Hafted Tools

Hafted macroblade knife 1

‘Haft’ comes from the Old English work for ‘handle’, which can be traced to the Proto-Indo-European root meaning for kap-, which means ‘to grasp’.  For archaeologists, tools with intact handles are referred to as ‘hafted’, and the handle itself is called the ‘haft’.  If the handle is missing and the stone tool was manufactured with features to assist in attaching it, archaeologists often refer to it as a ‘hafted’ tool.  The features themselves are often called ‘hafting elements’, and include, for example, notches, stems, or grooves. 

Tools with intact hafts rarely survive in the archaeological record and modern interpretations of hafted tools are often intuitive and fanciful.  However, intact ancient hafted tools are sometimes recovered by archaeologists, and examples of stone tools hafted and used by Indigenous peoples are curated in museums and private ethnographic collections.  


Hafted Axes and Adzes

Adzes were hafted with the cutting edge at a right angle to the handle, in contrast to axes, which were hafted with the cutting edge parallel to the handle.  Stone axes were often hafted via a hole, or mortise, in the handle, and the tapered shape of the axe ensured that they wedged tight into the hole during use.  Archaeological and ethnographic evidence indicates that mortise handles arose independently in Europe, North America, and Oceania.  Another approach was to wrap a thin piece of green wood, or layers of rawhide, around the axe head.  Wood wrap-around handles were nearly universal in Australia, and rawhide wrap-around handles were used to haft war hammers in parts of North America during the historic period.  Most grooved and waisted axes were probably hafted with wrap-around handles and, if so, the method may date as early as 50,000 BP in Australia.

Hafted adze PNG

Hafted Stone Adze

Hafted adze Puke Ariki

Hafted Stone Adze, reconstructed

Hafted axe, Australia

Hafted Stone Axe

screenshot (1)

Hafted Stone Axe

Hafted axe, Chile

Hafted Stone Axe

Axe, hafted in antler

Hafted Stone Axe

Axe in modern haft, Denmark

Hafted Stone Axe, reconstructed

Hafted Knives

Most stone knives throughout prehistory were simple unmodified flakes that were used briefly and discarded.  However, unmodified flakes, and more complex blades and bifacial tools, were sometimes given handles.  The earliest known example of hafted knives were made by affixing lumps of plant resin directly onto an unmodified flake.  These tools, from the Campitello site in Italy, were likely made by Homo neanderthalensis and date to ca. 200,000 BP.  The resin provided an enhanced grip and protected the fingers from cuts. 

Hafted bifacial knife, Switzerland

Hafted Bifacial Dagger

Hafted flake, Chile

Hafted Flake

Hafted flake Central Australia

Hafted Flake

Leilira macroblade knife

Macroblade (Leilira) Knife

Hafted macroblade knife 1

Macroblade (Leilira) Knife

Leilira with bark sheath 1

Macroblade (Leilira) Knife

Macroblade knife, Papua New Guinea

Macroblade Knife

Ulu, hafted


Hafted Scrapers

Early accounts of First Nations people in North America describe certain types of retouched flakes hafted for use in scraping the fat and connective tissue from animal hides.  The handles tended to be short to match the hide-worker’s scraping gesture.  The edge of the scraper was oriented at right-angles to the axis of the handle and the unifacially retouched surface faced up, away from the hide. 

Burren adze with resin 1

Hafted Retouched Flake

Burren adze with resin 2

Hafted Retouched Flake

Burren adze with resin 3

Hafted Retouched Flake

Burren adze with resin 4

Hafted Retouched Flake

Hafted scraper, Alaska

Hafted Scraper

Hafted Spear and Dart Points

Stone armatures were hafted on the end of spear shafts by ca. 500,000 BP at the Kathu Pan site in South Africa, as suggested by the impact fractures on many of the points.  Hafted spear and dart points are well-documented from about 75,000 BP but, despite this exceptionally long history, spear and dart points with intact hafting rarely preserve in the archaeological record.

Macroblade with bees wax 1

Macroblade Point

Macroblade NT ARPA donation

Macroblade Point

Hafted spear, Arnhem Land

Stone-Tipped Spear

Other Hafted Tools

Stone tools persisted long after the appearance of metal, and metals have been used to provide hafts to stone elements.  One relatively common stone/metal composite tool was the strike-a-light, dating to Roman times and persisting through the 19th Century:  the stone part of the fire-making kit was encased in soft lead to protect the fingers during use.  The lead was sometimes decorated with gemstones.  Gunflints were the essential element of flintlock muskets and rifles in the 18th and early 19th Century.  Gunflints were fastened into the lock mechanisms with screw-driven jaws.  The gunflint was wrapped with a sleeve of leather to ensure a secure purchase within the jaws.  

Gunflint in lock

Gunflint in Lock

Strike-a-light Albania 1