episode #144 the oldest craft & tools

River Dee, Wales view from West Kirby (the Wirral side of the river Dee)

Citations from a website Ancient Craft an amazing project launched by Dr James Dilley and Emma Jones. As they state “AncientCraft is a heritage service providing replica prehistoric artefacts, living history demonstrations, workshops and consultation for museums and media. AncientCraft’s goal is to make prehistoric archeology more accessible to everyone.

Flintknapping is the oldest craft in the world.

There are many different types of stone that can be used to make lithic tools, depending on where you are in the world. ‘Lith’ meaning stone (e.g. Megalith, Monolith, Microlith). A lithic is simply a stone tool.

In Britain, flint and bio-sedimentary materials are predominantly found, whereas North America igneous material is more common. Different materials required different techniques to work them into effective tools. Some materials produce a sharp cutting edge naturally when flaked e.g. Obsidian and flint. Other materials have to be physically changed to make them useful e.g. some jaspers have to be heat treated to make them workable.

Let’s explore some of the iconic tools from the Old Stone Age. Some of these tools remained in the human toolkit for hundreds of thousands of years, this raises questions on human reliance on existing technology or a reluctance to use different tool types.


The handaxe is often labelled as a multi-function tool that could be used for a variety of activities, from digging, smashing bones to displays of sexual prowess (Ohel 1987; Murray 2017; Kohn & Mithen 1999). However, in truth, it is far more likely they were used as butchery tools and worked in the same way as a modern butcher’s saw knife (similar to a bread knife). Handaxes are often flaked on both sides or faces, making them “bifacial” (two-faced). This gives the edge a serrated cutting margin, instead of a straight one like a kitchen knife. This means a handaxe requires a sawing motion to cut effectively. There are a number of forms and shapes of handaxes, some are oval, pointed, curved with a flat base, cordate, subcordate, flat-bladed (like a chisel blade) and tear drop shaped. 

Levallois Flake Tools

One of the first types of stone tool technology was based around core and flake detachment. The flakes could then be used as cutting tools with little reworking.

Solutrean Laurel Leaf Spearheads

The Solutrean is a sub period of the Upper Palaeolithic dating to between 22,000 and 18,000 BP that occurs in SW France, Spain and Portugal (Aubry et al. 2008). The tools produced were spearheads, flaked on both sides to a leaf shape. They were first identified during excavations at the site of Volgu (France) in 1874 (Aubry et al. 2008). The largest of the points from Volgu are 350mm in length and only 10mm thick, which is clearly a significant achievement in the craft of flintknapping (Schimidt et al. 2018). The manufacturing process of a solutrean spearhead required good quality flint, which is available in central France. It is likely the flintknappers worked nodules down to rough-outs using hard hammers, before moving onto a refinement stage with antler soft hammers. The final shaping stage would have required a great deal of skill and experience. Research has found the flint was worked raw, without heat treatment (Schmidt et al. 2018). The heat treatment process for lithic raw material makes it glassier, and easier to flake.

Blades & Blade Tools

True laminar blade technology (also categorised as Mode 4 by Clarke in 1969), appeared with modern humans and spread into the regions they inhabited (Bar‐Yosef & Kuhn 1999). As modern humans spread throughout Africa, Asia and Europe, they would have come into contact (either directly or in-directly) with Neanderthals.

A laminar blade core strategy utilises a thick piece of knappable stone with a flat top or “platform”. Using a stone hardhammer, antler or bone soft hammer, long flakes can be removed from down the side of the stone. Once several flakes have been removed, the resulting flake cars leave prominent ridges running down the core. A knapper can use these ridges to direct following flakes, therefore resulting in elongated removals of a relatively consistent form.

Producing long, thin shards of sharp stone offers a variety of options to a toolmaker. They can be used immediately as cutting tools for a broad spectrum of tasks, from butchery to woodworking. Reworking of the blades into distinctive shapes can provide projectile points, scrapers, awls, burins and saws (to name a few). Laminar blade technology continued to be used through the remainder of the Palaeolithic, through the Mesolithic and up to the early Neolithic. It does reappeared in isolated industries such as the Grand Pressigny blade and dagger techno-complex.


Quantic: Blackstone Rock

Run DMC: Hard Times

MC Solaar: Temps Mort

Gorillaz: Rock the House

Mr Scruff: So Long

Gypsy Kings: Quiero Saber

Bebel Gilberto: Night and Day

Cher: Heart of Stone

Daughter: Made of Stone

Erik Truffaz: Les Nuits de Monsieur Naj

Abdullah Ibrahim: Ntyilo Ntyilo