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Flintknapping Stone Shapers

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 5 11

Old man of Copan

Stones rocked during the Stone, Bronze, and Iron ages. Not only were they used for survival by our ancestors, human technology evolved from those learned skills. Throughout the three ages, flintstones were the main tools used in prehistoric human life. The stone is broken with a sharp blow to knock off flakes (knapping). Our cave folk ancestors are referred to as flintknappers or knappers for short.

Survival Uses
The flintknapping stone shapers needed to hunt and kill animals for food to eat. Flint knapping tools were helpful. Arrowheads knapped from flint were often used for the kill. When the animal was ready for cutting and hide scraping, the flintknapper used other stones, antlers, and bones to knock the flint to create the tools needed. Later, after the feasting and before the next hunt, the tools needed to be re-sharpened. The knapper easily accomplished this by knocking more flakes away. This way the tools were re-used rather than discarded. Re-cycling was definitely big back then! Spearheads were also created for the hunt and eventually fashioned with wood so the hunters could throw it like a harpoon.

The famous stone site of the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania was unearthed by the Leakeys. Many stone artifacts were found and Mary Leakey made a list of them. The stone tools she listed were sorted this way: heavy-duty tools, light-duty tools, utilized pieces, and debitage (waste or debris). This discovery showed that the early flintknappers used intellectual and physical skills to create survival tools.

Stone hammers, anvils, spears and knives were food-getting tools that were used for digging, earth moving, and cracking nuts or fruits to get to the edible food.

All the breaking and flaking wasn't harmless. The sharp stone products edges caused accidental deaths among the stone shapers. There wasn't any prevention of severed arteries and deathly blood loss. Not survivng the cuts prevailed as the common death toll.

Unfortunately, flintknapping for food wasn't the only reason early man knapped. What happened when war broke out between those stoneagers? The club wasn't the only tool turned into a weapon. The battle-axe, dagger, sword, and stone missile evolved. Those were all precursors to modern weaponry and the prehistoric origins of human technology.

Another survival skill to consider is the art knapping that occurred. Picture a caveman picking up a flintstone and wondering what the inside mystery is. He/she knaps away at it until a carving emerges from the stone. Was this a way of telling others about his tribal tradition, or whereabouts, some kind of communication for survival? We don't know for sure; yet stone figurines, statues, and carvings dated from the three ages show up all over the world.

More recently, incredible flint pieces thought to represent Mayan gods have been found in the Copan Temple Complex in Central America. They could have been used to honor their gods, thus insuring survival.

European Mythology
These tiny flint arrowheads shot from tiny bows by elves are found all over the world. The victims are humans and livestock. Their crime is intrusion on elf territory. I use the present tense here because I have found these beliefs to be held true today. If a man or an ox was to trespass in elf land it could receive elfshot causing paralysis or death. Elf-stroke was the termused for paralysis in those olden days. Now the word stroke is still used for paralytic seizure.

This is another term for elfshot yet it was flung as a dart to cause a blow to an unsuspecting being. Scottish lore claims elves gave the darts to witches to throw at folks and critters.

Large stone tools such as axes and handaxes found on the ground during thunderstorms were thought of as thunderstones. Scandinavian lore claims the stones were hurled from heaven by the thunder god Thor. They have been found in walls of buildings (dated from the Iron Age) and thought to have been placed there to protect the building from lightning.

Lucky Stones
Arrowheads and thunderstones were also: pocketed or worn as amulets, used as medicinal purposes to cure illness, worshipped as household gods, and used in rituals for protection or spiritual cleansing.

Modern Knappers
Present day knappers create beautiful stone artifacts. The pre-determined styles of our ancestors are still popular. Don Crabtree was a famous flintknapper who replicated stone spears and arrow points with astonishing accuracy. He was a leading scholar in lithic (stone) technology. Crabtree is well known for "Crabtree's Law", which states that "the greater the degree of final finishing applied to a stone artifact, whether by flaking, grinding, and/or polishing, the harder it is to conclude the lithic reduction process which produced the stone artifact." (Wikipedia)

Currently, Dale Cannon reigns as a master knapper. He helped to design a Flintknapping Exhibit in the new National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institute. He is known for his Flake Over Grinding advanced modern method of creating works of art.


  • Dr. Bruce Bradley is famous for his video, Flintknapping with Dr. Bruce Bradley. There are many videos available now on U Tube also.

  • Earth Magic, a book by Francis Hitching is a good source also.

Flintknapping is not a dying skill. It is still taught at survival camps and knap-ins. Modern knappers gather for fellowsihp, demonstrations, fun and to sell their work. Anthropologists have become fans of actually seeing and learning from knappers what our ancestors did to survive as far as flintknapping goes. The appeal to continue flintknapping seems to be innate. Some knappers replicate ancestral tools or weapons while others create art pieces unlike the flint art found two-three million years ago.

This stone shaping survival skill has evolved to computer technology (chips), and one could surmise, even to the evolution of human genome technology. The cutting edge of cloning represents genetic engineering that incorporates survival into our bodies as the survival tool of the future - "Men have become the tools of their tools" (Henry David Thoreau).

The pleasing sounds of flakes being chipped away from flintstones to create something useful or beautiful resounds around the world.



Jan 20, 2011 4:21am
Very well written and interesting article. Thumb up!
Jan 22, 2011 5:53pm
Thank you LoveSpaces, I loved the research!
Feb 9, 2011 1:41am
Interesting article. Thank you for writing. This is worth reading again because I haven't read about what you just wrote.
Feb 9, 2011 1:58pm
Yes, I originally researched it for a children's article, but realized it was more adult, so there you go! So glad you read and liked.
Feb 9, 2011 10:36am
Excellent job and subject fooloose. Thumbs up from me on this one.
Feb 9, 2011 1:59pm
Sweet thumbs up from you, thanks!
Feb 9, 2011 1:06pm
Fascinating article and excellent choice as a featured article!
Feb 9, 2011 2:01pm
Thank you so much, I've been wanting to be featured for a very long time. I do look to other's for their featured work- like you!
Mar 3, 2011 10:05am
I'd hate to wake up in the middle of the night and see that "Old man of Copan" stone staring at me lol. Interesting read.
Mar 8, 2011 2:07pm
Funny! Thanks for comment you awesome guy :)
Mar 21, 2011 7:13am
Great historical article! Still I am thrilled and amazed when I stumble upon an arrowhead of old. The images you used are brillant! Thank you.
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