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Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Prehistoric Arrow Making Using Stone Tools

We've had some visitors in Riddy Wood recently, the new cohort of environmental archaeology and primitive skills students from Reaseheath College. Over the next week or so they will share some of their experiences at Riddy Wood. 

First you'll read an account by Evon Kirby, one of the archaeology students, of some prehistoric arrow making using materials found at Riddy Wood. 


Evon making her arrow



First Step -­ Procurement



To start making the arrow first I had to find all the resources I would be using. This consisted of a whip form either hazel or ash long enough for the shaft, I collected a hazel whip, 3­-4 feathers around 6 inches long, plus a selection of flint and abrasive stones. The feathers were the most difficult to find because of the size needed but I found them by looking for areas around Riddy Wood with lots of smaller feathers, indicating a roost. The whip I choose was about the same size as my draw length.

Second Step ­- Stripping the Whip



To strip the bark off the whip I needed to select a piece of flint out of the ones I'd found that had a sharp, ideally concave, edge to run down the shaft to strip off the bark and twig ends. The flint I picked was quite large and had a good concave edge, removing the bark easily. Once I'd fully stripped the whip I lightly ran it through the embers of the fire to burn off the frayed bits and tidy the shaft.

Third Step - Flint Knapping Blades



To begin flint knapping I needed to select a piece of flint that had a fairly large face that I'd be able to get good sized shards off for the arrow tip/blades. Once I'd picked the flint I wanted to work I then grabbed a soft hammer made of deer antler that had already been shaped. I had to practice hitting with the soft hammer on my thigh to get my eye in before hitting the flint.


When I was comfortable I placed the flint on my thigh, on top of a pair of gloves for padding, and rubbed an abrasive stone over the edge of the face I wanted to work and would be striking. I then began striking the flint on the edge where I had abraded. It took a few goes to get used to where I was trying to connect but once I had I began getting shards I could shape into blades.

Once I felt I had a good selection of shards to work with I picked out five that I wanted to use for the arrow. I picked shards that were the thinnest, flattest and closest to the shape I wanted to end up with.


I then grabbed some shaped antlers pieces for pressure flaking. I practiced on some smaller pieces I wasn't planning on using and cracked a few to begin with. Once I was used to the pressure needed and how far in to apply the pressure I started to shape the blades I wanted. I started with the tip which was a pointed arrow head around 1.5cm by 1.5cm and then shaped the four blades that I would place down the shaft near the top, two either side. I curved the edges that would be facing out from the arrow so they followed the same line as the tip blade as much as possible. I then used another piece of flint to run down the edges of the blades to give them a serrated edge.

The reason I shaped the blades this way is because this style of prehistoric arrow was designed to pierce the hunted animal in the chest and then as the animal ran the movement would cause the side blades to act like a saw and would embed the arrow deeper, eventually piercing the lungs.

Fourth Step - Grooves for the Blades

When I had shaped the blades I needed to make grooves in the shaft for the blades to sit in and shape the end for the arrow tip. First I used a sharp piece of flint to shape the end of the shaft into a point. I then used the flint to cut into the middle of the point so I could fit the tip and also cut in the two grooves either side of the shaft for the other blades.

Fifth Step - Fletching



For the fletching I picked two pigeon feathers around the same shape and size and using a sharp piece of flint scored down the middle and split the feathers in half. Once I had split the feathers I needed to attach three to the bottom of the shaft using sinew. Before I began attaching the fletching I removed the blades so didn't lose them in the process. I was given deer's legs for the sinew and once it was removed I used the soft antler hammer to hit the sinew until it opened into workable fibre.

When I had the fibre I separated it into thinner strands and wetted them so they became slimy and pliable. Once the fibre was wet and workable my instructor showed me how to begin attaching the feathers to the end of the shaft by placing the first and then wrapped the sinew around it at the base, then placed the second and wrapped the sinew around and then the third. I then tied off the sinew and grabbed another piece to connect the feathers at the middle. I made sure I split the feathers at the same point for wrapping the sinew so that once it was attached the feathers could be pushed back together and the gap closed. I still had sinew left once I had secured the middle so I used the same piece to begin attaching the top of the feathers using the same method, using an additional piece when needed. When I had tied off the last of the sinew I then used a flint piece to cut off the excess feather and sinew.

Sixth Step - Attaching The Blades



To begin with I began attaching the tip of the blade using just sinew, wrapping it around the corners and the shaft but this wasn't very secure and when the sinew got wet again it loosened. As it wasn't effective I then made pine resin glue to help attach them. I collected pine resin from and pine tree and heated it on a flat rock next to a fire until it softened and became runny. I then mixed it with ash from the fire using a stick until it became a thicker workable consistency; I needed to reheat the mixture a few time to add more resin.

Once I had the mixture I applied it to the gap in the point of the shaft for the arrow tip using a stick. It dries really quickly so I needed to hold it over the fire to soften it to then push in the flint tip. When I had pushed in the flint I again heated it over the fire so I could mold the resin to secure it. I then wet some sinew fibres and secured the tip further by wrapping it around the corners and shaft.

Once I had attached the tip I then used the same resin technique to attach the blades on the sides.


The Finished Arrow Head



Additional Work




Once I had attached the blades I noticed how the shaft had started to bend as it dried, as I cut it green, and so using cane created a splint to keep it straight whilst drying. I secured the cane using nettle cordage.

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