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The Flint Knapper

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1998

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

Brazilian agate that glows when backlit.

Northeastern Missouri and western Illinois are something of a hotbed of flint knapping. When Murphy became interested he traveled to Campsville, Illinois, for an archaeology conclave that draws students from all over the world. He spent a weekend watching a renowned flint knapper make points, then went home and "got some rocks and commenced beating up my knuckles."

Murphy eventually contacted his instructor for more help. He still goes back a couple of times a year to visit and learn.

Flint is traditionally worked into points using an antler from a white-tailed deer, but Murphy soon began using a moose antler. Heavier and denser, it moves stone chips more rapidly than a deer antler. It's now Murphy's prime tool, and he is always on the lookout for legally-acquired moose antlers.

There are shortcuts in the process of flaking stone to make points and knives, but Murphy believes people should learn historical techniques first. "I wouldn't use any of the sawed slabs of stone or preformed pieces or any of the commercial tools until I knew I could take anything and chip it. You want to learn to use antlers to chip with first," he says.

Murphy, ever the traditionalist, says using preformed or sawed stone means there will be an unnatural smoothness to the stone, with no interruption or previous flaking scars to hinder the flow of energy when the knapper pressure flakes it. "Points made this way may appear perfect, with 16 flakes taken off each side," Murphy says. "If you ever see pieces that are absolutely perfect you can probably figure they were ground pieces, so the person who made them is not a flint knapper, but a flint grinder."

Flint knapping can be a frustrating craft to learn; in their struggles, people sometimes take a shortcut, using preformed stone or copper rods or billets. Murphy says the right way to learn the trade is using native chert that is tough and not easily worked.

"It forces you to set up platforms, to get accuracy down, to get velocity down. Then, when you go to a piece of heated stone, it's like carving soap. But I would never use heated stone until I could make points out of raw stone." He says making knife blades is similar to making arrowheads, but that the bigger pieces of stone are easier to handle. Primitive people learned that it was easier to

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