This flint Type IV dagger is from Denmark. It dates to the Late Neolithic, ca. 3600-3950 BP. Daggers with flared stems like this are called ‘fishtail’ daggers. The handle of the dagger is pressure-flaked down the centre of the face to create an attribute called ‘stitching’.
The dagger in this model is Type IV-D with stitching on one face of the handle (Type IV-C has stitching on both sides of the handle). Remnants of grinding can be seen on the centre of each face of the blade, indicating that the surfaces were ground smooth prior to pressure flaking. The pressure flaking scars are oriented straight-in, rather than obliquely. After invasive pressure flaking, a series of short flakes were removed from both faces. This steepened the edge angle and refined the blade’s shape. There are no indications that the dagger was used and resharpened. The handle stitching was expertly accomplished and stitching-like retouch was also applied to the edges of the handle and along both edges of the handle’s butt.
This model was made from an epoxy cast from the Lithic Casting Lab.
A ‘dagger’ in European terminology is a pointed knife with cutting edges on both margins (by this definition, many of the bifaces from North America would be considered daggers). The earliest European bifacial flint daggers are stemmed, lanceolate, and side-notched examples from northern and central Italy, many made from southern Alpine flint. These early daggers are small, with most measuring between ca. 5-10 cm long. They emerged in the Late Neolithic by about 5600 BP, and are also found in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Small bifacial daggers continued to be manufactured well into the Copper Age in Italy, with larger, expertly-made ‘prestige’ daggers interred with the famous burials at Remedello cemetery, ca. 5000 BP. A small hafted bifacial stone dagger was carried by Ötzi, who died while crossing the Alps in ca. 5230 BP. Bifacial stone daggers overlap chronologically with daggers made on indirect percussion blades, a technology that originated in northwestern Greece and spread to production centres in Syria, Sardinia, Bulgaria, France, and Portugal.
The beaches of southern Scandinavia are covered in large nodules of fine-grained flint. Between ca. 3500-4350 years ago, flintknappers began making elaborate bifacial daggers from this rich resource, particularly in the main production centres in Jutland (Denmark) and Skåne (Sweden). Bifacial daggers were eventually produced in many parts of Europe where high-quality flint was available, but the largest and most complex forms were made by flintknappers in southern Scandinavia. These daggers occurred during the Late Neolithic transition between the Single Grave period and the Bell Beaker (Early Bronze Age) period, sometimes referred to as the Dolktid, or Dagger Period.
The earliest flint daggers in southern Scandinavia were elongated and leaf shaped, or ‘lanceolate’, and later daggers were made with a distinctive ‘fishtail’-shaped handle. Lanceolate daggers had a longer usage period and were far more common than the later fishtail daggers. One estimate is that about 10,000 lanceolate daggers are in known collections from southern Scandinavia, compared to about 1000 fishtail daggers. The lanceolate daggers are divided into three main types (Types I, II, and III, ca. 3950-4350 BP), with various subtypes, based on their workmanship and shape. Two main types of fishtail daggers are identified (Types IV and V, ca. 3600-3950 BP), also subdivided into variants. One type of dagger with a straight-sided handle (Type VI) continued into the Bronze Age, ca. 3500 BP. All of these dagger types show considerable skill in their manufacture, but some—particularly Type IV C-E daggers—are among the most complex stone tools ever produced. The Hindsgavl Dagger—a Type IV-D dagger—is considered a National Treasure of Denmark. It is on permanent display at the Danish National Museum, Copenhagen and, in 2009, an image of the Hindsgavl Dagger was printed on the 100 Kroner banknote. Lanceolate daggers were sometimes deposited in large caches, and burials throughout the Late Neolithic period often incorporated one or more flint daggers.
The shape of the Scandinavian fishtail daggers is very similar to the shape of Central European bronze daggers made during the Classical Únětice period, ca. 3300-4300 BP. This suggests to many archaeologists that the Scandinavian flintknappers were attempting to imitate more valuable Bronze Age daggers that were starting to appear in their area. According to this view, the flint imitations are ’skeuomorphs’ of the Bronze Age daggers. However, one archaeologist argues that this is a simplistic interpretation for two reasons. First, dagger-making long preceded the introduction of metals into Scandinavia. Second, only six bronze daggers have been recovered in Scandinavia, and, unlike flint daggers, none of these were found in burial contexts. The few metal objects interred in graves were axes, not daggers—the grave-good daggers were made of flint. The archaeological patterns suggest that there was a ‘dagger idea’ during this period of prehistory which provided the social context which resulted in the eventual adoption of metal daggers and, later, swords. In this interpretation, daggers served as objects that signalled shared participation in an overriding concept signalled by both flint and bronze daggers, and as such they helped bridge cultural and ethnic differences. Shapes of flint and bronze daggers converged to a fishtail morphology to emphasise this shared idea, but resident cultures maintained their preference of dagger material and specialist manufacturing traditions.
The blanks for Type IV/V fishtail daggers were made by expert bifacial percussion flaking. Once the biface was thinned and reduced to the right size, the handle was manufactured. Since the handle was designed to be thicker than the blade, reduction at this end was done differently than the blade end. At the handle end, the biface was narrowed by percussion flaking in such a way that the handle grew narrow at about the same rate as it grew thin. The knappers were particularly concerned with producing a roughly diamond-shaped cross section to the handle, and this was probably achieved by indirect percussion (punch flaking) in the handle-narrowing process. The indirect percussion technique can be carefully controlled so that the flakes end at the biface centreline, and this strategy can be used to transform a lenticular cross section into a roughly rectangular one. The end of the handle was squared-off by indirect percussion on Type IV daggers.
The blade end of the dagger was flaked differently than the handle, with initial percussion flaking creating a relatively thin, wide shape with a flat lenticular cross section. The craftsmen next ground all of the percussion flake scars from this part of the biface, smoothing out the irregularities and providing the ideal cross section for pressure flaking. The dagger-makers often oriented the pressure force obliquely to the long axis of the biface, rather than at a near-right angle. On these daggers, the flakes travelled across the face of the biface at an oblique angle—a ‘transverse parallel’ pressure flaking technique. The angle of orientation of the pressure flaking scars varied between daggers.
Unlike Type V daggers, the handles of Type IV daggers were ‘stitched’. To accomplish this, the knapper removed small flakes down the centre of the handle. This was done in two or three series of removals, beginning with relatively coarse flaking in the first series and culminating on the best daggers with exceptionally fine stitching accomplished by pressure flaking, probably using a metal tool. To make the stitching, the pressure-flaking tool was first placed at the poll-end of the handle’s centre and a small flake was detached, creating a scar. The next flake was removed by placing the tool on the side of the negative bulb of force on the first flake scar. Removing the next flake created a new negative bulb of force and the process was repeated, alternating back-and-forth between platforms, until the entire handle was stitched. The finished handle stitching is a slightly raised bifacial edge. For good measure, on the finest examples, the flintknappers stitching both lateral margins of the handle and the perimeter of the poll. Stitching was thought to be an invention exclusive to the Scandinavian dagger-makers, but large stone gouges are on display in the National Museum in Jakarta, Indonesia, with similar stitching, so the technique was evidently discovered independently on Java. In Indonesia, the stitching provided a prominent ridge that was later enhanced by grinding, so in this case stitching was an early stage of manufacture rather than a final process.
The purpose of the stitching is unknown, but a popular explanation is that the Scandinavian flintknappers were imitating the appearance of a stitched hide or fabric covering on bronze dagger handles. However, there is no evidence that bronze dagger handles were covered in stitched material. A feature of some bronze daggers is a handle-wrapping pattern cast directly into the bronze, perhaps mimicking the organic handles of other tools. For instance, a bronze dagger from Dalsland, Sweden, has a horizontal pattern cast into the bronze that appears to mimic wrapping with a cord, rather than a single vertical stitch. Bronze dagger handles from Saruq al-Hadid in southeast Arabia are cast with elaborately woven simulations of cord handles. One archaeologist has noted that the stitching on Scandinavian stone daggers was evidently made to be seen, and the remarkable aspect of stitching is that it seems to be ‘impossible’ because it is imposed onto a curved surface. This seems to defy fracture mechanics and the stitching might be considered an ‘optical illusion’. As such, rather than mimicking a feature of bronze daggers, stitching may have been added as an element of virtuoso flintknapper performance meant to be admired by those inspecting the flint dagger. Indeed, this feature continues to impress and intrigue modern flintknappers some 4000 years later.