You are here

Skinning, cutting and cooking a reindeer using only bone and antler tools

Saturday, 3 March, 2012 to Sunday, 4 March, 2012
Tuukka Kumpulainen
Jasse Tiilikkala
Matias Toivanen
Miika Vanhapiha
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
300 visitors

The experiment was designed and conducted by Kuttelo members Tuukka Kumpulainen, Jasse Tiilikkala, Matias Toivanen and Miika Vanhapiha. The tools used were made by Miika Vanhapiha, and pictures taken by Jasse Tiilikkala.

Miika made twelve bone knives and two antler axes. Two of the knives had also toothed edges somewhat similar to a saw blade. Three of the knives were copies of Mesolithic knives from Russia, while the rest were loosely inspired by original finds. The two antler axes were hafted differently; one of them (the one with a large hole through the antler) resembled more closely original finds compared to the other one.

Before the actual experiment certain parts of the work were anticipated to be more challenging than others. Cutting through the leg skin was one for example, as well as cutting through frozen tendons close to joints. Some of these anticipated challenges proved to be correct while others didn´t.

Nine of the knives were very similar to each other. For documentation purposes each of these tools were marked individually so that their actual use would be easier to analyze afterwards based on photographs and video.

The goal was to skin, cut and cook a reindeer using only Stone Age style bone and antler tools, to test how usable bone tools really are in processing prey.

The bone knife edges were not sharp enough for traditional, steel-tool techniques to work. These include making the initial incisions in the skin around and along the limbs and along the torso. Instead, a technique where the pointed tip of the bone knife was pushed through the skin, the knife then used to stretch and tear the skin to enlarge the hole, worked well, without loss of control in the skinning process.

The sharp, pointed tips of the bone knives, indispensable for the skinning to progress, demanded care when working deep inside the animal to prevent unwanted puncturing of the skin and the meat / organs. Shorter knife blades than ones used here might have been equally effective but less restrictive in this regard.

Thin, efficient bone knife tips are prone to break from the slightest twisting motion applied in the wrong direction, or perpendicular to the wide face of the blade. This required vigilance compared to using steel knives.

A serrated edge on the backs of some of the test bone knives proved extremely usable. Where tough connective tissue needed cutting, the saw-like edge worked superbly compared to other methods. Even the neck skin of the reindeer, one of the toughest soft tissue parts, was cut through in seconds using a serrated knife back with a sawing motion.

An antler axe with an obtuse edge angle was highly efficient in cutting the carcass' rib cage in two. Bone knives would have been useless in cutting skeletal tissue, as expected.

Much of the skinning was made using bare hands only, in accordance to aboriginal skinning traditions . A no-tools-approach was also successfully used in separating the limbs from the carcass torso. Winter conditions probably helped in making the soft tissues somewhat brittle.

While not sharp enough to slice through skin and connective tissue, the bone knife edges worked well in cutting up meat for cooking.


Fig.1. Bone knives made by Miika Vanhapiha....
Fig. 2. Bone knife with a saw-like, made by...
Fig.3. The selection of bone tools to be...
Fig. 4. Cutting the skin with a bone knife....
Fig.5. Skinning in progress. Picture: Jasse...
Fig. 6. The skin is off. Picture: Jasse...
Fig. 7. Cutting off the notochord. Picture:...
Fig. 8. Chopping with an antler axe. Picture...
Fig. 9. Cutting meat. Picture: Jasse...
Fig. 10. The best pieces of meat are being...
Fig.11. Dry reindeer meat coming up! Picture...