How to make an Oldowan flake – Friday Factoid

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

23 thoughts on “How to make an Oldowan flake – Friday Factoid

    • As I said, you don’t even need flint. When Aboriginal Australians encountered glass brought to Australia by Europeans they started making flakes out of that because it fractures into sharp, consistent flakes which is all you really need.

      • Ah but the flavor isn’t the same ! My goal is not to make a tool I would use but rather to do what we imagine our ancesters did.

        • Then you should really look for chert, which is what the majority of these early tools were made out of. Whilst they did prefer flint where possible it is quite a rare substance.

  1. Adam Benton


    US blogger Cowboy Bob Sorensen – who habitually calls any people who challenge his pronouncements ‘atheist trolls’ or Darwinist ‘stormtroopers’ – is trying to slam your recent blog posts (which more or less agreed with points that I have made direct to AiG about the Lucy ‘knuckle-walking gorilla’ fraud at their Creation Museum – even if the species did have wrists which may have allowed her to crawl or knuckle-walk when in the trees:!
    He’s basically flagging that recent AiG late October hatchet job – which you have already responded to at! Not that details like that are likely to bother Bob when he sees your response. Bob put the ‘prop’ in to naked propaganda.
    (AiG did have another ‘go’ at defending their presentation at the Creation Museum more recently, and their further article IGNORED your initial response. See: – see item 1.)
    Bob is basically flagging the FIRST AiG article, trying to torpedo your arguments, and saying how wonderful it is. He accuses you of ‘ignorance’ but – from reading his past blogs – does not appear knowledgeable of biology or evolutionary theory. Just ‘exceptionally biased’.

    (See also my recent comments under your posts of 29 Oct and 7 Nov.)

    Ashley Haworth-Roberts

    PS Your falling snow is a bit distracting!

    • Well I’ve put links to my counter-counter-posts at the start of the original Lucy article and uploaded a new one dealing with some of the more sciency stuff. Hopefully that should be enough for now.

    • Scientist Christine Janis has informed me that chimps and gorillas only knuckle walk when on the ground, not in trees. So the ‘Lucy’ species may have knuckle-walked rather than walking bipedally, when not in the trees, on occasions

      • A further comment by Christine:
        “”So it MAY have knuckle-walked on the ground on occasions ”
        No evidence for this whatsoever —- only that the common ancestor of chimp and Australopithecus might have been a knuckle walker. The hands of Australopithecus itself (and, more importantly, that of Ardipithecus, which we now know in detail) show no specific adaptations for this type of locomotion.”

        • Quadrupedalism appears to be a lot like bipedalism in the sense that it requires almost no modification to the basic ape body plan for an ape to be able to do it. However, adaptations are needed to do if efficiently and for long periods of time. As such, the fact that we’ve discovered our ancestors (at least the ones with a more ape like body plan, such as the australopithecines) were not physically incapable of walking on their hands doesn’t really tell us anything. The fact they lacked the adaptations for habitual quadrupedalism does.

        • Am flagging Adam’s latest blog post (on the Richmond-Strait paper) to AiG et al including Christine. Hope that’s OK. Adam isn’t copied in – only because I don’t know his email address

  2. In their 24 October article about ‘Lucy’ AiG boasted as follows re THIS scientific paper:
    “This particular study is one of several plainly referenced in the Creation Museum’s Lucy exhibit”.

    But I’ll bet my life savings that THIS more recent paper, which reached a contrary conclusion regarding its wrist, is NOT:
    ‘Independent evolution of knuckle-walking in African apes shows that humans did not evolve from a knuckle-walking ancestor.’

    • The first paper comes from Washington Department, which were in a long standing row over whether or not Lucy knuckle walked with my university. Aside from the large body of work suggesting they did not knuckle walk (such as the second paper your cited) there is a fundamental flaw with the original work by Washington: they were using an incomplete cast for one analysis and the other analysis did not show what they thought it showed.

      Richmond & Strait (2000) claim to have found morphometric evidence of retention of derived knuckle-walking features in the distal radius of Au. afarensis AL 288-1 [aka Lucy] and Au. anamensis radius KNM-ER 20419. However, [they] made their measurements on a cast of KNM-ER 20419 without making allowance for a missing styloid process, and their headline canonical variates plot shows that the distal radial morphology of AL 288-1 lies within the overlap between the ranges of Gorilla and Pongo [the latter being what we think Lucy was most like]

      Crompton, R. H., Vereecke, E. E. and Thorpe, S. K. S. (2008), Locomotion and posture from the common hominoid ancestor to fully modern hominins, with special reference to the last common panin/hominin ancestor. Journal of Anatomy, 212: 501–543

        • He certainly is quite a character. First lecture I had with him he walked in with his walking stick, struggling to breath. At first we were thinking that we’d been stuck with some old decrepid, until he pointed out this was all a result of the fact he spent his career chasing monkeys through rainforests and so had been riddled by tropical diseases.

  3. I assume my two earliest comments here require moderation because they include links. Including to a new ‘Piltdown Superman’ blog post flagging an AiG article from back on 24 October which criticised a blog post here by Adam about ‘Lucy’ (wrongly depicted as a knuckle-walking gorilla) at the ‘Creation Museum’.

  4. Pingback: Did Australopithecus make stone tools? « EvoAnth

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