The Oldowan toolkit is the oldest known set of stone tools, being manufactured by our ancestors as early as 2.6 million years ago. The toolkit consists of several types of tools made by whacking bits off rocks to shape them. However the bits you smash off can also be useful, providing an easy to make cutting surface. This toolkit was so useful that hominins were manufacturing it for over a million years and continued to produce some of the tools alongside more complicated technology.
Experimental archaeology is when researchers recreate past tools and artefacts in an effort to understand how they were made and what they may have been used for. If you make a flake and use it to cut meat you can see what kind of marks that leaves on the flake which you can then look for in prehistoric tools. Today I had the opportunity to partake in a bit of experimental archaeology and made some Oldowan flakes, so here is my handy guide on how to make one yourself.
1. Get your materials. You’ll need a hammerstone and a core to smack. Here my core is made of flint, but quartzite and many other materials were also used. Really anything that will fracture in a fairly consistent pattern with a sharp edge will do, even glass! The hammerstone can be anything harder than the core.
2. Identify a platform. A platform is basically a flat edge you whack. When you hit it the pressure travels through the rock and breaks off a piece on the opposite side. As such you need to look at the other side of the rock, rather than simply identifying a flat edge. You should be looking for a thin section the force can easily pass through (like I have) or an angle of <90 degrees.
3. Smack it. Fairly self explanatory. The movement should be fluid, let the stone do the work. Fun fact: a chimp cannot achieve the grip required for this and so cannot make even these basic tools.
4. Admire your handiwork. Here I made a sharp fragment I can use for slicing. It’s small and won’t last long, but I have the rest of the rock to make more flakes from.
5. Keep making them. As I said, the flake is small and won’t last long so you have to keep making flakes. Nearly every piece of debitage is sharp and useful, so keep an eye out. That is also why health and safety precautions should be followed at all times; I was wearing goggles atop my glasses