116 Washington Avenue - A.K.A. Shred Shack
116 Washington Avenue - A.K.A. Shred Shack
Fllitknapping is the widely-forgotten practice of forming blunt stone into pointy stone, and for most of human prehistory, it was among the foremost expressions of craftsmanship, artistic beauty, and cultural distinction. It is also history incarnate. The practice of flintknapping is bequeathed to our kind by other, older human species; and though it predates our culture, and is also a cultural relic shared by each and every one of us today.
I image that these knapped stone points are beautifully representative of humanity’s long relationship with the surrounding world. While we (sapiens) used these stone points to hunt, we also used them to protect our loved ones, prepare our food, make our clothes. Flinknapping is not a crude practice begetting violence or killing, but is rather a very domestic and everyday activity; just imagine the innumerable paleolithic hours spent in teaching, conversation, and friendship, as the older generations shared their flintknapping knowledge with the younger. The skill of some flintknappers were sufficient to produce veritable artistic masterpieces, too (look up images of the points made by the Wintu or the Hohokam People). Flintknapping also connects us (sapiens) to our other human brethren, when once-upon-a-time we shared the world – and knapped points – with Neanderthals, Floresiensis, Denisovans, and likely many others now extinct and forgotten.
The ultra-rich legacy is that of multiple human species, and is furthermore yours to perpetuate. As a hominid alive on the Earth today, why should you not learn to flintknap? It is not an easy skill, but neither is it too difficult (if homo erectus can learn it, so can you!). With your own two hands, you can partake and celebrate in this cultural practice, well-established when our first grandmother was born and opened her eyes to the sunny African plains.
The necessary tools are pretty rudimentary – but the outdoors club does NOT have them in the gear room! I am therefore posting this trip several weeks ahead of the usual notification period so that you may gather the necessary tools yourself.
You will need: 1) a hard stone with a smooth, rounded surface, ideally something that features a rounded protrusion with the radius similar to that of a golf ball’s. This will be your striking tool, and as such you want it to be bulky enough that you can grasp it firmly and strike in a controlled manner. I recommend looking in the streambed of the Rivanna for such a stone.
2) a hard, pointy thing: an oak or ash or walnut branch, whittled to a point, will work. So will an antler (if for some reason you have that) or a very large nail. Like the hammer stone, it needs to be large enough for you hold it firmly in your hand and deliver substantial force through the tool.
3) something cushy and tough to protect your legs: I recommend a bath towel, or 5 layers of old shirts. It will be ruined, so do not bring something that you cherish.
4) Eye protection is Mandatory!
5) Some work gloves to protect your hands. There are some in the gear room.
6) Glass beer or whiskey or homestead creamery bottles; bring several. Virginia quartz is the best regionally-available stone, but it sucks to work with and requires significant skill; even then, the final product with quartz is not great. Glass is abundant and much easier to knap. We will break the bottoms out and form our arrowheads from the bottle bottoms. A bottle with a flattish and thick bottom is best, so keep an eye out for this next time you load up at 7-day Junior.
Some things to keep in mind: It will likely take numerous attempts before you get the hang of it, but don’t get discouraged! It is humbling and fun to suck at something for a while. Inherent to breaking sharp stones or glass in your hand is the risk that you will cut yourself, though this usually occurs in a pretty insignificant way. Getting a splinter or two is sometimes just part of the activity, which is why the mandatory protection equipment is important. As a tangent, a clean obsidian (or occasionally, glass!) flake can achieve a level of sharpness nearly beyond all belief, and far beyond the abilities of even the best surgical steel scalpels – this is why the best and sharpest scalpels used in facial surgery are made out of obsidian by contemporary flintknappers!
**That all said, flintknapping is quite safe, especially in comparison to other trips that people in this club do on a regular basis. If you are hesitant or nervous about the risks, but still interested in learning about flinknapping, you can still sign up for the trip and do as much as you feel comfortable doing. **