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Stone Tools & Knives

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"It's cold blade, collecting on its surface,
the moment it is drawn, the vapours of the atmosphere;
It's immaculate texture, flashing light of bluish hue;
Its matchless edge, upon which histories and possibilities hang."

Inazo Niyobe.

Necessity is the mother not the father of invention because women invented knives!
Knives were not invented during the "Man the hunter" phase of our evolution. They are much older than that. Estimates have recently been pushed to the 2 and a half million years mark. We didn't hunt in those days, we gathered and occasionally when the opportunity arose, we scavenged.The first knife may well have been a scraper used to remove fatty tissue from hide or something similar used to process food in some manner. And the wielder was likely a woman. Food processing and preparation is a big part of any antique culture and in almost all culture a large part of that preparation is left to the females. A female was the innovator when a few years ago monkeys in Japan started washing potatoes as a prelude to eating them. Women have mouths to feed and children to cloth especially when left holding the baby, so to speak.

Stone does yield a fine edge, and can be razor sharp depending on the material and how it is worked. It would have been the cool tool material of its day. With these edges people shaped their world as never before and all the commonly used materials could be cut be with them. We don't usually think of stone as a material suitable for swords, it holds a great edge but is brittle and unsuitable for long pieces. Most stone blades were no more than 4 inches long, a few as long as 12 inches. Jade in particular is suited for larger pieces but at best is appropriate to short swords only.

Stone tools were made in a blistering array of shapes and sizes. These were dictated by the function of the tool and the methods of the maker. Most of these shapes are still familiar to us today. Modern knives, axe heads, chisels, etc have shapes almost identical to their stone age counterparts. Form followed function in those days too.

While most people could knock up a sharp edge, it seems likely that some specialization occurred. Pieces displaying astonishing skill have been found.

All the basic hand tools have counterparts in the stone age. Knives, saws, chisels, scrapers, drills, punches, awls, hammers, axes, adzes, picks, etc. Even disposable knives such as the Stanley have an equivalent in stone age microliths, tiny shards of stone with an inch or so of cutting edge.
Fig 2.
A:-- A line of flakes is removed from one edge of the nodule using repeated blows of the hammer stone.
B:-- The opposite edge receives the same treatment.
C:-- The center is dressed.
D:-- The finished product.

Stone toolmakers exploited characteristics inherent in the materials they worked. They needed materials that could be cleaved or broken into predictable shapes. Materials of a suitable hardness, tenacity and homogeneity. Basalt, chalcedony, chert, diorite, flint, jade, jasper, obsidian, quartzite, rhyolite, etc.

Most of these materials, unlike jade which was ground or crushed, were shaped by a local application of force in such a manner as to fracture the material along a desired plane.This enabled the removal of a flake and when repeated revealed the required tool inside the material. The flakes generated in this process were also used, but the primary objective was core tool production. Fig 2.


Fig 3.
A:-- The nodule is split.
B:-- The edge is dressed.
C:-- The top is dressed.
D:-- This is the top surface prior to dressing.
E:-- Top surface after dressing.
F:-- After strike platform is prepared a large single flake is struck off.
G:-- Finished piece.

Prepared nuclei yielded more edge per nodule and the quality of that edge was much improved. Fig 3.
Fig 4.
A:-- The nodule is split.
B:-- A double row of flakes is removed from the nodule so as to leave a ridge between them, and a strike zone is prepared at one end.
C:-- The first blade is struck from the core using the ridge as a center line for the blade.
D:-- A new ridge is created as a result the removal of the first blade and the second blade is struck using this ridge as a center line.
E:-- Shows the core with both blades removed.
F:-- A third blade is about to be struck.
G:-- The process is repeated in a spiral fashion until the core becomes too small for further blade removal.

Nuclei were also prepared from which blade blanks could be struck concentrically in a single swipe, like peeling a banana. These "peelings" could be quickly retouched into a variety of different tools and yielded a lot of high quality edge per nodule.

All this was achieved with a remarkably simple tool kit. Hammer-stones were found in stream beds and a good one would have been considered a treasure. Batons of wood were interposed between hammer and workpiece when accuracy was required. The strike, incorporated a pulling component which elongated the strike zone and facilitated long flake formation.

Non percussive methods called pressure flaking were also employed in which the point of an antler was pressed into and across the stone, inducing a flake to simply pop off. Such flaking was used to refine the final shape and impart a regular surface texture.

Apart from these simple tools only a suitable work surface was required. A rock or tree stump embedded in the ground or the left knee covered with a thick piece of hide could suffice.

Once in use stone tools were easy to resharpen. The edge could simply be redressed as required. After its size was reduced somewhat it might well be reworked into an entirely different tool. While percussive tools such as axes were ground to increase shock resistance the flaked edge is sharper and easier to maintain.

With stone edges people could live in places they had previously found inhospitable. Signs of stone age life can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Viewed in this context the European voyages of "discovery" were about 10,000 years too late and not nearly as impressive.

People have been making stone tools for about two and half million years and still do today in a very few places. However since the beginning of the metal ages it can no longer be considered cutting edge technology, at least until the advent of the computer chip, that little wafer of silicon buried deep in the heart of every modern personal computer and the stone tablet upon which even these words are written.


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