Flaking for fun and knowledge

Memoir (8) by Professor Joe Watkins, University of Arizona, USA

School of Humanities Graduate student Alexandr (“Sasha”) Ulanov and I held a flintknapping workshop for other students on a recent Saturday afternoon. The workshop was intended to give the students and other interested individuals a chance to learn about the properties of specific kinds of rocks (in this case obsidian) that made it possible for people to shape them into tools.

I gave a short introduction about the specific properties and the physics of flaking, and numerous warnings about the extreme sharpness of the raw materials. Then we adjourned to the back patio of the Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies for a little bit of practical application.

Sasha and I both gave the basic safety lecture and reinforced the warning about the extreme sharpness of the raw materials. Then the students were allowed to try their hand at making a flake and, if they wished afterward, to try their hand a refining the flake through pressure flaking. The students to a person realized how difficult it is to create stone tools, and, we believe, better appreciated the work that went into gaining the necessary skill to make the refined tools found at archaeological sites.

After the outside work, we adjourned back to the classroom where Sasha explained the importance of experimental archaeology (such as making stone tools) in helping us better understand what we encounter in archaeological sites. The workshop participants left the building with different insights into their research, I believe, and especially so an appreciation of the skill developed by the makers of the stone tools they might encounter in archaeological sites in the future.