Though neolithic knives have quite different shapes and may be made with different ways, they all have in common a flint blade with bifacial retouch.
Sometimes the blades is lovingly polished and pressure flaked, sometimes it is just a basic and functionnal blade (like Otzi's knife).
Except for danish daggers where it is made of flint (blade and handle are knapped in the same block of flint), handles were made of ivory (an hippo tooth for the Gebel El Arak knife), bone or antlers, wood or plants: sculpted wood, willow ligatures (Charavines knives). I mainly use reindeer or deer antlers (mammoth ivory when available) or wood to make the handles of my knives.
Hafting & gluing
The blade is maintained in the handle with the help of a glue that may be composed of tar, pine resin, betuline... I used a glue made of a mixture of beeswax and pine resin.
Ligatures made of deer sinews soaked in raw-hide glue ensure final hafting.
MAking the blade
Archaeological artifact studies showed that 3 steps were necessary to produce neolithic blades:
• napping of a flint preform, using soft percussors • Full polishing / grinding of the blade • lake over grinding
Phase 1: KNAPPING THE PREFORM
I start with a thick spall, obtained by banging a flint nodule with a hammerstone. Here we have a beautiful piece of Bergerac flint with a nice manganese heart (the black part).
I have to remove the proeminent percussion bulb...
A well aimed hammerstone stroke drives the bulb off. Subsequent flaking using hammerstone and soft percussors will start shaping convexities on this face.
Then thinning will begin.
The cortical face, nicely convex hasn't yet been touched because I focused on the burst face of the spall.
I know start retouching the cortical face: here is the very first flake.
Little by little, all cortex is removed from the superior face.
The spall is now narrower but much thinner...
... when needed I knap thinning flakes or bladelets to get a thin preform and nice convex faces on the preform.
Here is the superior face of the preform, at intermediate state...
... and here is the inferior face: the manganese black heart is almost gone now: though its colour is beautiful it is a tricky matter to knap. Tiny white inculsions on this face could also be a problem for later pressure flaking...
Now I'm finished with the preform. Here is the superior face: small traces of cortex are still visible at its extremities...
A profile vue of the preform: it is less than 1 centimeter, but grinding, polishing and pressure flaking will put it on a diet !
Other view of the blade preform... It took me less than 15 minutes to get to this point, starting with the raw spall. Now is the time for polishing both faces and edges.
Phase 2: POLISHING
Polishing on a sandstone millstone can be improved with this basic trick: I fracture flint flakes directly on the millstone with a hammerstone...
... then I add a little water and obtain a grinding mixture (flint dusst is harder than sandstone.. and as hard as flint itself). Now I start rubbing both faces of the preform on the millstone.
It is a hard, painfull, long and monotonous work than can be achieved after several hours, depending on the desired quality of polishing. Cayoo and I both played hot seat for more than 2 and a half hours...
Polishing takes edges and scars away on every face, thus creating a smooth convexity, ideal for pressure flaking: it is just a matter of time and energy !
The preform edges are also polished. I create a bevel all around the preform in order to get a continuous platform for pressure flaking.
After a 2h30 polishing marathon here is the fully polished blade. Edges have gone, but some flake scars still remain. Totally scratched, the blade now looks pitifull !
Phase 3: PRESSURE FLAKING OVER GRINDING
I press a copper tipped flaker on the bevelled edges (platforms) and thus detach small parallel flakes on the first face. It would be possible to use a flaker made of an antler, but I make chalcolithic knives, period during which copper was known and used.
I start with the extremity of the blade because flakes have less distance to travel to reaxh the middle of the face. The aimed scope is to take any trace of polishing off. Each flake leaves two ridges that help guiding the successive removals.
After this first pass, more than half the face has been retouched. Any accident at this stage (such as a step-fracture) would lead to a full repolishing of the face... and it was so long to dot it that I'm very carefull now.
I now start the opposite edge of the first face, this time I start with the base of the blade (it's just a personnal choice). Stress decreases because these flakes don't need to travel a long way across the face to meet existing scars.
Little by little I make my way toward the point of the blade. Sometime scratching with a nail helps taking out a flake that will not detach itself...
Now I'm finished with the first face, without any incident. The whole process of flaking only took a few minutes. It is a hard work (the necessary pressure reaches 30 kg), but it can be fast if no incident occurs.
Couteau à lame de silex: Régularisation du tranchant Before fkalling the second face, I take small flakes out off the edges, aiming mainly at reducing the tiny overhangs that were naturally created between two adjacent scars. Once regularized, I'll thoroughly grind both edges to recreate a bevel: a continuous platform for pressure flaking the second face.
The edges start showing the micro-serrations that give all its cutting efficiency to these flint blades.
ANow that the edges have been ground with a sandstone, the second face is ready to be flaked: let's hope not to face any incident !
Here we go again ! I start with the extremity of the blade.. but now you know how it works, don't you ?
So far, so good: flakes are long enough and parallels...
.. and work goes on, flake after flake. Here I made a mistake: the last flake did travel far enough but not the previous one. In order to fix this mistake the meeting flake driven from the opposite edge will have to travel twice the distance.. otherwise I'll have to polish this face again and start all over !
Second edge of the second face. Little by little I'm approching the previously evocated problem...
Phew ! I've made it ! This second face is finished. All I now have to do is fine tuning the edges so that they become as straight and sharp (micro-serrated) as possible.
Flint blades look better whith a little oil on them. The cortex remnants at the base of the blade will dissapear when I create the hafting tang.
Still pressure flaking the blade, I create a shoulder on both edges that give me a tang. This tang will later be nserted in the handle. Note that any trace of cortex has now dissapeared. The blade is ready for hatfing.
I'm a perfectionnist so I decide to create a really sharp blade. Driving minute flakes I make micro-serrations on both edges...
... I spend several minutes sharpening this blade: the cost of efficiency !
And here is the finished blade ! Now I have to make the handle. I cut a piece of antler (deer or reindeer) approximately 4 to 5 inches long (15 cm).
MAKING THE HANDLE
Here I'm drilling the middle part of the antler with a robust flint blade shaped like a point. I have to make a hole deep and wide enough so that the blade tang can be inserted in it.
With another flint blade that I transformed into a saw, I cut two notches on the sides of the handle. The blade shoulders will rest on these notches, while the tang will be inserted in the hole.
Thinning the handle's extremity is also important to get a smooth blade / handle junction. Thinning can be achieved with a big and sharp spall or a burin.. even with the raw edge of a flint blade, like here...
.. then I polish the handle extremity on a sandstone millstone. On this picture you can see the notches on the handles.
I check that the blade perfectly matches the handles's hole and notches... and it is now almost ready for final hafting.
Ligatures, GLUE & RESIN
Before hafting the blade, I carve a modern symbol on its base (obviously a sharp sign: #). This will identify the blade as a replica and not a genuine artifact... because it could be very difficult to tell wether it was knapped yesterday or 5000 years ago. I encourage any knapper to identify their creation with such a diamond tool.
I need sinew fibers for my ligatures. Here I'm hammering on a deer's sinew with a big hammerstone: hammering sets the sinew fibers free.
Once hammered and separated from each other, fibers are easily dragged off the sinew. I need about twenty of them that I'll later soak in raw hide skin glue for my ligatures.
I mix pine resin and beeswax (roughly 70% of resin and 30% of beeswax) to make y hafting glue. Too much resin and the dried glue will be hard but fragile, too much beeswax and the dried glue will be too soft though more flexible (and it could melt too): all is a matter of dosing !
I start a modern fire (yep! we're cooking it indoor in the dog's pan... but you can light a fire with marcasite if you want) under the mixture and let it bubbling along for several minutes until the components have melt and mixed.
Now that resin and beeswax have melt down, glue is ready. Some people prefer using birch-tree pitch instead... considering that the climate was way too warm for birch-trees to grow in my area 5000 years ago I prefer using this mixture.
I now pour the boiling hot glue in the handle, empty it and start over several times so that the glue can reach any inner cavity of the handle. Then I fill the handle one last time...
.. dip the blade tang in the hot glue (because flint is cold and could have the glue dry to quickly in the handle)...
... and insert the blade in the handle.... resin overflows and spills over but once it cooled down spills can be easily removed.
This glue becomes solid at normal temperature within seconds. It is sufficient enough to ensure perfecthafting of the blade, but I'l strengthen the blade / handle junction with sinews.
Rabbit-skin pieces have been cooking in water for hours now, liberating collagene: here is our hide glue. Such glue can be made of hide, hoofs, cartilages, swim bladders (it is the best glues around !). This glue melts when heated, but becomes incredibly hard at normal temperature.
I soak the sinew fibers in the hot hide-glue so that they become loose. This mixture is quite sticky and was used to strengthen the back of asian bows...
I put the fibers flat on the blade, wrap it with the fibers, then little by little wrap them also on the handle's extremity..
Rubbing the fibers with the thumb, I get a smooth and clean ligature...
.... AND THAT'S IT ! Our neolithic flint blade knife is now finished.. after 4 H 30 of efforts. I'll have the ligatures dry for 24H before actually using this knife.
DOES IT CUT ???
The question I hear all the time from the public is: "Does it at least cut ?". Needless to say that if neolithic men spent time making them, the answer has to be: YES !!! But since no one is forced to believe me, there's nothing like trying such a knife a piece of roastbeef to be convinced.
Flint being harder than steel, using a wooden tablet is mandatory.. unless you want to carve deep scratches on your favourite plates !