Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I Think I Found an Ancient Stone Tool

I believe I may have found a very old rock tool today. Basalt possibly. It has obvious knapping strike marks on it and an obvious design. I've found these things before and they always turned out to be nothing.

But that was before college and receiving an education in this kind of thing. I remember from a bunch of anthropology and archaeology classes I took in college and this now seems to be just what I at first thought it was.

Something about the odd shape caught my attention. I had hesitated, then walked on, stopped, went back, figured what the hell, picked it up and looked at it. I couldn't make up my mind so I just shoved it in my back pocket to examine it more closely later when I got home and had better tools to examine it with. I quickly forgot about it. But better safe than sorry.

Cutting/scraping edge on top under my thumb
I had been walking along the street side, in the street, looking for things to shoot photos of after leaving a cemetery (see, Instragram for those photos). In thinking about it, in wondering how in the world I would ever figure out if this was real, I suddenly realized years ago I had been educated in this to the point that I should now be able to tell, is it real, or not?

I used to hang at the anthro lab in college which was one big party mostly. But we were taught how to knap and make stone tools, about them and their uses, etc. It was a great group of people. Some very funny people. Several of them took Speech 101 with me. I even considered changing my major to that for a short time.

Which evokes a speech on of us gave on "The Infamous and notorious 1,000 pound Canadian beaver". A speech that had half the class confused and believing it all. A quarter of the class horrified and disturbed and the final quarter of the class (including myself and a couple of other Anthro lab students), nearly on the floor. It was a brilliant speech. Basically a comedy stand up routine. I've discussed this experience in a previous blog.

I believe this stone tool may be a tranchet, or a scraper, or a possible skinning tool. If so, in looking at other examples online, this was a nice one considering how well and comfortably it fits my hand. Also, research indicated they don't even need to be that sharp to work well. I'd even considered several possibilities such as arrowhead, or spearhead, considering potential for damage over the years in it just getting kicked around.
"In archaeology, a tranchet flake is a characteristic type of flake removed by a flintknapper during lithic reduction. Known as one of the major categories in core-trimming flakes, the making of a tranchet flake involves removing a flake parallel to the final intended cutting-edge of the tool which creates a single straight edge as wide as the tool itself. A large flint artifact with a chisel-end, the tranchet flake has a cutting-edge that is sharp and straight. The cutting-edge is unmodified in most cases; sometimes, it is polished for increased durability and/or sharpness."

At first I figured it was a small stone axe head to be attached to a piece of wood. Hard to tell esp., considering wear and tear in between its original use and now. But it has dull ends, which could be useful not to puncture an animal skin when separating it from the carcass. That made me on the street think it might be a small war ax or something.

Kind of cool regardless. But how do you tell if it's just a stone, or a manufactured tool, and if it's a tool is very old or of more recent modern manufacture?

From An identification checklist:
"To distinguish between an artifact and a geofact (a flint that has been shaped by natural processes such as frost) use the following checklist. Don't pay too much attention to the overall shape or possible function (whether it would make a good borer or spear point) but ask yourself:

  • Is the flint uniformly patinated?
  • Is there the remains of a striking platform?
  • Is there a striking point (positive bulb of percussion)?
  • Have the edges been retouched?
  • Is there pressure flaking on the surface?"

Okay, I don't have a proper lens for something this closeup but I used my 24x Canon prime lens and took some shots, then cleaned them up a bit, cropped and resampled to a smaller size. You can't fully see what I can when I'm holding it and unless you really know what you're looking for it just looks like a stone.

But I see knapping strike locations, polished areas from use, and at this point, esp. after reading up yesterday and reminding myself of what I once knew, I'm pretty sure it's difficult at this point for it not to be what I'm now thinking it is. Too many points of verification seem to exist. I was starting to think it was real when I started to hold it in my hand as if I was going to use it. And it fit, perfectly. As if designed to be held in that way. At that point I was pretty sold on what it was. A manufactured tool.

The question now for me is, how old is it? My old Anthro \ Archaeology professor could make good tools out of stone. But you can't really make it look like this one unless you are trying to make it look real as well as old. As in attempting to counterfeit it. Polishing it on a polisher which most modern stone tool knappers don't do. Then, for it to be polished in places would take years of a lot of use. As if it were a tool used regularly in daily life.

Also I did find it in an odd place, being next to a cemetery in some sparse gravel on a road side in town. Considering gravel is hauled in to be put on roads, the original location for centuries could be out in the middle or no where until it was dumped here in town.

At this point, I'm pretty convinced that after a life time of trying to find something like this, I finally did.

UPDATE 4/8/17:
I went back to that spot and there was no gravel. About a half block away a home had some of that type of rock gravel but nothing of note. I'm beginning to wonder. Thinking for sure, I found a rock tool someone lost. Either thousands of years ago, or more recently. But in considering it was by itself, it seems odd that it would have been there by natural causes. Rather someone else found it like I did, moved it, and lost it. Or knew what it was an lost it. Or something.
thirty three new pics from today's walkabout around Bremerton.

UPDATE 7/17/2017:

So this is cool. My daughter's friend is an archaeologist and just came by to visit. I showed her the subject of this blog and she heartily agreed, it's exactly what I had suspected it was, an ancient stone tool.


  1. I'm definitely not an expert . But I think generally if a stone is bigger on both ends and smaller in the middle it is an ancient tool that had a handle that it was tied onto . But some of those ended up as hand tools without the handle attached anymore . So then the stone would have two different wear mark sets, one set when it was something like a stone hammer with a handle. And another set of wear marks from when it became a hand held tool without the handle. So it would have tooling marks from when the stone was first made into a tool . And the use marks when it was first used . Then another set of tooling marks if it needed to be altered for hand use . And new wear marks from it's second life as a tool . The rest is identifying the logical placement of the marks . Purposefully placed chips , ground down areas , polished areas , patina and areas that seem indented . Nature can do some of these things . But generally the more of these traits the more likely it is an ancient tool . It's usually easy to tell a modern made stone tool . They just look too fresh too sharp , too new . Unless someone intentionally tries to fake it . That is way more difficult to spot . Fairly easy to fake one . But it's not likely you will ever come across a fake laying outside . It would most likely be on Ebay or in someones home .

  2. Thanks for the comment! Interesting considerations. :) This was one of the more fun and unexpected things to have happened lately. Pays to go out and do weird things from time to time. lol