History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

    In this particular article, the writer will elaborate on "flint" and its various uses concerning the first inhabitants of the North American continent, the Native Americans. 
Bone and wood were not suitable for the construction of hunting implements of the early aborigines. The North American Indians, in existence long before the first white man appeared, relied on no type of manufacturing facilities as far as every day life was concerned. Stone tools of various kinds are still being found, but these were used mainly for grinding corn and utilized in various other fashions. 

     The bow and arrow, being the most important Indian implement, was his greatest labor saving invention. It was made from the three kingdoms, animal, vegetable and mineral; animal intestines for the string, wood for the bow, and flint for the arrowhead. 

     Some flint products are classified as arrowheads or spearheads, however, with some study, the shape of these objects, in regards to the size, are quite identifiable. The larger of the two was simply too heavy to be used as an arrowhead. The smaller arrowhead was about two inches in length with the larger points being used as javelin or spear heads, or some had handles attached and were used as knives. 

     The Mound Builders and still later Indians made these implements of flint. The characteristic of this culture and the flint tool is indistinguishable. Huge quantities of flint must have been used because the chipped implements are widely scattered and are found in abundance year after year in the same plowed fields. A large portion of the flint was wasted because of broken implements in the crafting procedure, and large blocks of flint were sometimes rejected because of poor quality standards. 

     We have talked so far of the basic use of flint, now where did the flint come from? About midway between Newark and Zanesville, Ohio, lies an eight mile stretch called Flint Ridge. This area was undoubtedly the source of flint for the early Ohio aborigines. The entire distance of the ridge was scarred with the trenches and pits left by the ancient diggers. Stone suitable for their use was of top priority with the quarrying of the stone being one of the great industries of the native tribes. 

     Distances between the quarries were great. Two other locations of quarries were Millcreek, Union County, Ill., and in the vicinity of Hot Springs, Ark. 

     W.C. Mills, an early archaeologist, made quite an extensive study of the different kinds of flint and the evolving of the flint explorations. The layer of flint is often covered with earth many feet in depth. The Indians made hundreds of excavations in order to find flint suitable for their cause. Their exploration of Flint Ridge, Ohio, stretched over thousands of acres, but the most valuable quarries were located within perhaps a 100 acre tract. 

     After finding the flint and clearing away the earth, a layer of solid flint several feet in thickness would be found. The stratum was broken into slabs in order to be carried away. Mr. Mills believed the flint "was quarried by the use of heavy stone hammers or mauls for breaking off large slabs and perhaps wooden wedges for prying, tho no wedges of any kind were found." Hammerstones were found in small abundance, one which weighed 25 pounds. These hammers were mostly made of flint or granite which were used without handles, as no evidence of grooves for the attachment of a handle was evident. Only one such hammer was found at the Flint Ridge location. 

     One test performed by Mr. Mills was that he experimented with the splitting of the stratum by fire. A hot fire was kept burning over the rock for a period of two hours. Removing the fire, water was thrown on the heated exterior. The experiment was not successful; a large piece was split off but the flint was cracked into small pieces to a depth of only half an inch. 

     The first step of retrieving the flint was perhaps the most laborious for the Indians. Often large blocks were quarried and brought to the surface, which led to the second step, the blocking out the flint into such forms and sizes as to be easily carried. This work was carried on in perhaps a five or ten acre plot. 

     The third step was the shaping of the blocks into segments in which could be transported to the many locations. Not all workshops were set up in the immediate vicinity for this task, some being as far away as one-hundred miles. 

      The next challenge for the Indians was a way to fashion and shape the flint into a useful implement. The popular belief for the early archaeologists was that a type of metal tool was used to fashion and shape the arrow and spearheads, however, no evidence of this type has been found. 

     It is a fact that a file, the hardest of our tools, will not make an impression on some of the flint. Some authorities suggested that the early inhabitants had a way of hardening copper to the necessary degree, but nothing of the sort has ever been discovered. It can be said that if a knowledge of metals were indeed an early art form, more physical evidence would have been uncovered. 

     The making of heavy articles, such as axes, pestles, etc., which did not require accuracy in the work, was done with a hard, tough pebble, the preference being some form of quartz. The purpose of this was to knock off all the large chips and to form his choice of implements. With the useless portion knocked away the Indian then pecked very lightly over the entire surface until an effective outline was visible. 

     He then used a gritty sandstone to remove the hammer marks, and a still finer grained sandstone was used to create a smooth surface. All instruments for cutting or splitting had the edge made sharp and smooth by rubbing. If a groove was needed, it was made as early as possible. 

     Fashioning an arrowhead or a spear point relied mainly on the tribes doing the crafting. Gerald Fowke, an early archaeologist, says the Mexicans held a piece of obsidian (volcanic glass) in the left hand, and pressed it firmly against the point of a small goat's horn held in the right; by moving it gently in different directions they chipped off small flakes until the arrow was complete. The great plains Indians used buckskin and a point of bone or antler to knick off the edges. They later laid the flat side of a flake on a blanket or another compliant and knicked off the edges with a knife. 

     The arrowhead had two basic forms - the triangular, and the pointed oval or leaf-shaped, though both could have straight edges and a curved base. The arrow point of the smallest size to the larger spear type appear to have the same general shapes. 

     Axes were sometimes made flat or grooved lengthwise on one side, so that a wedge could be driven in to tighten the handle. 

     Tomahawks, or "celts," were set in a split stick, and firmly fastened; or the head was set into a hole cut in a stick, and some form of glue or gum was used to secure it. 

     The use of stone implements by the Indians was one of amazement. White man, with all his mechanical skills and tools, would marvel in astonishment if he could witness the precision and accuracy the aborigine showed in his repertoire. When the Indian wanted a log for his house, or simply to make a canoe, he depended on the amazing rock called "flint." 

     He dressed deer and other skins with a small celt, one side being often flat or beveled, to secure better results. His larger celts made good wedges when he wanted to split out boards; also they were good to strip off bark when he wanted to deaden trees for a clearing. Very small celts were set in the end of a bone or antler and used as knives and skinners. Square or rounded arrow points were used to wound or kill small game without puncturing the skin.

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