Flint Powered The First Industrial Age

 In Neolithic, Pagan Economy

Flint powered the first industrial age might be a slight exaggeration. Yet, this amazing mineral was a vital commodity to early peoples. It was used to make tools like axes, arrow and spear heads, scrapers and flakes. Some of these would have been made and used by Zuri. It is the principal working material we use to define the Stone Age. Flint is found in chalk and limestone and is abundant in the south of Britain. The process by which it becomes formed is not clear. Flint varies in quality and colour and the best material for tools came from Norfolk. Grimes Graves in that county, so named because they were first thought to be a burial ground, are perhaps the most important flint mines in Europe.

Digging for black gold

There are at least 400 individual mines. The best flint was the third layer and they had to excavate to around 12 metres below ground. From the initial chamber, they dug outwards in small tunnels, so small that it was probably children who did the mining. They dug out perhaps 4,000 tons of flint lumps, called nodules, most of which have a white crusty exterior. They broke the nodule open with an antler hammer, an action we call knapping, to expose the jet black flint. It is rather more like a black glass and its edges can be extremely sharp. Before the advent of metal, it created by far the best cutting tools. The flint used in Dorset, called chert, was white and somewhat inferior.

Flint powered the first Industrial Age

Flint was extensively traded through the Stone Age. Even after the Copper and Bronze Age began, these metals appear to have had a high exchange value. Consequently, flint was still used well into the metal ages. Flint also created perhaps the world’s first recorded industrial disease. This was first noted in those workers making flint strikers for flintlocks in the 1600’s. Did the flint miners at Grimes Graves suffer this dust induced illness nearly 4000 years earlier? For certain, I have Zuri knapping flint and using flint tools in my book. It took skill rather than power to knap flint; women could be just as skilful.

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chalk from the Neolithic to modern timesRiverine Culture in Dorset