For those of us who spend a considerable amount of time in the great outdoors
scouring the rivers and fields for Indian artifacts, flint can be an obsession. We
marvel over the myriad colors, patterns, inclusions, and textures that can occur
in flint. Some hunters and collectors even experiment with using flint artifacts in
much the same way that our ancestors did: shooting and preparing game for
food. Up until a few months ago, the only practical work I had ever completed
with flint tools was using a sharp flake to cut the soft white flesh from a 2 lb.
bass I had caught from my pond. Faced with the daunting task of butchering a
150 lb. mammal with a sharp rock, I knew I was in for a learning experience.
It is a fact that there are many female hunters who kill, clean and prepare big
game. I am not one of them. Although I grew up in a household where deer and
rabbits were routinely brought home for the dinner table, my father was the one
who always did the "dirty work." I recoiled from the smell of entrails and was not
too fond of all of the sticky blood and fur. Given the chance to learn this useful
life skill, I chose to let someone else do it. Decades later, I found myself ready to
learn with an assortment of five new, reproduction flint tools, varying in size from
a tiny flake no more than 3/4" long to a couple of larger bifaces around 3"
across. In front of me lay a large goat that had been killed by an unruly dog. My
goals: to determine how efficient the stone implements were and to expand my
own knowledge of mammal anatomy for future reference.
First, I tentatively began to cut through the goat's bristly fur and skin with one of
my little sharp pink flakes. Wow! Being used to cutting meat with steel knives, I
could instantly feel a remarkable difference: the flint really glided right through
that tough goat hide...so much so that I actually went deeper than I had
intended, and cut down into the bone. Observing the whole process, even my
husband, Bill, was amazed. With only light finger pressure, I had sliced right
through the hide and cartilage and cut 1/2" into the breastbone! I found that the
smaller flakes were quite sufficient for removing the hide, but when it came to
cutting out the animal's vital organs something different was required. This is
where the larger bifaces came in handy.
The liver, stomachs, intestines and kidneys were removed with little difficulty, but
I still had one important muscular organ. Groping around by feel for the heart, I
found...THE DIAPHRAM! OK, I thought, where is the HEART? I kept searching,
but all I found was a smooth muscle. I was puzzled. Bill was amused. He has
had much more butchering experience than me; at one time he sold goat meat to
local Mexican restaurants for making delicious birrias and soups. Bill suggested
that I cut through the diaphram and I would find what I was looking for. So I did.
I then began taking out the lungs. Whew! This is about when I discovered what
hard work butchering large animals can be. After a very frustratingly long
amount of time I finally felt the large hard muscle that had pumped blood for this
unfortunate goat. I held the heart up triumphantly for the world to see, feeling
much like an Aztec priest with his grisly bloody offering.
After salvaging a considerable amount of the meat and organs, I was ready to
quit. Washing my hands in a bucket of cool water, I began to think of gathering
my flint tools and returning to the house to take off my bloody clothes. A quick
glance around the flat, mowed spot where I had been cleaning the animal
revealed splattered blood, fur and bone, but alas, not a single piece of flint.
Well, I thought, that's weird. I asked Bill to help me hunt for my flakes and
bifaces, knowing full well they couldn't have gone far! Together we searched an
area about 12'-15' in diameter for about fifteen minutes, incredulous that flint
tools could be so easily "lost" or camouflaged. This was in March and the
previous fall's leaves still partially covered the ground. We looked and looked,
and slowly but surely, every single piece of my butchering tool assemblage was
recovered...all had somehow slid mysteriously through the leaves and grass and
sunk back down to the dirt. So, it seems probable that flint tools were
sometimes lost in this manner...to be discovered centuries or millenniums later
by humans of an entirely different culture. One more lesson from my first
attempt at butchering a mammal, oddly enough with little instruction and no
experience, with tools the like of which haven't been utilized much by people of
my time and place.
Butchering with Stone Tools
|One of my flake knives "in situ". I can't believe how
easy they were to lose even in short grass.