This bifacial blank was for manufacturing a Gerzean knife, Predynastic Egypt. It represents an early reduction stage in the manufacture of the famous ‘ripple-flaked’ knives of the Late Naqada II-early Naqada III period in Predynastic Egypt, ca. 5100-5400 BP.
This knife blank demonstrates that the early stage in making Gerzean ripple-flaked knives was thinning and shaping the blank by percussion flaking, probably using a hammerstone. The cross section was regularised and the distinctive outline was produced during this percussion-flaking stage. The following stages would have involved grinding off all of the percussion flaking scars, then pressure flaking one face. It is unclear why this blank was never finished.
This knife blank was part of a collection of antiquities assembled between 1880-1917 by the ethnographer and antiquarian Edmund Milne. The bulk of his Egyptian collection is now held in the National Museum of Australia. Before finding a home at the National Museum in 1985, the Egyptian collection was held by the Australian Institute of Anatomy, and they sent a small number of the artefacts to the Armidale Teachers College in the 1940s. The Armidale Teachers College was amalgamated with the University of New England in 1988.
The knife blank is now part of the Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology teaching collection, University of New England.
Ripple-flaked Gerzean knives were interred with burials, often after being ritually broken. The Gebel al-Arak knife, purchased by the Louvre in 1914, is admired as masterpiece of Predynastic Egyptian art, both for the stone blade and the elephant ivory handle, decorated with carvings portraying hunting and warfare. Gerzean knives were high-prestige objects, and were not intended for use. A ripple-flaked knife was interred in a tomb alongside exceptionally long and well-made percussion-flaked knives in the Eastern Kom, or mound, at Tell el-Farkha. Images of flint knife-making occur on the walls of Middle Kingdom tombs in Beni Hassan, although these post-date the heyday of ripple-flaked knives.
Gerzean knives were made from exceptionally high-quality tan flint. The quarries for the stone have yet to be definitively identified, but Egypt is rich in chert sources, such as the extensive chert quarries recently recorded and described at Wadi el-Sheikh. One archaeologist has argued that the similarity and precision of the stoneworking on Gerzean knives suggests that they were produced by only a few workshops with flintknappers who practiced these specialised skills over a few generations.