By Sarah Sinoski
The flint knapping club, located in the second floor of the Bank building, was started by Dr. David Anderson shortly after he was hired last year. He wanted to do what he could to help promote archaeology on campus and had some prior experience with flint knapping in his previous teaching position.
Knapping is the art of breaking specific kinds of rocks in ways that make the resulting pieces, called flakes, useful as stone tools. After talking with Dr. Leslie Warden and Dr. Chad Morris, he got financial support to start the Flint Knapping Club.
Stone tools are an important type of artifact for archaeologists, because they supply a great source of understanding about tool technology, what the cultures were using the tools for, and for reconstructing trade and exchange routes.
Anderson regularly worked with stone tools while studying the Ancient Mayans in Mexico and had harbored a long-term desire to learn how to actually make them.
“We can only understand so much of these processes if we have not tried to replicate them ourselves. Since learning to flint knap, I’ve gained a whole new perspective on the skills and techniques required to make these objects,” said Dr. Anderson.
In the future, Dr. Anderson hopes the club evolves to venture into experimental archaeology. One large field of study of stone tools is called wear analysis, or finding out what kinds of damage happen to stone tools when they are used for different tasks. There are many damage marks to be found on stone tools, but the really useful information comes from knowing what marks correlate with which tasks.
What he is hoping is that the club will become skilled enough to make stone tools and then use them to cut different materials, such as wood, leather, or grasses, and then examine the tools under a microscope to see if the damage marks from the modern tools can be correlated with the damage marks from the ancient tools. If the results from these experiments are consistent, they could even be applied to the archaeological record. Dr. Anderson said, “we need to get better and [be] consistently producing flakes before this can be a reality.”
Right now, around six people or so usually show up each week to participate. The rock-breaking sessions, which start at 3:30 pm each Friday, are believed by most of knappers to be the best way to relieve stress at the end of a long week.
It’s a great creative outlet for people, especially for those who aren’t as skilled as they would like in other arts. Dr. Anderson jokes, “I’ve always wanted to be able to draw, but my attempts come out looking like a stick figure menagerie… This process works a little better for me!”
Unfortunately, the flint knapping club is being moved out of the space on the second floor of the Bank building, but there is no word yet as to where they are being moved to so keep an eye out for future updates on that.