The Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain/Chapter 17



In treating of the manufacture of stone implements in prehistoric times I have already (p. 41) described certain tools of flint with a blunted, worn, and rounded appearance at one or both ends, as if resulting from attrition against a hard substance, and I have suggested that their purpose may have been for chipping out arrow-heads and other small instruments of flint. As, however, it was not desirable to introduce unnecessary details when dealing only with the processes adopted in the manufacture of stone implements, the more particular description of some of the tools was deferred, until after an account had been given of the objects in the making of which they had probably assisted.

Fig. 346.—Yorkshire Wolds.

In Fig. 346 is shown, full size, a characteristic specimen of the tool to which I have provisionally assigned the name of "flaking tool," or fabricator. It is symmetrically chipped out of grey flint, and is curved at one extremity, probably with the view of adapting it for being better held in the hand. The side edges, which were originally left sharp, have been slightly rounded by grinding, apparently from the same motive. The angles at the curved end have been smoothed off, but the other end is completely rounded, and presents the half-polished, worn appearance characteristic of these tools. The curvature lengthways to some extent resembles that of the Eskimo arrow-flakers engraved as Figs. 8 and 9, and is of common occurrence among these tools. They vary much in the amount of workmanship they display; some being mere flakes with the edges rounded by chipping, and others as carefully wrought into form as any flint hatchet or chisel. These skilfully-chipped specimens are frequently much more convex on one face than the other. They vary in length from about 2 to 4 inches.

An unusually long example is, by permission of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, shown in Fig. 346a. It was found on the Hill of Corennie,[1] Aberdeenshire, and closely resembles another implement of the same kind found near Fordoun,[2] Kincardineshire.

Fig. 346a.—Corennie. 1/1 Fig. 347.—Bridlington. 1/1

The rougher kinds are usually clumsy in their proportions, as if strength were an object, and they not unfrequently show a certain amount of abrasion at each end. An instrument of this coarser description is shown in Fig. 347. It is worn away and rounded, not only at the point, but for a considerable distance along the sides, the abraded surface having a somewhat bruised appearance. It is remarkable that many of the Danish flint knife-daggers, especially those which have been so long in use that their blades have been much diminished in size by having been frequently re-chipped, present at the end and sides of the handles precisely the same kind of worn surface. At one time I thought it possible that constant contact with hard hands, not free from sand and dirt, might have produced this rounding of the angles; but closer examination proves that this cannot have been the only cause of the wear, as it is sometimes the case that at a certain distance from the end of the hilt, the abraded character disappears entirely, and, with the exception of a slight polish, the angles are as fresh as on the day when the daggers were first manufactured. This feature is most observable in the poignards with the beautifully-decorated handles. I possess one of this kind—like Worsaae, No. 52—with the sides near the blade exquisitely ornamented with a delicate wavy edging, and with a line of similar ornament running along the centre of one face of the handle, the butt-end having also been edged in a similar manner; but for an inch and a-half from the end the whole of this ornamentation is completely worn away, and the sides are battered and rounded. To such an extent has this part of the handle been used, that one of the projecting points of the original fishtail-like end has entirely disappeared, and the other is completely rounded. The blade is probably now not more than one-third of its original size, so that we may infer that it must have been long in use for its legitimate purposes. But during all this time the hilt must have been made to serve some other and less appropriate purpose than that of a handle, and as a result its original beauty of ornamentation has been entirely destroyed. I think that this purpose must have been the chipping, or rather the re-working, of the edges of other flint instruments.

Whether this was effected by pressure or by slight blows it is hard to say; but it appears probable that the ancient possessor of two such daggers used the hilt of the one for re-chipping the blade of the other, and it may be for re-chipping other implements. An indirect inference deducible from this disfigurement of the beautifully wrought handles, is that they were not originally made by the owners who thus misused them—though they also must have been fairly accomplished workers in flint—but that the daggers were procured by barter of some kind from the cutlers of the period, whose special trade it was to work in flint. For we can hardly conceive that those who had bestowed so much time and skill in the ornamentation of these hilts, should afterwards wantonly disfigure their own artistic productions. In Britain, where the larger forms of finely-wrought instruments are scarcer, it seems most likely that these flakers were principally used in the making of arrow-heads, though probably hard bone or stag's horn was also employed, as akeady suggested.

Against regarding the ends of these tools as having been worn away in the manufacture of other instruments of flint, it may be urged that the butt-ends of some chisels present a similar appearance, and therefore that the wear may be the result of hammering with some kind of hard mallet. It must, however, be remembered that no hammering at the ends would produce the wearing away apparent on the sides of the tools, and that the chisels which present the worn ends are in form and size much the same as the "flaking tools," and may, like the Danish daggers, have served a double purpose. It is also worthy of notice that these "flaking tools" are most abundant in districts where flint arrow-heads occur in the greatest numbers, as, for instance, on the Yorkshire Wolds. In parts of Suffolk where arrow-heads are common they too are abundantly present. I have also found them in the camp at Maiden Bower, near Dunstable, in company with arrow-heads.

In the case of the straight implements, like Fig. 347, it is by no means impossible that they were used with a mallet as punches or sets, to strike off flakes in the manufacture of arrow-heads and similar articles. As already mentioned, some of the American tribes use a bone punch for this purpose.

Fig. 348.—Sawdon. 1/1 Fig. 349.—Acklam Wold. 1/1

In Figs. 348 and 349 I have engraved two Yorkshire instruments, the one from Sawdon, and the other from Acklam Wold; both from the rich Greenwell Collection. At first sight they seem chisel-like in character, but the edge in both is semicircular, and not ground, but merely chipped. Fig. 348 is worked on both faces, though more convex on one than on the other. Fig. 349 is merely a flake with its edges chipped towards its outer face, so that it resembles a long narrow scraper. The butt-end in that from Sawdon is much worn and rounded, its sides are also worn away for about 3/4 inch at that end; the butt of that from Acklam Wold is also rounded, but principally towards the flat face. The edges of both are sharp and uninjured. It therefore appears probable that these tools were also made with a view to being used at the blunt, and not at the sharp end; and it is possible that the semicircular sharp ends may have been for insertion in some form of wooden handle, in which the instruments were tightly bound, and their projecting ends then used, it may be, for flaking other flints. A flaking-tool from Unstan Cairn,[3] Orkney, is of the same character as Fig. 349, but longer. What seems to have been a "fabricator" was found at Torre Abbey Sands,[4] Torbay. On referring to page 38, will be seen some Eskimo arrow-flakers of reindeer horn attached to wooden handles; and the instrument from Acklam Wold seems well adapted for similar attachment, with its flat side towards the wood.

Some bone instruments which have been found in barrows may possibly have served as arrow-flakers. One from Green Low,[5] Derbyshire, has been figured. An implement of deer's horn, with a small piece of hard bone inserted in the small end, was found in the Broch[6] of Lingrow, Scapa, Orkney, but seems to belong to the Iron Period. No flint arrow-heads are recorded from the Broch.

I must confess that the suggestions I have offered with regard to the use of these tools are by no means conclusive. I can only hope that future discoveries may throw more light upon the subject.

Canon Greenwell, who has figured a specimen—like Fig. 346—in the Archæological Journal,[7] was inclined to think that the other form of instrument, like Figs. 348 and 349, was "used in dressing hides, the sharp end for removing the loose parts of the skin, the smooth end for rubbing down the seams when the leather was made up into a garment." I do not think that this can really have been their purpose, as for smoothing down the seams a natural pebble would probably be preferable, and for cutting or removing the loose parts a flint flake would answer better. Still, I have seen a somewhat pointed concretionary nodule of stone, the end and point of which were polished from use by a glovemaker, in recent times, in smoothing down the seams of coarse leather gloves. The late Mr. C. Monkman,[8] like myself, regarded these instruments as punches or fabricators, used for chipping arrows and delicate flint weapons into shape. This is also Canon Greenwell's present opinion. He has figured an example in "British Barrows."[9] In Yorkshire they are known as "finger-flints."

The worn appearance of the pointed end of some flakes is not improbably due, as has already been observed, to their having been employed in "picking" into shape implements—such as hatchets or axes—formed of greenstone and other rocks of a somewhat softer nature than flint. The ends of the flaking tools, punches, or fabricators are, however, usually far too blunt for them to have been applied to such a purpose.

Another of the causes of the blunted and worn-away appearance of the ends, and even sides, of originally sharp flint flakes and instruments, I have already described when treating of scrapers—namely, the striking off by their means particles from a block of pyrites, with a view of procuring fire.

  1. P. S. A. S., vol. xv. p. 5.
  2. P. S. A. S., vol. xi. p. 25.
  3. P. S. A. S., vol. xix. p. 351.
  4. Tr. Dev. Assoc., vol. xv. p. 138.
  5. Arch., xliii. p. 437, fig. 136.
  6. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. ix. p. 356.
  7. Vol. xxii. p. 246, 101 note.
  8. Yorksh. Arch. and Top. Journ., 1868.
  9. P. 40, fig. 24.