Flintknapping and Atl-Atl at UWF- March 11, 2018

HistoricTrust_WebHeader_880x495IMG_0891Introduction to Flintknapping.

The art of flintknapping has been referred to as the first language between humans. No matter where your ancestors are from, at some point in time they used stone tools. It is a skill that transcends geographical boundaries. Manufacturing an edged tool is arguably the first thing we need to survive; an edge to carve wood and make a hand drill or bow drill set, an edge to cut plants, and butcher fish and game. It is a skill that we have relied on up until very recently.

Stone tools have been used by humans and our ancestors for 3 million years; modern humans evolved 200,000 years ago and relied on stone tools until about 9000 years ago when we learned how to make metallic tools from copper. Iron was discovered only 3000 years ago. 500-600 years ago, Native Americans were using stone tools up until European contact.

In today’s modern world, knapping is not a necessary skill,  nevertheless, we learn flintknapping to reconnect with our ancestors, to understand one of the life skills that made us what we are today. That connection is important to establish, and the skill is liberating to know- and it IS useful; stone tools are harrowingly sharp, a flake of obsidian or flint is the sharpest edge known to man, use it carefully.


Mechanics of Flintknapping:

  • Percussion knapping (using a hammerstone, antler billet, or copper billet to strike the stone)
  • Pressure Flaking (using an antler tine or copper rod on a handle, the tool is placed on the edge of a flake and pressure is applied until the rock chips, this is repeated to “chisel” the flake into the desired shape)

Justin will demonstrate the entire process before students will be given tools and material, after this demonstration students will be given a stone and a knapping tool, and will begin knapping. Justin will make the rounds with each student to ensure everyone is using proper form.



The atlatl may be one of the first compound weapons used to enhance human power. Spear throwers were invented in the Upper Paleolithic period by early modern humans, the earliest archeological evidence of this weapon is 25,000 years old, it is believed that atlatl has been in use for at least 40,000 years. The effectiveness of this weapon allowed early humans to hunt Ice Age mega-fauna such as the Mammoth and Wooly Rhino. Because the atlatl is essentially a lever that doubles the length of the thrower’s arm, it can easily deliver 200 times as much power and 6 times the range as a dart thrown like a traditional spear. Although a very simple tool (atl-atl literally means “two sticks”) it is also a very complicated hunting device. The geometry of the atl-atl and the dart must pair together for an accurate set to be effective. This is where Justin’s years of experience will help to overcome the learning curve associated with the atl-atl. (followed by Demonstration of proper usage)

We will make a Basketmaker style atl-atl.

atl atl UWF

Students will select a piece of wood (atl-atl staves will be provided) and carve an atl-atl.

Once atl-atl is carved, leather or cloth fingerloops will be added, an atl-atl weight can be added if desired. (a good carving knife is required)

Straightening Cane:


Justin has made hundreds of arrows and darts from rivercane. There are many subtle nuances to straightening and fletching cane. Each student will make a river cane or bamboo dart and fletch it with turkey feathers. A hardwood foreshaft will be attached to the distal end and we will practice proper throwing technique and hopefully achieve practical accuracy.

The rivercane is heated until it becomes pliable and then straightened by hand. An atl-atl dart does not have to be perfectly straight, the heating makes the cane harder and more rigid as well. Gloves or a leather pad are required to handle the warm cane.

Duration: (8 hours) 9am -6PM

Cost: $75.00 per student

meet at 200 E. Zarragossa St. (9AM-6PM)

pack a lunch or snacks!

Each student will have access to:

One billet (bopper), one pressure flaker, one leather pad, stone, wooden atl-atl blank, carving knives, leather or fabric for finger loops, 6’ rivercane dart, two turkey feathers, rawhide or string for hafting, glue.

Propane burner, fire pit, or charcoal grill as a heat source for cane straightening. gloves, safety glasses

•Students will take home their Atl-Atl and Dart and whatever stone tools they make.

•Flintknapping Tools will be available for purchase.

8 Hour Flintknapping and Atl-Atl Class

March 11, 2018 Primitive Technology Class at UWF meet at 200 E. Zarragossa St. (9AM-6PM)


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