Who lost or left it here? Why? It was no pebble to be tossed aside. It represents long man-hours of labour. It represents many man-millennia of thought and developing skills. Actually it’s a scientific instrument that represents a knowledge of numerous sciences, crafts, and skills.
George R. Stewart says, “A primitive thing called a scraper is crude, and not at all eloquent until you realize that it points to much else. It means not only a scraper but also a thing to be scraped, most likely a hide. Therefore, it means a growing ability to kill, take off the hide and cure it. That is just the beginning for a scraper also shows a knowledge of how to scrape, and a desire for scraping, and enough leisure beyond the daily struggle to eat to allow time for scraping. All this means self-restraint and a thought for the future, and it implies a certain confidence in the way of life, because no one would be liable to go to all the trouble of scraping if he did not have reasonable hope of enjoying the results of his work.”
To which we would add that he had to have a woman-companion, who would be able to use the tool he had so carefully made in his “spare” time. He would have no free time if he were obliged to do all of the domestic chores in addition to the hunting. This man may have been primitive in the sense of being early or ancient, but certainly not ignorant, unskilled or unintelligent.
In the first place, he had to be a rock hound. He had to identify a piece of stone that could be worked or shaped. It would be one of the flints, defined in the dictionary as ‘hard stone of nearly pure silica (quartz), in pebbly lumps, steel-gray within and encrusted with white.’ When struck with a hard object, a chip can be knocked off. In this quality lies its value. A very special kind of pebble which can be similarly worked, but with much more effort, is obsidian, a natural, very hard, brittle, almost black glass formed in intense volcanic heat and found in lava. It is semi-transparent held against light, when it shows a purplish colour. Any found in this area would have to be dragged in by glaciers or brought here as trade items. Our early scraper-maker would likely pass it up in favour of ordinary flint, which was easier to work. Not all hard rocks would chip off in a controlled or useful manner, but they could be used to shape flint. If the scraper-maker just banged away at his pebble with another stone he could knock off chunks and, with a little effort, achieve a suitable shape and a reasonably rounded, relatively smooth edge which wouldn’t gouge or tear animal skins. The very oldest, crudest tools and weapons were produced by this method, called “percussion flaking.” For certain purposes it was adequate right down to the time when the Indians could buy knives and guns from the fur traders, and thereby perhaps double the time a hunter (or trapper) could spend in his profitable pursuits. Another way of saying it is to suggest that even the simplest tool-making might double a man’s effective productive lifetime.
To become really good at percussion-chipping a man had to know some of the laws of physics by which billiard players, ball batters and curling experts control their shots. If you strike a glancing blow, you can produce motion at an angle, making a chip fly off where he wanted to. It was like skipping a stone on water.
A first he rested the flint on his hand or grabbed it in his fist, but later he no doubt rested the flint on a log or other stone, which gave him more power and control. Still later he devised the second step in flint “knapping” using a bone or hardwood tool, and striking it with a maul or another rock, a three handed job. Either way, there must have been many gashed or mashed thumbs if the tool slipped!
Then perhaps one day a man was working on a flint with a small crack or notch in its surface. Taking one of the flakes he had knocked off or a piece of pointed, hard bone, he used it as a pry. He discovered that by strong, steady pressure he could take off a long, thin, sliver or flake. He had discovered the principle of pressure flaking, for which flint is suited. When he had devised an arrangement to make his body exert the pressure, leaving both hands free to guide the tool, he was well on the way to making the thin blades. These could be set into wood for a knife, chisel or wedge, or a burin for engraving.
The piece off which the flakes were separated was called the core, from which a careful worker could pry many flakes. At some point in the flint-knapping evolution, our early man had shaped the scraper we found.
Long before that the ancient worker must have developed the spear with which to kill an animal. It is a long way from hacking a chunk of meat from a carcass for food, to skinning it out and farther yet to develop a process for dressing the hide. The women probably discovered that the skin had to be fleshed of every bit of meat and fat to “take” the tanning process. The invention of the scraper followed naturally from this discovery.
Having come so far down the road of the several sciences, our early man was probably far beyond the stage of just tying a stone onto a stick to make a hammer to knock a beast on the head. He was undoubtedly using a Sandia-like spear point to kill mammoths 20,000 years ago. Later (10,000 years ago), he would be using the more sophisticated Clovis point which had a short groove on one side from base toward the point. If he used the Sandia point, his ancestors probably moved into the prairies from Southwestern United States. If he employed Clovis points, his people may have been passing through from Alaska during a warm period in the Ice Age, over 11,500 years ago. Or, he may have been moving back from the Southwest where Clovis points were also found. Who knows?
Flint is not abundant in the Peace River Country. Quartzite and “dark metamorphosed siltstone” have been found. Most of the artifacts found around Grande Prairie were of the latter, inferior material.
To need a scraper, he had to be fairly sure of a supply of bison or other skins to work. Somewhere in the camp there was a beautifully worked spear, and a spear thrower that could make the human arm half again as strong – strong enough to drive the weapon through a bison. The scraper-maker had learned the law of leverage.
All of this occurred more than two thousand years ago, when our Indians were believed to have first used bows and arrows.