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24 April 2013
Flint-knapping can be child's work

Whereas arrowheads, axes and other tools receive a lot of attention, archaeologist Sigrid Alraek Dugstad concentrates on the debris and the unfinished and discarded products. In her article "Early child caught knapping: A novice early Mesolithic flint-knapper in southwestern Norway," she overturns the hierarchy of objects from the Early Stone Age.
     In the Early Mesolithic there seems to have been good access to flint in Western Norway. Norwegian bedrock does not contain flint, but flint stones frozen in drift ice were brought by the ocean current and deposited along the coast.
     Flint knapping was one of the most important technologies in the Stone Age. The durability of flake stone tools and production debris ensures that important information about technological processes and the social context of the acquisition of knapping skills are preserved.
     During excavations at Hundvaog in Stavanger in 2001 and 2002, five sites from the early Stone Age were investigated. Situated a short distance from the dwelling sites, one was a work area where people produced flint tools, dismembered animals and prepared skins and hides.
     Among the debris she found a flake axe. The axe is not functional and has never been used. It was discarded together with about 450 flint artefacts on the site. Both the body and the edge of the axe had been damaged by a succession of failed strokes. Finally, it had been impossible to correct the repeated errors, and the axe was thrown into the waste heap. "Maybe the purpose was to practise the technique in itself rather than produce a finished tool," Dugstad says.
     In France, research on flaked stone tools and production debris has shown that it is possible to reveal the work and movements of individuals. These studies show that debris from tool production is a ideal starting point for distinguishing between different levels of skill, and thus the playing and imitations by children.
     "It is reasonable to assume that every individual needed basic knowledge and skills in this type of tool production," Dugstad believes. The need to practise before achieving good results implies that children are responsible for a far greater share of products than previously observed in the archaeological assemblage.

Edited from PhysOrg (15 April 2013)

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