On Discovering Self

"Walk in Peace... Learn from Nature... Find Yourself...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Of Cutting Tools and Pottery of the Past

Some cutting tool artifacts from the Mankato, MN area
 It is said that the most significant tool for survival is a cutting tool, and in modern bushcraft terms that means a knife. There is so much discussion about knives and knife making and the benefits of this kind of steel or that kind of blade geometry, or what blade length is best, etc. on the bushcraft and knife forum websites. As I thought about this, I thought it would be an interesting notion to look back say 2,000 years and wonder what was the discussion like back then. Did our aboriginal forefathers and mothers have the same discussions and arguments over who made the best flint knife or spear point? Did they argue over whether certain kinds of flint were better then chert or quartz or obsidian? Was blade length also a discussion point? Did they have celebrity knife "knappers" who held bragging rights over who made the best cutting tool or spear points? Did they have swap meets for their stone knives and scrappers? Did they form social groups and clubs dedicated to certain styles of knapped knives? Could a good flint knapper charge outrageous prices for his or her work? Did they offer any life-time warranties? (tongue is in cheek now) Let's look some more after the jump...

Broken Spear or Arrowhead Point
    I have the privilege of being able to hunt for paleo-artifacts on a regular basis in some areas around Mankato, MN and the surrounding Minnesota River Valley. After many explorations and expeditions to discover some of these artifacts I could not help but notice the huge number of percussion flakes and pressure flakes and cutting tool pieces and parts scattered around these sites. These pictures are of but a few of the pieces I have in my collection. If you are fortunate enough to have studied flint knapping and tried this yourself, you can become very familiar with the pieces that are left behind as you knap any kind of flint or chert or volcanic glass. As I walk the fields where these pieces are found, the pressure flakes and percussion flakes just jump right out at me visually. One very glaring thing is of course the color of the rock and the fact that the chert or flint or quartz has no business being there, as it is not native to the local geology and strata. The chert pieces had to be brought to these locations by the aboriginal peoples that inhabited these sites. To the trained eye, it is obvious that cutting tool making was done on a large scale and done often. Various parts of the village sites I have been studying show dedicated areas to making cutting tools in one area and pottery in another.
A Quartz "Bird" Point
Which brings us to yet another part of bushcraft that has been found to be secondary to the knife, and that is, a container of some sort to carry water. Having water was key to survival and being able to store other things such as food and other liquids was vital to aboriginal peoples as much as it is essential to us today. I have found large numbers of pottery shards and other remnants of containers that indicate they brought and stored ready sources of water with them. It is easy to imagine that everyone had a "canteen" with them to stay well hydrated throughout the day. There could never be a shortage of pottery or cutting tools. That is really the lesson for us as bushcrafters today.
2000 Year Old Pottery Shards

   So it would seem that there was a great deal of effort put into obtaining and keeping a good cutting tool and a means of carrying water with the peoples of aboriginal times, even here in the wilds and the woodlands of Minnesota. This was true everywhere throughout the world and the discussion of the importance of a cutting tool has not stopped ever since.
   So the next time you are out on a camping trip or a day hike and consider using your knife or take a drink from your trusty canteen, remember that you as a bushcrafter are part if long tradition of choosing what it takes to live in the wild and to thrive. And it is okay to discuss the importance of your cutting tools and find what is best for you, for it has probably been done for thousands of years. I am sure that with enough time and practice you may begin
Pottery shard stained from holding liquids
to discover some of the stone tools that were used by aboriginal peoples in your area. Do some research to see where they may have spent time in small villages and encampments. Ancient sites can be found most anywhere. It is my hope to discover even more about Minnesota's aboriginal past and to be able to share with you some of the treasures that are part of the ever unfolding history and legacy that is what we call Bushcraft. Happy Exploring...

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