Some sweet knapping

As I sat at my computer this evening, diligently plugging away at the ol’ thesis (biface analysis makes it almost fun!), my wife came out into the garage my study and commissioned me to knap a few objects for some sort of mystery project of hers. The specific pieces were up to me, as long as I used the provided raw materials and deposited all of the finished products and debitage on her desk. I was explicitly told not to eat any of the debitage- not generally something I would be tempted to do!

A super-tiny quartz crystal microblade core? Think again!

The cores I had to work with looked like quartz crystal, chalcedony, and a beautiful, creamy flint, reminiscent of some gorgeous French stone I picked up years ago. However, they were also individually packaged in little, twisty wrappers and were delicious. Yup, I was candyknapping.

Whittaker (1994) describes a scale of knappable material, including “some hard candy” along with the normal obsidian, chert, jasper, rhyolite, etc. etc., and I had mentioned, once or twice, that biting Ricola cough drops results in flakes with the usual bulbs of percussion and other markers of conchoidal fracture, but I had never actually tried knapping candy in any sort of concerted way before. Now I was being asked to make formal tools out of it. Cool.

This challenges all of our existing models of raw material acquisition and tool curation strategies .

Knapping candy cores involves some considerations that don’t generally come into play for knapping more common lithic materials. The cores are tiny (not entirely unusual- I am a microblade-phile, after all) and tend to shatter horribly under any sort of percussion flaking. As such, trimming the rounded sides to set up platforms involves alternative strategies. Normally, I would just split the pebbles using bipolar percussion and then fire the core into my hand-vise for some blade production. However, bipolar percussion would basically reduce the candy to dust. As such, I hauled out my mini-leatherman and used it to shear or snap the rounded sections off. This done, I picked out my sharpest antler pressure flaker, braced the core on my desk, and applied some very gentle pressure to take off the flakes.

Once I got the hang of the appropriate pressure (and figured out that using medical gloves prevented the candy from sticking to my fingers) I found that I could knap a few basic shapes. I started with a clear peppermint nodule and made a tiny biface, a conical microblade core and a half dozen tiny blades (micromicroblades?). Then the hard caramel was turned into the world’s smallest Levallois core (though taking off the Levallois flake proved very difficult- it crushed and was eaten). And finally the white “chalcedony” turned into a nice pile of detritus. It turns out that the white ones have a soft chocolate filling, and they break apart pretty completely when you squeeze ’em with pliers. That one got eaten too.

How did early modern humans outcompete Neanderthals? By developing m&m-based tools that don't melt in your hands. My Ultra-micro Levallois-style core (and debitage).

All in all, it was a welcome distraction. And now I’m curious where I might get a (cheap) candy core large enough to knap something really fun out of.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Some sweet knapping

  1. Andrew

    One late night in Fort St. John, a friend and I ended up knapping handfuls of candy from the lobby of the Super 8 motel. At the time I thought we may have been eligible for some sort of archaeology nerdiness prize, but I now see we’re clearly behind the competition. Candy microblades?… hard to beat…

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