Stone Age materials and techniques
During the Stone Age flint and other suitable materials were shaped for use as tools, artefacts and weapons. The processes used were striking (percussion), pressure or grinding and the general term for working stone is 'knapping. Softer or more granular materials, such as basalt and sandstones, were used for ground-stone implements or hammer stones, together with larger items such as quern-stones for grinding grains. Wood, bone, shell, antler and other organic materials were also widely used for such items as hammers, pressure flaking tools, digging tools, needles and awls, harpoons, fishing hooks and so on. Stone artefacts are the most common finds to be made in our fields, caves and landscapes today. During the Neolithic period, clay sediments were used to make the earliest pottery. The Stone Age encompasses the first widespread use of technology in human evolution and the spread of humanity from the savannas of East Africa to the rest of the world. It ended with the development of settlement, agriculture, the domestication of animals and the smelting of copper ore to produce metal. This occurred at different times across the planet.
How Stone Age tools were made
The earliest implements are crude and, to the uninitiated eye, quite difficult to recognise. They are most usually simple stone pebbles that show a crude cutting edge formed by percussive flaking on opposing faces, resulting in an uneven but useful sharp edge. As techniques and skills improved, the implements evolved into versatile and finely worked bifacial 'handaxes'. The basic handaxe is roughly triangular or pear-shaped with a rounded 'butt' at one end and coming to an often fine point at the other; they range in size from about 75mm to 350mm long. The handaxe has often been described as being the 'Swiss Army Knife' of the Stone Age. It is a multi-purpose implement that can be used to cut, smash, dig and even to throw. Flint can be used with iron pyrites (commonly known as 'Fool's Gold') to strike hot, strong sparks, so that fire could readily be produced. As hominids evolved into homo sapiens, their tool-making abilities developed and new techniques were invented so that, in later periods, artefacts of astonishing delicacy and exhibiting wonderful workmanship were achieved.
How to tell that your artefact is authentic
The colour and surface texture of the artefact is one of the most important things to examine closely. Flint is a natural stone of silica that forms as bands of nodules in chalk deposits, laid down in the beds of Cretaceous Era lakes and seas some 250,000,000 years ago. Varieties of flint may be known by other names, e.g. 'chert'. When freshly extracted from the chalk, flint is covered in a soft outer layer called the “cortex” - a whitish skin or rind that covers the whole flint nodule. Once exposed to weathering, this cortex erodes to a very thin film. Flint itself (beneath the cortex) is normally grey to black in colour but can be also vary from dark blue to shades of brown, red, yellow or white. Some flints are also banded different colours (e.g. the lower Thames gravel flints) or may contain intrusions of fossilised sponges, echinoids and other materials. In Britain and elsewhere, the different colours of flint can indicate their place of origin, e.g. grey flint is often found in Lincolnshire; black flint in East Anglia & Kent; banded flint of yellow/brown in the Thames Valley. Flint will also take on colour from the environment, long after it has eroded from the chalk beds in which it originally formed. Other minerals will affect the original colour.
When first broken, either accidentally or deliberately by human activity, flint usually has a quite dull surface. After being exposed to the air, water and weather for sometimes many thousands of years, a surface polish and sheen will develop naturally. Minerals in contact with the flint or in the water will deposit themselves evenly onto and into the flint surfaces, forming an often thin colour surface. This process is generally called 'patination' and in many cases, more recent chips may be seen to have broken away the patina, exposing the original flint colour and appearance below. In the same way that the colour and characteristics of the basic flint can help in establishing the place of origin, the form, texture and colour of patinas can also be helpful. Many Palaeolithic implements were deposited in the riverbed gravels, often in the presence of high levels of iron salts, so that they have frequently developed a rich patina ranging from yellow to brown and often with mottling. Many flint artefacts from the modern chalk downlands will show a patina ranging from pale blue-gray to almost pure white.
Natural patinas on flint take many thousands of years to develop and will not be easily removable or damaged by any chemical means today. Contrarily, although modern attempts have been made to duplicate the appearance of natural patinas, a simple swabbing with solvent will usually reveal them for what they are. The dullness of most flint when freshly broken or knapped will also assist in deciding if the aretfact in question is genuinely ancient or is a modern reproduction.
Please return to our Stone Age artefact links at the top of this page to view the Stone Age artefacts we have for sale.