Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Toolmaker

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The concept of flint knapping has always appealed to me. I have tried a number of times to make simple flint tools, but every time I have done so it has ended in some kind of minor disaster. A few days ago, I was watching a video on how an expert goes about making these tools and was struck by the effort involved and the sheer beauty of the finished tools.

Toward the end of the video the filmmaker demonstrated the effectiveness of an arrow tipped with a stone micro arrowhead and the cutting power of a flint knife on the carcass of a deer that had been shot. The results were staggering; clearly demonstrating that Stone Age man was equipped with tools that whilst being simple in appearance, were more than adequate for the task they had been designed for.

This made me wonder what it might have been like to have been present at the very beginning of the Stone Age, when someone made a tool out of a piece of Flint or Obsidian and forever changed the way mankind interacted with his environment. Perhaps it happened like this;

The Toolmaker

CRACK, the sound came out of nowhere
shattering the silence of the wood.
There was a brief pause, then another CRACK
followed by a series of lighter tapping noises
and the occasional scraping sound.

She stole quietly through the undergrowth
taking great care to place her feet
where they would not make a sound.
When she reached the outer limits of his camp
she stopped and began a vigil.

Sitting on a fallen tree trunk ahead of her
a man gazed intently at a stone in his hand.
After a moment of contemplation,
he hit the stone with another,
sending small shards and sparks to the ground.

He paused to examine the stone
before tapping it lightly several times.
Each series of blows shaped the stone further.
eventually he picked up a piece of reindeer horn
and started to prise off small flakes.

She watched him work intensely,
as the sun sank a hand’s width in the sky.
Periodically he would lean forward
pick up a shard of stone,
and place it in a small leather bag.

Finally, looking very pleased with himself,
he hefted the stone he had just shaped
and looked at it carefully in the dappled green light.
From her vantage point, a few metres away,
she could see that the stone glistened.

He reached down and pick up a dead rabbit
which, until that point, she had not noticed.
Then he took the stone to its soft underbelly
and began to butcher the carcass.
She gasped in amazement, he looked up.

Their eyes met across the woodland glade
he beckoned her to join him, which nervously she did.
She pointed at the knife he had just made
and with great pride he showed her
the gleaming surface and the razor sharp edge.

She had never seen anything like it.
Her mind raced with the possibilities
this new tool presented.
But more importantly she knew that
here was a man worth knowing.

She stayed with him as the seasons changed,
she gathered food, made clothing
and bore him a child, and in return
he used his mastery of stone to make tools,
to hunt and most impressive of all - to make fire.

John Carré Buchanan
10 April 2013


  1. Nice poem and an interesting topic with a plausible story line as to how flint knapping may have developed. Like you I find this topic fascinating and I can never resist picking up and examining a nice flint nodule whenever I see one. (I had quite a collection of flint nodules before I left Guernsey – alas, most of them stayed there, which I suppose is probably a good thing!)

    1. Andy, thank you for your kind comment, I must admit that my interest in Flint was more along the lines of making things then examining the flint. but being a bit of a thug, things used to break too easily ;-)


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