Stone tool manufacture, or flintknapping, was accomplished using stone hammers or organic hammers, such as antler, bone, or very hard wood. Historically, flintknappers and stonemasons used iron hammers, and modern hobbyist flintknappers often use hammers made from soft copper. This gallery displays flintknapping tools by type rather than by geographical region.
Hammerstones are the most common flintknapping tool in the archaeological record. These tools were often highly prized because it can be difficult to find a stone of the appropriate shape, weight, and material to suit various flaking techniques. Hammerstones of hard materials, such as igneous or metavolcanic rocks, were used for removing flakes by striking in from the edge of the core (called ‘off-edge percussion’); and softer stones, such as limestone or sandstone, were used to remove flakes by striking right onto the edge of the core (called ‘on-edge percussion’). The effects from using soft hammerstones can be similar to the effects from using soft organic hammers, such as antler.
Metal Stone Flaking Tools
Stone tool technology did not disappear with the invention of metallurgy and in many areas stone tools persisted side-by-side metal technology for thousands of years. Metal tools were made for both percussion and pressure flaking, and most modern flintknapper hobbyists use metal tools.
Bronze tools such as awls were likely used to pressure-flake stone arrowheads in the Bronze Age, and bronze was probably used for the fine punching seen on some Danish daggers. Copper awls may have been used for pressure flaking in the late prehistory of North America, and copper nuggets may have been used for percussion flaking, but this is poorly documented by archaeologists.
Iron hammers were used by gunflint makers in England and France during the historic period, and, more recently, by threshing board-makers around the Mediterranean. Modern makers of hide-scrapers in Ethiopia use iron tools to detach and retouch obsidian flakes, and recent Aboriginal flintknappers in Australia sometimes used the back of an iron hatchet to make flakes and blades. Highly-controlled pressure flaking was accomplished using iron nails or sections of steel fencing wire by traditional flintknappers in Australia and North America.
An unusual technique used by modern stone bead-makers in Khambhat, India, involves bracing the core platform onto an iron punch embedded in the ground, and striking the core with a wood or horn mallet to detach the flake. This traditional technique may have considerable antiquity.
Copper is preferred by many modern flintknappers because it is relatively soft, like antler, but much heavier and more durable. Copper hammers are referred to as ‘boppers’ by North American flintknappers. Some boppers are solid copper bars, while others are composite tools made by hammering a copper plumbing cap over a short wood, plastic, metal, or antler handle. Other boppers have machined aluminium handles with the caps secured with an expansion screw.
In pressure flaking, force is transferred by pressing against the stone rather than striking it, and both bone and antler work well for this. In prehistory, bone tended to be used for light percussion, such as retouching the edges of flakes, or for pressure flaking. Bone pressure flakers were often splinters shaped from larger bones. Deer antler tines are ideally-shaped for pressure flaking, and Ötzi, the Chalcolithic ‘iceman’, was carrying an antler pressure flaker in his toolkit when he froze to death in the Tyrolean Alps in Italy about 5000 years ago.
In the Kimberley region of Australia, Aboriginal flintknappers usually used the ulna of a kangaroo for pressure flaking, but they also used crocodile mandibles or, in one case, a human leg bone. Teeth might be used in pressure flaking—the Yahi flintknapper Ishi had a beaver tooth in his flintknapping kit—but tooth enamel tends to be brittle and unsuitable for forceful techniques. Aboriginal flintknappers used their back teeth to micro-flake the edges of flake tools to prepare them for use. Experimental archaeologists have shown that the sharp edge of a stone flake can be used as a pressure flaker to make notches and edge serrations.
Flintknappers often used an antler hammer, called a ‘billet’, to strike the core directly, but one technique—called indirect percussion—was accomplished using a relatively short antler or bone punch. The punch was held against the edge of the stone and struck with a mallet, detaching the flake. The flintknapper could be very precise in placing the punch on the core’s platform.
Red deer antler punches have been recovered from Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in Northern Europe, and were probably used in indirect percussion blade-making. Antler and bone ‘drifts’ in North America were used for indirect percussion in biface manufacture, as observed in early historical accounts. Stone punches may have been used for the indirect percussion technique to make rectangular-sectioned adzes in New Zealand, where deer (and hence antlers) were absent prior to the European invasion, although bone may also have been used. Rectangular-sectioned adzes in Indonesia were probably made with antler or bone punches.
Soft-hammer percussion flaking involved detaching flakes with a soft indentor, such as an antler, bone, wood, or soft stone such as limestone or sandstone. In bifacial flaking, flakes were removed from two faces of the stone from the one platform edge, and soft hammers were the best tool for thinning a biface because of the way the soft material transfers force into the stone.
Antler is an ideal material for removing flakes by striking onto the edge of a core because the stone can bite into the antler, resulting in an efficient transfer of force. But, unlike bone, antler is unlikely to shatter or break. In one of the earliest examples of soft-hammer percussion, A large horse bone was used by a Homo heidelbergensis stoneworker at the site of Boxgrove in England to make a flint handaxe ca. 480,000 years ago. Smaller unmodified bones and bone splinters are suitable for retouching the edges of flake tools. These bone tools are called ‘retouchers’, and they have been recorded from Middle Palaeolithic sites in Africa, Europe, West Asia, and China.
Most types of wood are too soft for direct percussion flaking, although modern knappers have shown that hard wood works for on-edge percussion if you strike hard enough. Aboriginal flintknappers in Australia used the faces of hardwood boomerangs to retouch the edges of flake tools, and flintknappers in the Kimberley region used a wood tool for the initial stages of pressure flaking. Modern flintknappers have successfully used cactus needles to punch holes through thin obsidian flakes to make beads. The attributes of flakes struck by wood flaking tools are similar to the attributes of using an antler or bone tool, so archaeologists may be underestimating the use of wood hammers in prehistory.