Flint tools and weapons
What is flint?
Flints are stone tools that early man used for hunting, fishing, and all daily activities. Flint is very hard and so is an effective and versatile tool. Our first evidence of flints comes from as long ago as 800, 000 BC. We call this period Palaeolithic. They continue to be the main tools of the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and continue to be manufactured by the Ancient Egyptians and Nubians. Stone tools were used throughout history for making statues and other stone objects. However, metal tools replaced many of the early flint tools and weapons.
Initially in the Palaeolithic period people in all parts of Africa produced flint tool and weapons that are similar. As we move into the Neolithic period we start to find regional differences in the types of objects that were produced. This was on account of the changing environments at this time. Some people were able to settle and produce crops and farm animals whereas other people continued to hunt wild animals and to fish to sustain their diets.
Some developments will also have been introduced to some regions later than others, for example the lunate knife-form (see below). If we compare Nubia and Egypt we find that certain types of flint appear first in the South, during the Mesolithic period.
How do we date flint tools and weapons?
We can date flints by looking at the development of their form and the type of stone. As a general rule earlier flint tools are bigger and blunter. For example E.5.1895 is an early hand-axe or E.30.1976, which is an early tool for digging. These tools were made by striking one flint against another. This technique is called knapping. We have evidence of this activity on core stones. These are larger stones from which smaller tools were manufactured ( E.25.1976 and E.215.1900).
What kinds of tools were made from flint?
E.352.1954 is an example of a Mesolithic or Neolithic hand-axe. We can date this object by its form, which is more carefully made than earlier examples (compare E.5.1895) and it is medium-sized. Early axes are bigger and later axes are smaller.
Diggers were used for agriculture. Their appearance is similar to early hand-axes and it is possible that people used the same tool for both functions. ( E.30.1976).
Scrapers were used for many different jobs, for example cleaning the inside of animal hides, for slicing vegetables, and possibly preparing fish. The later examples tend to be smaller, sharper and knapped on both sides.
There are two forms of later scraper- those that are narrow with one sharp edge ( E.95b.1912), and those that are wider and flatter ( E.45o.1912). They were produced during the same period and so were perhaps used for specific tasks.
Knives were used for many different types of jobs: cutting meat. The development of this particular tool is very clear. We start with examples that are flat and straight ( E.24.1931), which then progress to a serrated edge ( E.357.1982). It is possible that the serrated examples ( E.GA.4137.1943) were used for cutting wood, almost like a saw. When you touch some of the knives they are still sharp.
Later still, examples appear with a handle ( E.38.1903) in different sizes, and the form becomes curved rather than straight. An example of this form ( E.GA.4194.1943) may have been used for cutting leather. This form continued into Dynasty 1 in Egypt as seen from the burials at Abydos.
Spear-heads were used for hunting animals. They were probably tied to a wooden stick, but these do not survive. Early examples of this form were roughly finished, these examples date to the early Neolithic period: E.GA.3170.1943 and E.79.1902. Later, in the Neolithic period spear-heads take a different form called lunate E.47.1899, which was also used for arrow heads.
Like spear-heads it is possible to track the development of arrow-heads from examples such as E.GA.3163.1943 to E.47.1899. It is also possible that they were used for hunting different types or sizes of animal.
Flint was also used for early jewellery as can be seen from these bracelets. E.GA.3195.1943. They would have made this by smoothing the surface of the stone in a circle and then hammered the inside of the stone to create a circle. This example dates to the Neolithic period. Later people used ivory or other types of stone for bracelets (see Abydos).
Dr Amani Noureldaim Mohamed is a curator at the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum. She specialises in Pre-historic Nubia. Nubia is the area in the southern region of Egypt and the area in Sudan from the first to the fourth cataract. She visited the Fitzwilliam Museum in October 2009 to study and research flints.