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March 2015: Exeter Dialogue with Science workshop 4 - Learning Craft Skills: Flintknapping

Monday, 16 March, 2015 to Friday, 20 March, 2015
Professor Bruce Bradley
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
11 participants

The outstanding, world-wide experience of Professor Bruce Bradley of course was the basis of the flintknapping for all three days. His theoretical and especially practical knowledge gave the fundamental understanding of craft skills with flints from the early African to Asian and North American technique up to Neandertals.

For the OpenArch Workshop an international group of students and colleagues (England, France, Germany, Italy and USA) from Exeter University, AÖZA, „Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen“in Albersdorf and from the National Museum of Wales came together to learn more about flint knapping. The knowledge and skill levels in the group was very different. Some people already had a lot of experience with knapping flint, others already worked with flint and a few had no experience at all with flint. Therefore, the intention of every participant of this workshop was different. For example, one student (with the most experience) wanted to improve his skills with creating clovis points.  Another student is working levallois points and wanted to get some more input on creating them. The rest of the group wanted to learn or improve their skills, without any special cultural background. For some participants it was also interesting where to find good flint.Working together made the workshop relaxed and interesting, especial because they were from different countries.

Before everybody could get started with flint knapping, Bruce Bradley and Linda Hurcombe introduced the general basics. At the beginning, Bruce Bradley introduced the material “stone”. He showed the group its characteristics and what happens when the stone is hit with another tool. After this introduction, he got more specific about flint knapping and showed in theory how to knap. He explained to the participants how to set up a platform.

After the brief theoretical introduction, everybody got the chance to knap. People with no or just a little bit of experience got familiar with the material, to figure out how to hold the flint and the hammerstone, where to aim and strike the stone. For this group the main goal was to flake the stone in the way they wanted and to understand, why the stone flaked the way it did. People with a little bit more experience tried to create little blades. Their goal was to set up the platforms after they created a blade. The most experienced participants tried to improve their skills and work on their intentions.

On the second day, the group got introduced to new techniques. Bruce Bradley showed them, that they not only can use a hammerstone but also some other tools like an antler.

He also introduced them to pressure flaking. With this technique, you do not hit the stone with percussion but with pressure. Therefore you have to hold the stone with one hand and with the other hand push with a tool, which could be an antler or some bronze, on the chosen place on your platform. After the theoretical introduction every participant got the chance to try the new techniques, but also to work on their own skills.

In the afternoon, Bruce Bradley demonstrated how to create levallois cores.

On the last day, everybody had the chance to work on whatever they wanted. Everybody tried to combine his/her skills with the new techniques, which got introduced on the previous days.

In the end everybody gained a lot of experience. During the whole time Bruce Bradley and Linda Hurcombe were helping the participants. Also everybody was helping each other. Groups of inexperienced flintknappers sat together and tried to solve their problems and they were also helped by the more experienced knappers  who showed them some tricks and told them about their struggles. So it was a great success for eveybody.

The discussions also looked at the circumstances of learning flintknapping and the contexts where the knowledge and skill would be applied.  Most participants had already got some knowledge from books and internet sources, but everyone wanted to get more practice in working with flint-material. For example Jürgen Rüger explained that for years he did flint-cutting only for the purposes needed in the Stone Age Village in Albersdorf (AÖZA, Germany). It was only necessary to break flint to get sharp edges to work further on with wood, leather and other natural materials. There was no need for real, exact and professional flintknapping, but it was his personal intention to look for the future for useful methods to instruct school-kids on simple, but successful stone working.  This is because at least some of the visitors are more interested in detailed flintknapping. Consequently there is the requirement to show them principles and characteristics of flintknapping and the variety of stones itself.

Working together as students and staff made the workshop relaxed and interesting.  The group will grow as the skills learnt are demonstrated and passed on. To continue workshops with Open Arch meetings, staff exchanges and experimental archeology is a specific possibility to combine theory with understanding was science is doing. It is also a chance to give museum-visitors detailed information of historical development of tools and equipment.

Leonhard Geisweid, Exeter/Munich and Jürgen Rüger, AOZA