Stories Written in Stone

by Tiffany Cheezem, May 12, 2016

It’s hard for me to walk through a nice rocky creek bed and not be in awe of the beautiful stones at my feet. Whether it’s the striations in shale, carved by moving water, or the sparkly igneous rocks that made the long journey here on the backs of giant sheets of ice. All of the rocks carry a story with them and hold a certain ancientness that inspires awe and wonder.

At Primitive Pursuits, rocks are our teachers, our tools, our entertainment, and at times our survival. Sometimes we’re looking for fossils in the shale, other times finding just the right “tea stones” that we can heat in a fire to boil our water in a primitive container. What captivates me the most, however, is using stones to make sharp edges.

When I begin a fire-starter kit or another wildcrafting project, I still go straight to my steel knife, having relied on it for so many years. But a stone tool can work really well and has done so for centuries. Go back far enough in any of our lineages and you will find our ancestors using stone tools to meet their survival needs. Shaping stone into useable tools is perhaps one of the oldest skills known to humankind.

This stonework is also referred to as Flintknapping. It is remarkably scientific, relying on principles like the Hertzian Cone which tell us how energy travels upon hitting a mass. Flintknapping relies on stones with a high silica content, meaning they are “glass-like” and break not along fracture planes but instead where we impart energy on the stone. If we can work through the science long enough we find ourselves with an understanding of how the rocks break, allowing us to shape the rocks into tools and even beautiful works of art.

This is what has me captivated: learning not to simply smash the stone and hope for something good to happen, but instead to have a conversation with it. Listening to the stone I find where the arrowhead sits within, and each stroke of the stone reveals more of my intended product. It is sitting with the stones in this way that I feel something I have to imagine my ancestors felt too. This connection to and reverence for the stones makes walking through a rocky creek bed a special experience – every time.