Stone Type: Organic

Antler Axe, hafted in antler

Organic materials such as antler, bone, and wood were sometimes used as tools to flake stone, and were frequently used to make handles or shafts for attaching, or ‘hafting’, stone tools.  Plant resins were used as glue to secure tools into handles, and coat hafting areas as protection from moisture.  Strips of animal skin and tendons (‘sinew’) were used as lashing, as was vegetable fibre string.  Hafting string was sometimes made from animal or human hair.  Beeswax was a preferred hafting material in Australia for some types of tools.  

Humans are the only species that combine materials in this way, and the emergence of the this ability in the archaeological record attests to our evolving cognitive capacities.

Antler

Antlers—a type of dense bone—are an extension of the skull found on various species of deer.  They are shed and regrown each year.  Antler was popular in the Northern Hemisphere for use as handles for stone tools.  It was also used as a material for elongated stone-flaking hammers called ‘billets’.

Antler punch 1

Antler Punch

Tim Dillard antler billet

Modern Art, Tim Dillard

Pressure flaker Wall Site NC

Pressure Flaker

Bone

Skeletal bone was frequently used for soft-hammer percussion and pressure-flaking tools.  Bone indentors were mostly used for relatively light percussion retouching although some bones were used for heavier percussion.  Bone pressure flaking tools were used from early in prehistory right through to the recent past.  Skeletal bone is more brittle and prone to breakage than antlers, but unlike antler, bone is readily available in all parts of the world.  Bone was widely used as handles for stone tools.

Bone pressure flaker 1 Alaska

Pressure Flaker

Bone pressure flaker 1, Alaska

Pressure Flaker

Pressure flaking tool, Alaska

Pressure Flaking Tool

Horn

Horns are a form of keratin found on male antelopes, cattle, muskox, sheep, and goats, among other animals.  Unlike antlers, horns are permanent and are not made of bone.  Because of this, horn is much softer and less dense than antler and are generally not suitable for heavy percussion flaking.  However, horn pressure flakers are known from the archaeological record, and horn hammers are used as a type of indirect percussion hammer by modern flintknappers in India.

Hammer, Horn 1

Horn Hammer

Hammer, Horn 2

Horn Hammer

Shell

Shell is the calcareous exoskeleton of molluscs.  These animals secrete shell from their mantle for protection and support.  Shell is made up of calcium carbonate and/or aragonite crystals which bind tightly together but can cleave along layers.  Shell can be flaked by percussion but tends to fracture along the cleavage planes, preventing the removal of long flakes.  Shell was often used as a substitute for stone, particularly in the Pacific.  Most shell working was done by grinding although percussion flaking was sometimes done in early manufacturing stages.

Shell adze Gibbs

Shell Adze

Wood

Certain types of wood are sufficiently dense and hard to be used as hammers in percussion flaking.  As with antler and bone, these hardwoods are soft enough for the edge of the stone to ‘bite’ into, effectively transferring the force into the stone.  Wood is also preferred for some modern knappers as the hammer used to strike the punch in the indirect percussion technique.  These hammers are usually made of a softer wood than hammers used in direct percussion.  Wood was the most common material for hafting stone tools, but wood handles rarely preserve in the archaeological record.

Samoan adze GSP

Modern Art, Galumalemana Steven Percival

Hammer, Wood

Wood Hammer