The Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain/Chapter 14



Another of the purposes to which flint flakes were applied appears to have been that of boring holes in various materials. Portions of stags' horns, destined to serve either as hammers, or as sockets for hatchets of stone, had either to be perforated or to have recesses bored in them; and holes in wood were, no doubt, requisite for many purposes, though in this country we have but few wooden relics dating back to the time when flint was the principal if not the only material for boring-tools. To form some idea of the character of the objects in the preparation of which such tools were necessary, we cannot do better than refer to the vivid picture of ancient life placed before us by the discoveries in the Swiss Lake-dwellings. Besides perforated stone axes and hammers, such as have been already described in these pages, we find stag's horn and wooden hafts or helves, with holes and sockets bored in them, plates of stone, teeth of animals, bone and stag's horn instruments, and wooden knife handles pierced for suspension, and portions of bark perforated, so as to serve like corks for floating fishing-nets.

Even in the caverns of the Reindeer Period of the South of France we find the reindeer horns with holes bored through them in regular rows, and delicate needles of hard bone with exquisitely formed eyes drilled through them—one of which has also been found in Kent's Cavern—as well as teeth, shells and fossils perforated for suspension as ornaments or amulets. So beautifully are the eyes in these ancient needles formed, that I was at one time much inclined to doubt the possibility of their having been drilled by means of flint flakes; but the late Mons. E. Lartet demonstrated the feasibility of this process, by himself drilling the eye of a similar needle with a flint borer, found in one of the French caves. I have myself bored perfectly round and smooth holes through both stag's horn and wood with flint flakes, and when a little water is used to facilitate the operation, it is almost surprising to find how quickly it proceeds, and how little the edge of the flint suffers when once its thinnest part has been worn or chipped away, so as to leave a sufficient thickness of flint to stand the strain without being broken off.

Fig. 227.—Yorkshire Wolds. 1/1

The most common form of boring tool, to which by some writers the name of awl or drill[1] has been given, is that shown in Fig. 227, from the Yorkshire Wolds. It is formed from a flat splinter of flint, and shows the natural crust of the stone at the broad end. At the other, each edge has been chipped away from the flat face, so as to reduce it by a rapid curve on each side to a somewhat tapering blade, with a sharp point. The section of this portion of the blade is almost of the form of half a hexagon when divided by a line joining opposite angles. A borer of this kind makes a very true hole, as whether turned round continuously or alternately in each direction, it acts as a half-round broach or rimer, enlarging the mouth of the hole all the time it is being deepened by the drilling of the point. The broad base of the flake serves as a handle by which to turn the tool. Several boring instruments of this form were found in the pits at Grime's Graves,[2] already so often mentioned.

A borer of this kind has been experimentally[3] tried and found efficient for drilling a hole in jet.

Fig. 228.—Bridlington. 1/1

Borers of the same character occur in Ireland[4] and in Scotland,[5] where natural crystals[6] of quartz seem also occasionally to have been used as drills. I have also seen several found near Pontlevoy, France, in the collection of the Abbé Bourgeois.

Similar boring instruments of flint have been found in Denmark, in company with scrapers and other tools. Two of them have been engraved by Mr. C. F. Herbst.[7]

They are common in some parts of North America, and finely chipped tools of the kind occur in Patagonia.[8] They are also found in Natal[9] and in Japan.

Sometimes the borer consists of merely a long narrow pointed flake, which has had the point trimmed to a scraping edge on either side. A specimen of the kind, found near Bridlington, is shown in Fig. 228. The point, for about a sixteenth of an inch in width, has been ground to a nearly square edge, so that it acts like a drill. Such a form was probably attached to a wooden handle for use, but I doubt whether any mechanical means were used for giving it a rotary motion as a drill, and regard these borers rather as hand-tools to be used much in the same way as a broach or rimer.

Some implements from the lake settlement at Meilen, regarded hy Dr. Keller[10] as awls or piercers, are perforated at one end, and appear to be ground over their whole surface.

Occasionally some projecting spur at the side of the flake has been utilized to form the borer, as is the case in Fig. 229, also from the Yorkshire Wolds. In this instance, the two curved sweeps, by which the boring part of the tool is formed, have been chipped from the opposite faces of the flake, so that the cutting edges are at opposite angles of the blade, which is of rhomboidal section. This is the case with some of the Scottish specimens,[11] which closely resemble Fig. 229. Such a tool seems best adapted for boring by being turned in the hole continuously in one direction. In some instances the projecting spur is so short that it can have produced but a very shallow cavity in the object to be bored.

Fig. 229.—Yorkshire Wolds. 1/1 Fig. 230.—Bridlington. 1/1

The tools, of which a specimen is shown in Fig. 230, also appear to have been intended for boring. It is, however, possible that after all they may have served some other purpose. That here engraved was found near Bridlington, and is weathered white all over. It is made from a flake, and the edge of the blade on the left in the figure is formed as usual by chipping from the flat face. The other edge is more acute, and has been formed by secondary chipping on both faces. The spur to the left, which may have served as a handle for turning the tool round when in use, has originally been longer, but the end has been lost through an ancient fracture. The edges at the point of the tool are somewhat worn away by friction.

I am uncertain whether the instruments shown in Figs. 231 and 232 can be with propriety classed among boring tools, as it is possible that they may have been intended and used for some totally different purpose, such, for instance, as forming the tips of arrows, for which, from their symmetrical form, they are not ill adapted. Though the points of those, like Fig. 231, are much rounded, it maybe that they were mounted like the chisel-edged Egyptian flint arrow-heads, of which hereafter. A number of instruments of this form have been found in Derbyshire and Suffolk, but that here figured came from the Yorkshire Wolds, and has been made from a part of a thin flat flake, one edge of which forms the base opposite to the semicircular point. The side edges, which expand with a sweep to the base, are carefully chipped to a sharp angle with the face of the flake; but in some instances this secondary working extends over a greater or less portion of both faces. Some specimens are also much longer in their proportions. The original edge of the flake, which extends along the base, is usually unworn by use, so that if these objects were boring tools this part may have been protected by being inserted in a notch in a piece of wood, which in such a case would serve as a handle for using the tool after the manner of an auger. A few examples of this kind have been found on the Culbin Sands[12], Elginshire. The same form has been found in the Camp de Chassey[13] (Saône et Loire).

Fig. 231.—Yorkshire Wolds. 1/1 Fig. 232.—Yorkshire Wolds. 1/1

Fig. 232 is also from the Yorkshire Wolds. Though more acutely pointed than Fig. 231, it seems to have been intended for much the same purpose, and it has been formed in a similar manner. The secondary working is principally on the convex face of the flake, but owing to an irregularity in the surface of the flat face, a portion of it has been removed by secondary chipping along one edge, so as to bring it as nearly as possible in the same plane as the other. For whatever purpose this instrument may have been designed, its symmetry is remarkable.

I have a somewhat similar instrument from Bridlington, but triangular in form, with the sides curved slightly inwards, and the two most highly wrought edges produced by chipping almost equally on both faces of the flake. Such a form approximates most closely to some of those which there appears reason for regarding as triangular arrow-heads. In America, some forms which might be taken for arrow-heads have been regarded as drills.

There is a series of minute tools of flint to which special attention has been called by Mr. J. Allen Brown, F.G.S., the Rev. Reginald A. Gatty,[14] and Mr. W. J. Lewis Abbott, F.G.S.[15] Through the kindness of the last, specimens from a kjökken mödding at Hastings are shown in Figs. 232a, 232b, and 232c. They have been made from small flakes and are of various forms, though I have only selected three for illustration. In two of these the end of the flake has been chipped into a straight scraping edge at an acute angle to the body of the flake, so as to form a tool which can be held in the hand and used for scraping a flat surface, perhaps of bone. Whether the chipping of the edge is intentional or the result of wear, or arising partly from both of these causes, is a question of secondary importance. The oblique ends resemble those of the flakes from Kent's Cavern, Figs. 398-400, and the selci romboidale[16] of Italian antiquaries. In the other form, one side of a flake has been chipped in a similar manner, so as to form a segment of a circle, or occasionally an obtuse angle; the other side being left intact. This may possibly have been inserted in wood, and the tool thus formed may have been used for scraping or carving. Mr. Abbott disagrees with this view, and thinks that many of the flakes may have been utilized in the formation of fish-hooks. Such tools have been found in Lancashire, far from the sea, and a series from hills in the eastern part of that county has been presented to the British Museum by Dr. Colley March. Owing to their diminutive size they may readily escape observation. Mr. Gatty has found some thousands of these "Pygmy flints" on the surface in the valley of the Don between Sheffield and Doncaster. They no doubt exist in many other districts.

Fig. 232a. Fig. 232b. Hastings. Fig. 232c. 1/1 Fig. 232d. Fig. 232e. Vindhya Hills. Fig. 232f. 1/1

Curiously enough, identical forms have been found in some abundance on the Vindhya Hills[17] and the Banda district, India; at Helouan,[18] Egypt, in France, and in the district of the Meuse,[19] Belgium. Such an identity of form at places geographically so remote does not imply any actual communication between those who made the tools, but merely shows that some of the requirements of daily life, and the means at command for fulfilling them being the same, tools of the same character have been developed, irrespective of time or space.

  1. Lubbock, "Preh. Times," 4th ed., p. 103. Monkman, Yorks. Arch. and Top. Journ., 1868.
  2. Journ. Ethnol. Soc., vol. ii. pl. xxviii. 2, 3.
  3. Arch. Journ., vol. xxix. p. 284.
  4. See Arch., vol. xli. pl. xviii. 5.
  5. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. xi. p. 546; xxv. p. 498.
  6. P. S. A. S., vol. xv. p. 265.
  7. Aarböger f. Nord. Oldk., 1866, p. 311.
  8. P. S. A. S., vol. xiii. p. 106. Journ. Anth. Inst., vol. iv. p. 311.
  9. Journ. Anth. Inst., vol. viii. p. 15.
  10. "Lake-Dwellings," p. 25. "Pfahlbauten," 1ster Bericht, p. 76.
  11. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. xxvii. p. 361; vol. xxviii. p. 338.
  12. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. xxv. p. 498.
  13. Perrault, "Note sur un Foyer, &c.," pl. ii. 15.
  14. Science Gossip, vol. ii. (1895) p. 36.
  15. Journ. Anth. Inst., vol. xxv. pp. 122, 137.
  16. Bull. de Palet. It., vol. i. (1875) pp. 2, 17, 141; vol. ii. (1876) passim.
  17. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. xxvi. p. 409. The cut is kindly lent by the Society. Journ. Anth. Inst., vol. xviii. p. 134. Proc. Vict. Inst., March, 1889.
  18. Proc. Soc. Ant., 2nd S., vol. vii. p. 229. P. S. A. S., vol. xii. p. 614. Journ. Anth. Inst., vol. vii. p. 396. De Morgan, "Rech, sur les Orig. de l'Egypte," 1896, p. 130. He regards the crescents as arrow-heads, but I cannot agree with him.
  19. Pierpont, Bull. de la Soc. Arch. de Brux., 1894—5.