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Crafts apprenticeship and transmission of knowledge in Early Bronze Age flint working

PD Dr. Berit Valentin Eriksen

Crafts apprenticeship and transmission of knowledge

Technological progress is often regarded as one of the major sources of socio-cultural change; and the introduction of metallurgy poses no exception to this rule. In fact, this may well have been the singularly most significant technological innovation in the history of tool production. This is true even in Denmark where high quality flint is abundant and almost omnipresent and metal ores are altogether absent. However, here it is also found that flint craftsmanship thrived long after metallurgy had been introduced.

This assertion raises a series of questions pertaining directly to the social dimensions of technological change. For instance, what happened during the first millennia of presumed decline and fall of flint technology following the introduction of metallurgy? For how long did flint tools and flint knapping maintain a general importance in everyday life? And what happened to flint knapping specialists – for how long did they persist in refining their technological skills – manifest in the magnificent pressure flaked artefacts of the Early Bronze Age? Are we likely to find evidence of rivalry or co-operation (or perhaps even identity) between flint knappers and metal workers? What were the social costs – if any? Is it possible that they were outweighed by technological benefits and spin-offs, such as the use of copper in flint knapping? And last, but not least – which status did flint craftsmanship denote in the complex society of the Bronze Age by comparison to earlier times? Answers to these questions are not readily available, but may be approached through advanced lithic studies operating within the field of cognitive archaeology.

The approach employed in the present study accordingly emphasises a dynamic technological analysis of primary production sequences based on contextual, typological, technological and functional studies and not least experimental flint knapping. The discussion addresses issues pertaining to the »schèma« and »chaîne opératoire«, complexity and completeness of assemblages, technological skills and degrees of specialization in tool production. In addition, sourcing analysis provides a basis for discussing the acquisition of lithic raw material in relation to other socio-economic activities, such as scheduling, control and management of resources, as well as mobility patterns and communication networks.

On this analytical basis it is possible to decipher and reconstruct, with great precision, the coherence of the prehistoric flint knapping process, the techniques employed, and the aims of the actor(s). Under favourable conditions it is even possible to distinguish between the products of individual prehistoric flint knappers and to explore the field of interaction between distinct persons. From a methodological point of view this research project is accordingly focusing on such »individual« flint knappers and their technological skills and knowledge, and especially on questions pertaining to the transmission of technological knowledge within the local and regional socio-economic traditions.

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