Small stone flakes of various shapes, sizes and colours, carefully sorted and laid out: It takes a practised eye to see that they are man-made artefacts. They look very similar to unworked stones.
The struggle for survival made human beings inventive in the Stone Age: Out of flint stones they made tools for cutting and scraping – and later arrowheads. The blades were used for killing and butchering game, for removing the hide and for shaping wood and bone. These tools are the early ancestors of the modern knife. If you look carefully you can see where they have been finely worked and the sharp edges produced – some as sharp as a scalpel.
Flint is found in the Rofan mountains in the Lower Inn Valley and in the Lessini mountains near Verona. Flint can be white, brown, grey or red. A type of quartz, flint has ideal characteristics for making tools: like glass, it produces fragments with sharp edges when it breaks. It takes a well placed blow on the flint nodule to fracture it and a degree of dexterity to obtain the desired shape. Nomadic hunters had those skills. They obtained their food by fishing and hunting and collecting fruits and berries. In summer they followed the animals up to the higher altitudes in the mountains. Archaeologists still discover prehistorical campsites and the traces they left – like these flintstone tools, which are over 8,000 years old. They were found on the Seiser Alm near Kastelruth in the South Tyrolean Dolomites.
And how did the knife develop from there? In the course of time, flint blades were replaced by bronze and later by iron and steel. Handles of horn, bone, wood or metal were added to make them easier to hold. What was originally only a weapon or tool gradually became a ritual instrument, a token of status and a decorative item. But many thousands of years were to pass before it finished up on our tables as a piece of cutlery.
Dating: 8th/7th millennium B. C.
Place of discovery: Seiser Alm, Kastelruth (South Tyrol)