Neolithic Knapping and Other Skills

James Dilley is a PhD student at Southampton University. He is also a skilled craftsman working with materials such as flint, wood, bone, horn, leather, ceramics, metals, natural fibres and wool.

His outreach object is to encourage people of all ages to learn about ancient crafts by bringing our ancestors’ skills and knowledge back to life.

He is dedicated and enthusiastic, an expert in his field, and an excellent teacher.

You can find out more about James on his website:  ancientcraft.co.uk

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As members of The Darran Valley History Group, we were lucky enough to be invited to Parc Cwm Darran for a hands on Neolithic skills course taught by James that involved flint knapping, bronze age metal casting, woodwork and making nettle cordage. We joined Andy Wilkinson (Senior Environmental Education Ranger for CCBC‘s Countryside Service – Parc Penallta), Mark Batchelder (The Winding House Museum – New Tredegar), and Morgan Roberts (Welsh Language Voice Project Officer for Menter Caerffili) for a thoroughly informative and enjoyable week.

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As part of Neolithic skills week at Parc Cwm Darran, James gave a demonstration of traditional bronze age copper smelting. Copper smelts at approx 1100 degrees centigrade. Bellows are used to keep the temperature up. A small pit is dug and a crucible filled with alternate layers of blue malachite and charcoal is placed into the charcoal furnace. The whole process takes around half an hour.

The main part of the course involved flint knapping. Flint is one of the sharpest materials on earth, how it is formed still remains a mystery. Its composition is similar only to that of glass. The use of flint dates back to before the Neolithic times where it was a highly useful material for making tools necessary for survival.

 

Because flint is so sharp it was necessary to take health and safety precautions when knapping. A kit consists of: Leather leg cover, Gloves, Goggles.

Basic knapping, to create flakes, is hitting the flint nodule on a flat surface (platform) using a hammer-stone (pebble) no more than 1cm from an edge that is not over 90 degrees.

The flakes are formed underneath the area that you are working on.

Flint knapping is a skill that takes many years of practise in order to become accomplished. We did, throughout the week, manage to make a selection of tools that we used to fashion our own knives with by the end of the course.

They included; Scrapers, Saws, Knife Blades, Harpoon Blades.end-knives-large

Hi

I’m Andy Wilkinson and I’m the Senior Environmental Education Ranger for CCBCs Countryside Service. I’m constantly looking at ways of engaging people in the fantastic local countryside we have in Caerphilly. We are blessed by incredible biking trails, walk, wildlife etc. right on our doorstep. Our local countryside has seen humans living on it for thousands of years and there are many ancient remains and signs hidden all over it. You just have to look. As the Darran Valley has some excellent remains, along with Mark Batchelder from the Winding House, we decided to put a Neolithic project together which would celebrate this fact and be very hands on. Hence I ended up learning Neolithic crafts for a week at Parc Cwm Darran with James Dilley. The week was fascinating, frustrating, rewarding and illuminating! I think my biggest impression was that Stone Age man was extremely intelligent. The incredible skills and understanding needed to chip a flint at the right angles, force etc. is incredibly detailed. It is a very difficult thing to do to create stone tools, but incredibly rewarding too. The week opened my eyes to new skills and I enjoyed the company, enthusiasm and shared knowledge of my fellow students. Now its time to put it all together to create a 2 day project that, hopefully, will build self esteem and inspire!

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A big thank you to James Dilley for his enthusiasm and patience. Thanks also to all the guys who made the week so much fun.

 

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