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A History of Flint-Knapping Experimentation, 1838-1976 [and Comments and Reply]

by L Lewis Johnson
Current Anthropology ()
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The earliest experiments were conducted to discover how to produce chipped stone tools using nonmetallic knapping tools. By 1880, the major perceived problems were solved: ancient stone tools were made by direct stone percussion, later tools might be finished by pressure flaking with an antler tine, and flakes, since they could be duplicated by natural forces, should be accepted as man-made only when found in quantity and made to a pattern. In the 1890s, in America, the acceptance of the European Paleolithic as genuine led to many wild claims about the age of American bifaces, and experimentation was aimed at proving that American bifaces were not ancient. The majority of publications between 1900 and 1919 concern the eolith controversy and present a clear case of argument and counterargument. The balance of evidence suggests that eoliths are not artifacts. Major in the 1920s was L. Coutier's experimentally informed discussion of the evolution of European lithic technology. The '30s are important in producing a number of detailed studies of particular lithic industries. Efficient archaeologist-knappers are found in France, England, and America; unfortunately, they seem to have little contact with one another. On the eoliths, Wen Chung Pei's 1936 report is so superb that it should never again have been necessary to argue their relative merits. Several publications of the 1940s indicate that previous experimentation is being forgotten and therefore repeated. However, by their excellence, H. Holmes Ellis's opus on all known methods of knapping stone and W. J. Knowles's description of the manufacture of a point from core to final basal notching partially redeem the decade. The 1950s are a period of consolidation in which little new work is pursued but that which has been learned reaches a larger audience. By 1960 the major lines of research pursued by present knappers were well established. The years since 1960 have seen an explosive growth in lithic experimentation accompanied by increasing sophistication and greater impact on archaeological studies of lithic industries.

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