Sixth-grader Sam Williams used firm, deliberate pressure with a deer antler to try to chip flakes off a sedimentary rock, called chert. She was using a skill right out of the Old Stone Age, though she acknowledged it was a good bet that prehistoric tool fashioners didn’t have access to goggles like the pink plastic ones she was wearing.
“This is hard,” said classmate Maggie Rescka. “I thought it was going to be, like, a little bit easier than this.”
Social studies teacher Kris DiVita leads the activity, called flintknapping, every fall as part of lessons about prehistoric cultures.
Flintknapping is the process of creating arrowheads and other primitive tools from stone, DiVita explained to her students. While arrowheads were used for hunting, they also were used in that era to scrape hides and as knives.
“I want them to see what a craft it is, and I think anytime they can do the hands-on is everything,” DaVita said. “My eighth-graders come in and say ‘Oh, you’re flintknapping!’ It sticks with them. If we hadn’t been pounding away on rocks, maybe the lesson wouldn’t have stuck as well.”
Flintknapping in DiVita’s class is paired with an introduction to using a historical atlas. Students will use those all year to determine latitude and longitude, identify city-states, and examine where people traveled and the rise and fall of empires and civilizations.
Making the Ancient Modern
Next up for DiVita’s students is the New Stone Age, during which people begin to farm and produce food. The school year includes the study of cave paintings, the fall of Rome, world religions, and ancient Greece, China and India.
How does she keep students engaged besides the hands-on activities? By making the ancient relevant, she said.
“I start the year off telling them about these people, this tribe called Nacirema, who have metal in their mouths that hurts, holes in their ears, walk with their feet arched and let the sun burn them on purpose for beauty,” DiVita said. “Then I tell them ‘These are Americans. This is you.’
“When you explain it from a different perspective, even we can sound a bit strange. They realize that all these cultures they think are strange, aren’t. And that what came before all contributed to the world around them today.”