The Ethical Responsibilities of Modern Flintknappers


Fisher, James V.  (2003)  “The Ethical Responsibilities of Modern Flintknappers”.  The Authentic Artifact Collectors Association Newsletter.  Volume 1, Issue 3. 

(© 2003, unauthorized reproduction prohibited.)


     True or false:  All who engage in modern flintknapping are evil-minded con artists who intend to commit fraud, compromise the archaeological record, and complicate the market for authentic relics.  If you answered true then read no further.  If you answered “false” then perhaps you are counted amongst the many collectors with a simple desire to try your own hand at making the types of stone tools you have been finding in fields and creek beds since childhood.  You may also have answered “false” if you are one amongst many collectors of authentic relics who has developed an appreciation for the knowledge that can be gained through participation in modern lithic studies involving stone tool reproduction. 

     I believe that at one time or another most collectors of authentic relics have puzzled in admiration over the methods and techniques that our prehistoric American inhabitants employed to create such lithic treasures.  A natural curiosity about the means by which projectile points were made often leads collectors to experimentation and involvement, at variant levels, with flintknapping.  The purpose of this article is to offer some advice to collector/knappers that will help to ensure that your endeavors do not lead to further complications in the market for authentic relics, a compromise of the archaeological record, or indirect and unknowing involvement in a third-party transaction where a fellow collector has been subject to outright fraud.

     Generally, flintknappers can be divided into three categories, commercial knappers, academic knappers, and hobby enthusiasts.  For individuals who engage in flintknapping as either a hobby, academic, or commercial endeavor it should be understood that an ethical responsibility of the highest regard is warranted.  I propose a maxim by which all modern flintknappers should abide:  I shall not engage in the production, sale, or trade of reproduction artifacts unless measures are taken to clearly identify and permanently mark them as modern reproductions.

     It is in the interest of setting apart modern reproductions from ancient authentic relics, that the phrase “clearly identify and permanently mark” comes to bear.  Modern flintknappers must assume the ethical responsibility of taking reasonable measures and precautions that will ensure that the products of their activities are never co-mingled with, or presented as, authentic prehistoric artifacts.  That task is far easier said than done.  What follows are some suggestions for clearly identifying and permanently marking reproduction artifacts, whether you produced them or acquired them.  If you are new to knapping or have not yet committed to marking your work on a regular basis, you might benefit from some additional, friendly advice on how to accomplish this effectively.

     Just as serial numbers on guns can be eradicated, so can most attempts to "permanently" mark reproduction points on their surface.  With that being said, a very effective, yet perhaps less widely accepted suggestion is for a hole to be drilled completely through a modern point with a diamond tipped drill.  There is no argument that this would, in conjunction with additional measures, clearly identify and permanently mark the reproduction as such.  Even the most ethical and well-intended knappers (myself included) are not going to be thrilled about drilling a hole completely through their work.  Many modern flintknappers and collectors of modern reproductions regard lithic creations and replica points as art and are hesitant to employ a method of clear identification and permanent marking that substantially detracts from the finished point. 

     What can and should we reasonably expect from modern flintknappers?  I personally like the idea of using a diamond tipped scribe or high-speed diamond drill bit to mark reproduction pieces.  It is as responsible and permanent an effort as can be reasonably expected.  Signing (or initialing) and dating reproductions with a diamond scribe is best done nearer the center of a point where it would be more difficult to remove the mark via additional flaking.  I also recommend placing additional markings on the point with permanent black pigment or India ink that has been subsequently coated with clear nail polish.  It is not always easy to readily see signatures or markings made with diamond tipped scribes on certain lithic materials.  The use of pigment ink will offer a second, more prominent marking that can make the overall effort of clear identification more effective.  Individuals who sell modern points are encouraged to mark them with the phrase “Reproduction-For Study Only”.  While this may not always be practical, particularly on smaller points, a simple “R” would likely suffice when accompanied by a diamond scribed signature (or initials) and the year of manufacture.     

     The next suggestions for ethical responsibility have more to do with what becomes of a modern reproduction after it has been clearly identified and permanently marked as such.  It is imperative that if you choose to sell your modern work that you do so to individuals who can be trusted to continue the responsible custodianship that you have shown.  In short, sell nothing to individuals whose motives for buying reproductions may be suspect.  I have unfortunately known flintknappers who sold their reproductions to an unknown buyer only to find them listed in the “authentic artifacts” category on a popular online auction site.  The modern points were quickly aged and presented as authentic by an unscrupulous dealer only days after they were obtained.   

     Modern knappers must also be concerned about those reproductions that will never leave their possession – during their life time.  Non-commercial hobbyist knappers must also take reasonable steps to clearly identify and permanently mark their creations as modern.  Keeping a meticulous record of reproductions in your collection complete with unique catalog numbers can help future heirs to easily distinguish modern reproductions from authentic ancient relics.  All knappers must assume an ethical responsibility for clearly identifying and permanently marking creations that are sure to remain intact for countless generations to come.       

     Unfortunately, unethical knappers and fraudulent dealers will continue to flaunt any suggestions made concerning the management and identification of reproduction artifacts.  The purpose of this treatise was to simply further the expectation that all ethical individuals who are involved with modern flintknapping will do their part to ensure the long-term viability of the authentic artifact collecting hobby and the integrity of the archaeological record.   n