Friday, May 15, 2009

Flint Knives

Above image: Diamond-beveled (Harahay) knife from Roger Mills County made of Alibates chert

The knife was a necessary tool for cutting purposes, and it is probably one of the most common artifacts along with projectile points and scrapers on most archaeological sites. Knives vary considerably in form and size but have a thin cutting edge which commonly shows indications of resharpening by the removal of small pressure flakes along the edge. Actual identification as a knife is best made by a study of the edge wear which leaves distinctive microscopic wear patterns on the cutting edge.

The common knife is typically a bifacially flaked ovate or elliptical shaped form, rounded or sometimes rectangular at the base. They are sometimes well pointed but the tip is likely to be more rounded or less well defined than in the case of projectile points. Knives generally do not have stems or notches for hafting although these specialized types do occur. The cruder forms can be mistaken for preforms or unfinished artifacts and identification in this case must rely on edge wear studies. The length is commonly between 50 mm and 200 mm although much larger specimens, some measuring up to 600 mm or more in length, are known. The larger specimens, however, are more rare and represented a valuable social asset for the individual or society concerned.

It should be pointed out that many unmodified flint flakes or blades were also used as knives. Flint flakes when struck from the core have razor-sharp edges and many of these were used as cutting tools without any modification of the flake. In fact, the freshly removed flakes provided a much sharper cutting edge than bifacial knives and they were probably used much more than we currently recognize. The Woodland cultures used many of these flake knives and many were prepared especially for that purpose.

Knives which have notches or some modification for hafting onto a handle are termed hafted knives. These are more rare than the unmodified or plain knife. Although they appear elsewhere, hafted knives are associated with the Neosho focus sites in northeastern Oklahoma and are commonly beveled along the edges from resharpening.

Another flint knife that is found throughout most of Oklahoma is the diamond-shaped alternate beveled knife or Harahay knife . The beveling is a result of numerous resharpenings of the cutting edge. The Harahay knife is very characteristic of the late Plains Village occupations in central and western Oklahoma, although examples are present in eastern Oklahoma sites. This knife appears to date roughly between AD 1100 and 1500. Otherwise, knives are present in all archaeological assemblages found throughout the state.

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