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May 2016
 

The Bellinghman
Date: 2005-04-27 11:08
Subject: (no subject)
Security: Public
Would you believe, a web site that will help flint knappers find their flints?

I remember hearing or seeing an article that looked at the history of flint knapping. There are possibly more people today that can knap a flint than at any time in history, because there are a huge number that do it as a hobby. And almost every one of those has learnt by demonstration from somebody else who can do it.

And if you trace back who taught whom, sometime last century, one of the last Amerindian flint knappers taught a small bunch of hobbyists, who have been teaching others since. And that Amerindian had learnt from his master, and so on, in a master/student chain that stretched back hundreds of thousands of years.
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Linz
User: k425
Date: 2005-04-27 11:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I read somewhere, possibly the Radio Times, that Phil thingy, from Time Team, is such a good knapper that he has to 'sign' his flints so they don't get mistaken for stone-age examples.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2005-04-27 12:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ah, how wonderful!

Presumably, the 'signing' is to always do a particular flaking pattern in a particular place.
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The Uitlander
User: uitlander
Date: 2005-04-27 19:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I would assume that 'signing' them meant physically writing his name on them in an indelible way (india ink covered in varnish is what museums use, there is also such a thing as an indelible pencil - even when worn away they can both be detected under UV light, which is part of the standard checking routine for anything that gets brought into museums, archaeology depts and archaeology units by the public). Putting a 'distinctive' bit of flaking in there would be a typological touch, which could impact the nature of whatever he was replicating.

My DPhil supervisor was once asked to confirm a very 'early find' in Oxfordshire, buried under peat at the bottom of gravel workings - it was claimed to be the earliest evidence for humans in Europe by its finder. As he drove towards the quarry he described a terrible sinking feeling, as he recalled disposing of the residue of a knapping demonstration of Oldowan & Clactonian technology some 20 years earlier in a flooded gravel pit.

The gravel pit had since been drained, but enough time had elapsed between him chucking the flints into the flooded pit and it being drained for peat formation. He cringed as the finder showed him the stunning array of 'type fossils' they had discovered, and sheepishly owned up to their origin. The county archaeologist shouted at him for about 20 minutes. Since when, he has always been adamant that the residues of any flint knapping display are immediatly taken to a local gravel works and put through the crusher.... just to be sure. We did try not to laugh too much.
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2005-04-27 19:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ah, you see. I am blessed with an wonderfully educated friends list.

I love the story of the 'faked' flints. But if this peat bed was at the bottom of some gravel workings, and given that gravel doesn't usually deposit on top of peat (I'd say 'never', but I'm open to very ingenious glacial moraines here), wasn't there a certain amount of puzzlement before that?
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The Uitlander
User: uitlander
Date: 2005-04-27 20:03 (UTC)
Subject: Gravel & Peat
[bows] Glad for once to use my skills :-)

As for the gravel & peats, that is quite feasible if you are looking at a stratigraphy that spans glacial-interglacial or stadial-interstadial events. Survival of the peat itself would be rare (although not impossible), but you might expect to find distinctive traces that a peat had once formed within the stratigraphy. The amateur who had found the flints was extremely excited about their preservation ('fresh as the day they were made'), and the county archaeologist even more excited about the peat and the possibility for environmental reconstruction work. Its often the job of the university archaeologist to break the bad news that there is an alternative explanation for these remarkable occurrences (and fortunately, as the UK's expert on such things, good old Prof Roe was called in to verify it all before the press got a sniff, thus just about saving his bacon).

Pretty much every archaeologist has at least one story of this ilk in their background.... like a certain Dr Mithen, who administered a practical about standardisation in the Acheulian whilst waving three very distinctive handaxes at myself and two others. He became increasinglky agitated as we started to giggle, asked 'are you sure?' and finally couldn't stop laughing. The muppet (in his usual sloppy way) had just grabbed a box out of the museum stores labelled 'Olduvai - handaxes'. He had failed to notice that it contained an original and two plastercasts (painted different colours). "Look, standardisation across different raw materials" he spluttered, whilst I added "yes, right down to the identical pattern of flake removals. amazing to think that early hominids had access to plaster of paris". We had previously been mentally blugeoned by the extremely good Dr Carter on how to read flints properly - funny how Slithy never seemed to like me after that. He even went as far as to remove the flint practicals from the syllabus.... some people have no sense of self irony (and I'm staying very quiet about my boo-boos).
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2005-04-27 23:02 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Gravel & Peat
I'm glad I used the phrase 'ingenious glacial moraines' there.

I'm still bemused that 20 year old peat could be confusable with 20,000 year old peat that had had 50 metres (or whatever) thickness of gravel on top of it. Wouldn't the latter be somewhat more compacted - possibly part way to lignite? Or does old peat re-exposed to water just re-expand?
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The Uitlander
User: uitlander
Date: 2005-04-28 07:07 (UTC)
Subject: Re: Gravel & Peat
From what I can recall from the description, the peat was patchy, and after the pit was drained gave the appearance of having been a lens in the original gravel. The working hypothesis was that when the pit had been originally excavated for gravel extraction (with no archaeologists/sedimentologists present), the mechnical diggers had cut into the lens - and the exposed area of peat was at the top of the remaining stratigraphic sequence dealing below it the 'artefacts' and some real 'in situ' ancient gravels which their geology & stratigraphic position indicated were > 500,000 years old (Can't remember which glacial event Derek said they correlated with, just that it was an early one).

The peat had been exposed to the air for some time before being discovered by the amateur. Its conceivable (although rare) that a real ancient peat could have been sealed by gravel in anaeorobic conditions - so you'd not expect it to decompose as such (I've certainly seen [and smelt] peats come out of the bottom of ancient lake sediment cores, sealed anaeoribically under other sediments. Once they hit oxygen they would start to dry out, decompose, and occassionally whiff ).

Whilst you might expect a peat under gravel to be compacted, this is not necessarily the case and would depend on precise stratigraphic conditions in the overlying sediments (which, in our exa
mple, were long gone). I would expect any modern or ancient peat to expand when exposed to water. My understanding is that as this peat was at the bottom of a drained gravel pit it was drying out, hence the rush to sample and analyse it before it decayed.

In terms of real examples of ancient peats occurring in gravels, I'd check the literature surrounding sites like Swanscombe, Clacton and Hoxne. A quick glance suggests that this takes a rather close look at fluvial depositional behaviour framed around the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, but suggested to be analgous for earlier glacial-interglacial cycles. In brief, whilst rare, I think it would be realistic to find lenses and perhaps layers of peat within gravel.
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Linz
User: k425
Date: 2005-04-28 14:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm hoping with a big blue dot, or a pink fluorescent highlighter myself!
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Linz
User: k425
Date: 2005-04-28 14:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It might not have been him, of course, my memory's shocking!
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The Uitlander
User: uitlander
Date: 2005-04-27 18:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Flint knapping is a fascinating skill. Its not just the Amerinidan flint knappers - right up to the start of the 20th century there was a thriving flint knapping industry in Brandon - making gun flints. The accounts of the skill of these knappers are amazing. IIRC the main pub in Brandon is still called "The Flint Knappers Arms".

Phil is an exceptionally good knapper - he used to come and give knapping demonstrations to the students in Oxford. It is a real craft tradition (I can manage to make some basic pieces, not much more). There was a site (think it was Meer IV in Belgium), where they found a knapping scatter which had spaces showing where the legs of the original knapper were, and around them other scatters revealing much smaller legs (and some basic mistakes) - suggested to be an adult teaching children to knap, around 9,000 years ago. One of the very nice touches of my old corner of archaeology.

Having access to high quality flint is the key (flint with lots of inclusions is difficult to knap, as they change the way the flint fractures so you lose predictability and control. Go take a look at some amazing bits of flint work - like the Egyptian predynastic flint knives or Solutrean points - absolutely mind blowing.
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Linz
User: k425
Date: 2005-04-28 14:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One of the very nice touches of my old corner of archaeology

I'll say! That's the kind of thing that fascinates me. I read Jean Auel's books and it appears that it's that kind of thing that's driven her stories - an artefact here, a find there, things that make you think about the people who left them. These days I read her novels and find myself wondering what the archaeological find was that prompted /this/ chapter or /that/ description...
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The Uitlander
User: uitlander
Date: 2005-04-28 15:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
These days I read her novels and find myself wondering what the archaeological find was that prompted /this/ chapter or /that/ description...

Indeed, in fact we were all told to go and read Clan of the Cave Bear as part of our revision for finals - if we could spot all the sites/finds (which are an amalgam of about 50,000 years of time across parts of Eurasia) then we should be able to get our degrees in World Prehistory without too many hassles. A very civilised approach to revision (and one that sparked lots of gleeful - 'cor! Thats the old man of La Chapelle' type comments.
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Linz
User: k425
Date: 2005-05-03 12:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In my next life I'm going to study archaeology...
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The Bellinghman
User: bellinghman
Date: 2005-05-03 12:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You could start before then.
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