Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Experiment 1: Completed

As of December 3 the UCD Experimental Flintknapping group has completed its first experiment!

Our goal (as outlined below) was to first and foremost bring all members of the group up to a reasonably similar level of skill prior to the big day and much to my delight/horror our newer members caught on to the process with startling rapidity. Needless to say the rest of us very quickly dropped any semblance of a condescending attitude and, with furrowed brow, concentrated on making sure we weren't passed out!
Secondly we were, of course, aiming to produce some microliths. More important then the product however was the process and ultimately the most valuable tool our experiment produced were the records.

After a preliminary sorting of the knapping shed and a quick check for all our supplies we began handpicking and numbering the nodules that would be used for the experiment. In addition to the nodules, Niamh selected a variety of specific hammer-stones for each team (also numbered) so that the effect on the hammer-stones could be better understood as well.

Oh the choices!

What, you may ask, does a numbered hammer-stone look like...?

Like This!

The dynamic for the experiment itself was very simple. Using custom recording sheets and photo registers we worked in pairs, one knapped while the other recorded as much as possible with the sheets and Emmett's poor, battered camera.

The satisfaction of a freshly opened nodule.

Periodically (usually with a bashed thumb and a murderous glare in the eyes) the knapper would swap and the process would begin again. The hopes being that each team would end up with at least one usable core for microliths.

Some were more successful then others:

And the mess...

Associated debitage for bottom core.

Now with some usable blades we got to work shaping and retouching the edges. This was a particularly difficult section for many of us as the process of pressure flaking is not as intuitive as knapping itself. Pressure flaking requires the application of pressure to the edge of a very small flint blade with deer antler and is exceptionally easy to do wrong.

Once again however, some of us had the knack for it, while others had been practicing, as can be seen in the stunning serrated blades below.

Serrated microliths. The culmination of our work up until this point.

While pressure flaking, some of the group took a stab (terrible pun) at producing some arrowheads. The process is largely similar and is to be the goal of our last experiment so very good practice at this stage. As you can see, we had some excellent results.

Mixed microliths and arrowheads. We're getting the hang of this!

At the end of a long, busy day and due to the recent celebration of thanksgiving, our American knapper/baker treated us to some pumpkin pie, I highly recommend it!

Delicious. Even if it was covered in flint and antler dust...

That was not the last treat however. With a great deal of help from our resident flint-wizard Brendan we had a quick practice making an arrow and considering the results, I cannot wait to continue that experiment next year.

Our finished arrow!

Thus is the end of our first experiment and the beginning of our Christmas holidays. We will be starting it all again in January.

 This time we're making axes.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

We have now completed our first and second knap sessions so its time to update the blog.

Up until last week the group was going through the immense process of getting our new knapping area stocked and ready to go, culminating in our first proper session. Formally it was an attempt for those that have knapped before to dust off the cobwebs and a basic introductory session for those that havent. In reality however it was just good fun and a excellent stress reliever!

Our efficiently organised supplies... or at least they were.

We were working with last years debitage and the few surviving nodules that had made made it through the year intact. We are due to source a new supply of better quality flint soon so we were really just using up whatever we had left and generally pulverising it as we got to grips with the technique again.

As these were just simple starter sessions there is no real progress to be reported yet. Although it must be said that our newest members have caught the knapping bug and are equally picking up the skill with alarming speed.

Though accidents do happen...

Injured in the pursuit of stone tool greatness

That is all for now. We will hopefully have some photos and youtube videos to come soon as well but to keep on top of what we're up to please pop on over to our facebook page at

Til next week!
A preliminary first draft of our aims for the year:

Group Aims:
1. To further our knowledge of prehistoric stoneworking through a research programme of experimental lithic production.
2. To educate ourselves, other archaeologists and the public about prehistoric stoneworking.

Project Title:
Experimental Stoneworking – Exploring Tasks from Early Prehistory

Main Research Themes & Questions:
1. Scalar Stories: from microlith to macrolith in the Irish Mesolithic
a. How do available raw material resources impact upon the production sequence of microliths and macroliths?
b. How does the production of these impact on the production of other elements of toolkits produced from the same nodule?
2. Technological Tasks: stone axe production from early prehistory
a. What is the production sequence of flaked and ground stone axeheads of argillaceous stone?
b. What is the impact of expedient production on functionality?
c. What is the impact of changing lithology on the production sequence and expedience of stone axe production?
3. Tipping Points: projectile technologies and early Irish prehistory
a. How does the production of lithic projectile points of different style impact on the production sequence?
b. How do available raw material resources impact upon the style of projectile points produced?

Subsidiary Research:
It is envisaged that where appropriate our programme of experimental replication will feed into projects undertaken by individual members. For example Bernard will be using the debitage from microlith and macrolith manufacture. Niamh will be using the hammer stones from various experiments as a control group. If we can expand this aspect then please let us know!

Primary lithic production will be focusing on flint with additional working of chert where possible. Axe production will focus on shale, baked shale (IPG Group XXI Mynydd Rhiw, Wales), augite granophyre (IPG Group VII Graig Llywd, Wales) and possibly porcellanite (IPG Group IX, Tievebulliagh & Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland) and porphyritic andesite (Lambay Island, Ireland). We need to organise to collect flint, chert and shale cobbles. I would suggest we organise to collect some beach flint in Antrim but also to collect some beach nodules from other parts of the east coast (maybe an afternoon at Bray?) and maybe try to collect shale cobbles at the same time.
The stones for use as hammers will be selected as needed but we should discuss these and collection strategies for them seeing as previous attempts were somewhat unsuccessful. We will also need access to ash, hazel, sinew, fresh hides and plants such as nettles. We will need access to small amounts of wood for manufacturing handles for pressure flakers and to antler and bone.

We will aim to do 5/6 nights of practice per experiment (Roebuck, Tuesdays 6-9) with a one day formal experiment which would then run on a Saturday and possibly Sunday (UCD experimental space or Ferrycarrig). We aim to undertake the first experiment in Semester 1 and the further two experiments in Semester 2.

We will record our practice sessions informally with photos etc. We will aim to do a full set or recordings for our experimental days with photographs, notes and video. We will record all relevant data for the experimental days and bag each stage of production sequences so that we can analytically reconstruct what we have done.

Facebook Group: focus for online outreach and networking
Youtube Channel: focus for photo slideshows and videos of experimental replication process
Academic Paper: at least one academic publication to start to be written next August focusing on bringing one of our experiments to full publication, possibly in an edition of the Journal of Irish Archaeology or the Lithic Studies Society. It seems that the easiest of our experiments to publish is the one focusing on stone axes.
Meso Miscellany: we will write a brief overview of our activities up for an issue of Mesolithic Miscellany ( in early 2012.
Archaeology Ireland: submit a short article to Archaeology Ireland outlining some of our ideas/results, possibly in time for the spring or summer 2012 issues.
Conferences: if we are successful with the first experiment we will submit a conference paper to the ‘Where the wild things are’ Conference, Durham, March 2012 ( and we will present our stone axe experimental work at one of the future meetings of the implement petrology group (

Thursday, 6 October 2011


Welcome to the new home of the UCD Experimental Prehistoric Stoneworking Group. We will record all our activites through this blog for the coming year so please feel free to check back periodically to read of our exploits or correct us on our bad techniques!

If you wish to contact us further please feel free to send us an email at ucdstonework at gmail. com