Recently, a group of Museum Volunteers and archaeology and museum professionals attended a flint knapping workshop held in blazing sun (at last!) on the lawn behind the Kings House.
Leading the enthusiastic group was James Dilley, whose knowledge and skills, and teaching, were outstanding. If any of us thought that creating a flint tool was a question of who could hack the flint hardest with another stone, we quickly realised there is real science behind it all. While ancient man would, to a degree, have understood the science he would not have described what he was doing in quite the same terms as James did.
James began by taking a large piece of flint, a core, and, carefully observing its structure, edges and angles, used a hammer stone to break it into a number of smaller pieces, ready to be fashioned into a variety of hand tools. Lumps and slivers of flint fell away at his will. It was like watching a sculptor sculpture at work. Flakes, like stone leaves, and as sharp as glass, could be trimmed to form the scrapers, ancient examples of which appear in profusion on early archaeological sites.
We learnt about the angles of striking, and the need to abrade a fresh edge to make it stronger and so less likely to shatter, and to strike through the flint with the hammer, rather than at it. By the end of the day some of the group were, with a little help from James, successfully producing hand axes and other items that looked as if they had come out of the Museum display cases nearby. It was work which demanded concentration; our goggles and leather gloves were very necessary and even so, some of us did not escape unscathed. But there was satisfaction in the high ringing sound heard when the hammer stone struck a good, sound, flint core and produced an ideal flake. The same satisfaction that our ancestors must have had. Magic.