Summary | Raw material | Raw material procurement | Hammerstones | Nodule reduction and technology | Refrain said when knapping chert | Selection of flakes for use | Locations where men work with chert tools | Use and terminology | Storage and discard | Ritual uses of stone

4.4 Nodule reduction and technology

When a man found a chert nodule he needed to determine if it was aeray or aeraytol as this was not apparent from the cortical exterior. In the case of aeray the cortex forms a thin exterior covering, whereas in the case of aeraytol, the entire nodule may be cortical. Men used weight as an indicator of the type of chert; aeray is heavier than aeraytol. After this initial assessment, a man would break a piece off the nodule by hurling it at another rock to reveal the inside, or, more recently, by giving it a sharp tap with the heel of a steel axe. The men inspected the shattered fragments to ensure they were aeray. If any of the fragments were suitable for tools, they collected them and used them as they were. Otherwise, they further knapped the fragments to obtain suitable sharp-edged pieces (Plates 110-115).

Plate 110 110 Plate 111 111 Plate 112 112 Plate 113 113
Knapping chert (110-113)

Plate 114 114 Plate 115 115
A young man bipolar knapping (114), Knapping a chert tool to pare down a bone arrow point (115)

A large chert nodule, which was too heavy to hold comfortably in one hand, was placed on the ground to knap. A man was unlikely to place it on another stone as an anvil before striking; the Wola said that the bipolar method caused a nodule to fracture uncontrollably into too many pieces. Wola men considered the best way to flake chert was to hold it in one hand, palm uppermost with the edge to be struck towards the body. A man would strike the nodule near one edge to flake off fragments, his hand recoiling with the shock (soft earth cushions the shock too, if the nodule is struck resting on the ground).

The direct percussion method was used for knapping and no platform preparation took place, though they did use steps and irregularities as percussion points. They kept striking until a piece the required size and shape was produced, usually within the first few blows and in the space of a minute or two. A man rarely kept striking a core until it was reduced to tens of flakes (as was done for the assemblage documented here); the usual practice was to strike off one or two flakes for the job in hand and put the core to one side, possibly for future use. Cores were usually stored in easily remembered places and could be knapped many times. Resulting cores were angular and irregularly shaped. The knappers could not say what form flakes would take, what size they would be nor whether they would have sharp usable edges. Watson though, noted that in the eastern highlands, people believed that 'the salient quality of a stone tool...lay within the rock itself. It was their task to determine the location of this quality and to free it' (1995, 91). This is an interesting insight into a knapper's mindset; it imbues the stone with power and removes the responsibility for failure away from the knappers.

If a flake was large enough, a man sometimes knapped it again when it became blunt, to obtain further flakes, but he never retouched a blunted edge. If the flake was small he would put it aside or discard it once it was blunt. Only rarely did men modify fragments with sharp edges by further knapping (retouch) before use. Flakes were not modified to facilitate easier hand or finger grip. Small irregularly shaped flakes were sometimes used as cores to produce smaller flakes for mounting.

When White (1968) observed Duna knapping, he noted that they reduced a core both by resting the nodule on a stone anvil and by holding it in their hands. In some areas, the core was wrapped in bark before knapping; this served to produce longer, thinner and smaller flakes (White and Thomas 1972), though this did not happen among the Wola.

Two other techniques were used in Highland New Guinea; a man may hurl a nodule against a rock at the place where it is found (which can be anywhere), although nowadays men more usually strike nodules with a steel axe, or a man or woman may place a nodule on a stone anvil and hit it with a hammerstone using the bipolar technique. The most common method was simple, direct percussion technology using a stone hammer. No retouching was recorded except by Watson (1995), who describes habitual manufacture of scrapers by removal of retouch flakes from an edge among people from the eastern highlands.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003