Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I took a couple of graduate students to a knap-in last weekend and my hands have almost recovered, but the shoulder I injured digging in Nicaragua last summer is still aching.

The Stone Age and Primitive Arts Festival was held in Ochlockonee River State Park, which is a pretty little park located in the Apalachicola River delta, southwest of Tallahassee in the eastern part of the Florida panhandle.
Ochlockonee State Park

It was a heck of a drive. Google Maps said it would be about 6 hours and 49 minutes driving time, but it took us much more--it seemed like 8 hours--even though there were no detours, construction zones, or traffic jams.

The nearest town, between our hotel and the park, was Sopchoppy. It's a small town that looks like it's down on its luck: a lot of stores are closed, some houses are abandoned, and some structures are collapsing. The town used to be a stop on a long-abandoned rail line that served the logging and turpentine industries. Since they dried up a century ago, Sopchoppy has been struggling. That why we were shocked but delighted to find that the only restaurant in town was superb. The Sopchoppy Pizza Company serves not only really excellent pizza but a variety of other tasty and creative dishes. It's housed in a nicely maintained historic building and the decor is fun and charming. It's immaculate and homey. Ironically, it is a far better restaurant than most of those in the affluent and sophisticated area where I live in Palm Beach County.

The two students I brought, Lana Ruck and Justin Colon, are both interested in lithic analysis. Lana's research focuses on determining handedness from debitage attributes. The evolution of handedness is important because it may be related to the evolution of language. Both are related to brain laterality and they are processed in similar and unusual ways in the brain. To test her hypotheses, which include attempts to replicate the results of previous studies that have claimed to identify handedness from debitage, she needs debitage from left-handed knappers. As it happens, left-handed knappers turn out to be as rare as Tea Party Communists. But there were several at the knap-in, and so Lana was able to collect some critical data.

Lana and Justin
Here's a sight you won't often see: two left-handed knappers.

Two left-handed knappers
Here's one of them actually knapping, with the copper billet in his left hand.

Left-handed knapping in progress
We spent most of our time just practicing. The many experienced knappers there were very generous in sharing their knowledge and experience with amateurs like us. I bought a couple of hundred pounds of nice chert from a vendor.  That was a significant motivation for attending, for me, because it's really hard to buy chert sight-unseen on the Internet and the shipping costs are prohibitive anyway. Because I drove up in a big SUV, I could carry back as much chert as I could afford to buy. I spent $500 on chert at $3/lb, which seemed to be the going rate. It's nice material: Georgetown flint from Texas, smooth as butter. I also picked up some useful knapping tools, such as pressure flakers. I have made these by hand in the past, but the ones on sale were nice.  It is difficult to assemble a good collection of tools, such as billets, flakers, and hammerstones, but the largest impediment to learning how to knap is obtaining a sufficient supply of good raw material to practice on. So, being able to buy a pile of chert was very important to me.

Here's our tarp with our knapping stuff on it, with and without grad students:

The tarp we bought for knapping
Justin and Lana preparing to knap
The weather was beautiful, cool, dry, and crisp. There were knapping contests (we only observed), demonstrations, and folk music. A fun time was had by all.

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