Archaeology graduate students (L to R) Kimi Swisher, Marty Menz, Brendan Nash, and Elspeth Geiger during a flintknapping workshop at the UMMAA. Photo by Bree Doering

In early February, in a UMMAA classroom, fifteen students sat in a circle on the floor with stones scattered around them. Some students wore leather gloves. Others had leather mats across their legs. Goggles or glasses were required. All the students were there to practice flintknapping: the art of creating stone tools by chipping flakes from a core.

Bree Doering, a doctoral candidate, organized the workshop to help graduate and undergraduate students interested in archaeology understand the skill required to make even simple stone tools. Doering had to get approval from UMMAA director Mike Galaty, because flintknapping is dangerous. There’s a reason ancient people made knives, spears, and arrows from chipped stone: it’s very, very sharp. (Think bits of broken glass.) Thankfully, the participants only suffered a few small cuts.

Brendan Nash, a first-year archaeology student, helped lead the workshop and even provided much of the raw material. Nash started learning this skill while working for the Gault School of Archaeological Research at Texas State University. Archaeologists in Texas are largely bound to lithic analysis, as the vast amount of cultural material in Texas is lithic debris and broken stone tools. This is a result of the enduring adherence to a hunter-gatherer life-way that persisted in Texas after much of the rest of the Americas had adopted sedentism and agriculture. At the end of the workshop, Nash had completed a biface.

Doering hopes to schedule additional flintknapping workshops. Her plan is to apply to UMMAA for funding, in order to buy materials for future events with University of Michigan students and possibly the public.

Grad student Lauren Pratt tries her hand at flintknapping. A piece of leather protects her leg from injury, should the sharp tool slip. Photo by Jo Osborn.

First-year archaeology grad student Brendan Nash holds up the biface he completed during the flintknapping workshop. Photo by Jo Osborn.