" blades.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:50 PM on October 14, 2010

The photography is indeed very well done. The complex edges of each struck spot, the grain of the stone, and good lighting make a lot of these pieces look almost indistinguishable from large-scale rocky/riverine landscapes seen from the air, like arrowhead outlines cropped from a David Maisel photo.

posted by Casimir at 7:52 AM on October 15, 2010

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