1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Flint Implements and Weapons

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 10
Flint Implements and Weapons

FLINT IMPLEMENTS AND WEAPONS. The excavation of these remains of the prehistoric races of the globe in river-drift gravel-beds has marked a revolution in the study of Man’s history (see Archaeology). Until almost the middle of the 19th century no suspicion had arisen in the minds of British and European archaeologists that the momentous results of the excavations then proceeding in Egypt and Assyria would be dwarfed by discoveries at home which revolutionized all previous ideas of Man’s antiquity. It was in 1841 that Boucher de Perthes observed in some sand containing mammalian remains, at Menchecourt near Abbeville, a flint, roughly worked into a cutting implement. This “find” was rapidly followed by others, and Boucher de Perthes published his first work on the subject, Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes: mémoire sur l’industrie primitive et les arts à leur origin (1847), in which he proclaimed his discovery of human weapons in beds unmistakably belonging to the age of the Drift. It was not until 1859 that the French archaeologist convinced the scientific world. An English mission then visited his collection and testified to the great importance of his discoveries. The “finds” at Abbeville were followed by others in many places in England, and in fact in every country where siliceous stones which are capable of being flaked and fashioned into implements are to be found. The implements occurred in beds of rivers and lakes, in the tumuli and ancient burial-mounds; on the sites of settlements of prehistoric man in nearly every land, such as the shell-heaps and lake-dwellings; but especially embedded in the high-level gravels of England and France which have been deposited by river-floods and long left high and dry above the present course of the stream. These gravels represent the Drift or Palaeolithic period when man shared Europe with the mammoth and woolly-haired rhinoceros. The worked flints of this age are, however, unevenly distributed; for while the river-gravels of south-eastern England yield them abundantly, none has been found in Scotland or the northern English counties. On the continent the same partial distribution is observable: while they occur plentifully in the north-western area of France, they are not discovered in Sweden, Norway or Denmark. The association of these flints, fashioned for use by chipping only, with the bones of animals either extinct or no longer indigenous, has justified their reference to the earlier period of the Stone Age, generally called Palaeolithic. Those flint implements, which show signs of polishing and in many cases remarkably fine workmanship, and are found in tumuli, peat-bogs and lake-dwellings mixed with the bones of common domestic animals, are assigned to the Neolithic or later Stone Age. The Palaeolithic flints are hammers, flakes, scrapers, implements worked to a cutting edge at one side, implements which resemble rude axes, flat ovoid implements worked to an edge all round, and a great quantity of spear and arrow heads. None of these is ground or polished. The Neolithic flints, on the other hand, exhibit more variety of design, are carefully finished, and the particular use of each weapon can be easily detected. Man has reached the stage of culture when he could socket a stone into a wooden handle, and fix a flaked flint as a handled dagger or knife. The workmanship is superior to that shown in any of the stone utensils made by savage tribes of historic times. The manner of making flint implements appears to have been in all ages much the same. Flint from its mode of fracture is the only kind of stone which can be chipped or flaked into almost any shape, and thus forms the principal material of these earliest weapons. The blows must be carefully aimed or the flakes dislodged will be shattered: a gun-flint maker at Brandon, Suffolk, stated that it took him two years to acquire the art.

For accounts of the gun-flint manufacture at Brandon, and detailed descriptions of ancient flint-working, see Sir John Evans, Ancient Stone Implements (1897), Lord Avebury’s Prehistoric Times (1865, 1900); also Thomas Wilson, “Arrow-heads, Spear-heads and Knives of Prehistoric Times,” in Smithsonian Report for 1897; and W. K. Moorehead, Prehistoric Implements (1900).