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Jim Miller's 2014 Scandanavian Knap-in Report

By Jim Miller


In recognition of our 40th wedding anniversary, my wife Jill and I spent two wonderful weeks in southern Sweden and eastern Denmark in July 2014. We never ventured more than about 100 miles (160 km) from different places of interest. We used GPS navigation in our rental car to navigate narrow roads, many of which were established more than a thousand years ago. We were always close to the shores of the Baltic Sea, where the Viking culture flourished for hundreds of years. We loved the farming landscapes, colorful villages, tidy homes and gardens, historic churches, ferries, beaches, fantastic bridges, ancient architecture and welcoming people (almost all of whom speak English). We spent our anniversary on scenic Bornholm Island, which is a Danish summer holiday destination located in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Our final afternoon and evening were dedicated to exploring the beautiful city of Copenhagen, where there are an amazing number of bronze statues and incredible spired buildings.  The sights and experiences were many, but they will be saved for a future story.

Another important purpose of this European adventure was to satisfy my passion for flint knapping and geologic exploration. The remainder of this photo essay focuses on the three-day knap-in at Vikinga Tider in Loddekopinge, Sweden, as well as our efforts at harvesting some of the abundant flint resources in this corner of Scandinavia.


Like much of the northern portion of the USA, including where I live near Seattle, a huge sheet of glacial ice covered all of Scandinavia and much of Europe until about 13,000 years before present (b.p.). Although it is possible that humans, or our human ancestors, lived in Scandinavia prior to the last ice age, the ice has erased all such evidence. After the disappearance of glacial ice from the Baltic Sea area, numerous Stone Age cultures occupied what is now southern Sweden and Denmark during Mesolithic (approximately 9,000 to 7,000 years b.p.) and Neolithic (approximately 7,000 to 3,800 years b.p.) times. The Nordic Bronze Age (approximately 3,800 to 2,400 years b.p.) and the Iron Age (about 2,500 to 500 years b.p.) introduced metal tools to Scandinavia. However, even with the advent of metal and ceramics, flint continued to be a valued resource for agriculture, weapons and everyday uses into the Viking Era (roughly 1,300 to 700 years b.p.).

Burial mounds of Mesolithic and Bronze Age origin are scattered across higher hills throughout Scandinavia. The photos below show but a few of the tombs that are readily observable in the areas we traveled.

The burial tombs were typically constructed of large, carefully placed granitic boulders (glacial erratics). As pictured below, the spaces between the boulders were “chinked” with flat stones to prevent dirt from spilling into the burial chambers. Roofs above the burial chambers also consisted of large boulders that spanned the rock walls.  Ultimately, the tomb structures were covered with soil, thus forming the burial mounds that persist today.


Megalithic stone structures reminiscent of Stonehenge also are present in the area. The photos below show one such structure that we visited near Ystad, Sweden. The outline of this interesting feature is shaped like a boat, with individual stones serving as solar calendars to mark months of the year, as well as the summer and winter solstice.


We attended a very pleasant three-day knap-in in the community of Loddekopinge, Sweden. The event occurred at a piece of property that is gradually being constructed to represent a Viking-Era settlement. A thatch-roofed longhouse and other smaller structures presently exist at the site, and more structures are planned.


Lotta Jonson manages the property, along with her archaeologist husband. Flint knappers Mikael (Mike) Jonsson and Dan Karrefors represented local knapping talent.  In addition, Sofus Stenak from Denmark joined the group. Sofus is 17 years old and is incredibly talented, considering that he has been knapping for only two years and is entirely self-taught from watching YouTube videos. Sofus knapped the crescent knife blade below; the blade is made out of translucent Danish flint.

The knappers gathered around an outdoor fire pit and began exercising their different styles of knapping. The public was invited to observe, and one local resident dropped by to show his collection of stone artifacts from the farm fields owned by his family. Some of these artifacts are shown below. They include a classic dagger, a spear point, square-edged axes, and a square-edged chisel. The square-edged tools typically had secondary grinding to produce smooth cutting edges.


It became very apparent to me that knapping technology in Scandinavia is quite different than what I am accustomed to in the USA. My past experience is with bi-facial knapping.  That is, knapping a core, spall or flake such that it has a single edge all the way around a preform, with flaking on both faces of the preform. Although bi-facial flaking was certainly done in Scandinavia, such as for some arrowheads and the famous daggers of the area, most prehistoric artifacts that I saw were made from long blades that had been detached from blade cores, or from flint nodules that were knapped into square-edged tools. The blade core artifacts were often nearly flat on one side, with secondary pressure flaking concentrated mainly on the outsides of the blades.

Dan Karrefors demonstrated the methodology for knapping square-edged axes. He started with a rough flint nodule to make a preform using a hard hammerstone for percussion flaking. Once the preform was complete, he completed the axe with indirect percussion using an antler punch and a wooden mallet for a hammer. The bulbs of percussion from punch flaking produced the small platforms needed for alternate flaking
of the adjacent square face. I found it amazing that he detached the punched flakes toward his belly! That seemed hazardous to me, but he suffered no cuts or problems using this technique.


The photo below shows a finished square-edged axe that Dan made out of black Kristianstad flint from southern Sweden. Dan also made blade gunflints from the long blades that he detached from blade cores. The subsequent two photos show a square-edged axe in progress, and a blade core that Dan knapped out of raw flint.


The knapin included a presentation in the Viking longhouse on submarine archaeological finds along the coast of Sweden, and artifacts recovered from an upland peat bog. I made a presentation on heat treatment of knappable stone, with examples of numerous types of heat-treated stone from the USA. We were interviewed by reporters from the largest regional newspaper in the area, resulting in nearly a full-page newspaper article.

Besides the knapping, participants also practiced their skills at axe throwing and archery after eating lunches generously provided by the hosts.

Although the knapin was sparsely attended, the location was great and the hospitality was wonderful. The event was a fantastic learning experience for me, along with the opportunity to meet new friends with shared interests. I am hopeful that the Vikinga Tider knap-in endures as an annual event in the future, drawing knappers from around the world!


The areas we traveled in southern Sweden and eastern Denmark have been heavily populated from Mesolithic through historic times. I suspect that part of the reason for the continued popularity of this area over millennia is the relative abundance of flint as a resource for survival and tool making. Flakes of flint were visible on areas of bare ground almost everywhere we walked in southern Sweden. Although there are numerous varieties of flint in southern Sweden and Denmark, nearly all of the flint is of Cretaceous age and formed originally in deposits of chalk. The Copenhagen church shown below demonstrates the relative abundance of flint in the area. The exterior stonework for this beautiful church consists entirely of flint nodules!


I collected flint at one site in Sweden and two sites in Denmark. The first site, Barseback, is a long north-south beach located about a mile (1.6 km) west of Loddekopinge. The flint here is eroding from a shoreline bluff that ranges in height from about 8 to 40 feet (2.5 to 12 m). Interestingly, glacial deposits are the source of the Barseback flint, along with other non-local rocks such as granite and gneiss. The chalk origin of the flint at Barseback is likely somewhere to the north, where glacial ice scoured the chalk and then transported the flint southward.

I visited Barseback beach at two locations. The beach bluff was only about 8 feet (2.5 m) high at the northern collecting site, and flint nodules were relatively abundant there. The shoreline was littered with sharp flakes of flint from prehistoric testing of flint nodules and tool making. The typical flint nodules exposed along the shoreline were irregular in shape, similar to “amoeba” chert nodules that are found in south-central Texas. Beneath the thin, white cortex of the nodules, glassy black flint is present. The highest quality flint is translucent. Typical of most nodular flint, the best stone for knapping occurs close to the outer cortex material. Interior portions of thicker nodules often contain inclusions of gray-colored “concrete” that are difficult to flake. Therefore, I collected the flatter, more tabular-shaped nodules where fewer concrete inclusions would be expected. The photos below are from the northern location of Barseback beach.

Along with other participants of the knapin, we also visited the southern end of Barseback beach. A Mesolithic and/or Neolithic archeological site is present at the top of the beach bluff in this area. The base of the beach bluff exposes 20 to 35 feet (6 to 10 m) of grayish-brown glacial till that includes many different rock types, including flint. Above the glacial till is approximately three feet (1 m) of dark brown soil that consists mainly of cultural debris (waste flint and debitage). Relatively large nodules of flint were abundant in the shoreline area below the beach bluff. The photos below are from the southern location of Barseback beach.

The first flint site that we visited in Denmark is located on the island of Mon and is very famous. It is the Mons Klint (Cliffs of Mon) site, where white chalk is exposed in a cliff that stands more than 350 feet (110 m) high. A boardwalk that includes 497 steps descends from the crest of the cliff to the Baltic Sea shoreline below. The chalk cliffs contain seams of flint nodules that are similar to the White Cliffs of Dover. Erosion of the relatively soft chalk leaves behind the flint nodules, which has resulted in a beach surface that consists almost entirely of flint. The older nodules are rounded and battered by beach waves. But more recent nodules that are fresh out of the chalk also are present. The flint at Mons Klint is very similar to that of Barseback. I collected three relatively flat nodules for the steep staircase hike back up the to the visitor center at the top of the cliff. The photos below show images from Mons Klint.



The final flint-collecting site that we visited is located on the island of Falster in Denmark. Young Sofus Stenak and his father Morton were our guides for a visit to a sand and gravel mine. Unlike the chalk deposit of Mons Klint, the flint at this location in Falster occurs within a deposit of glacial sand that contains gravel, cobbles and boulders of a wide variety of rocks that had been transported southward by glacial ice. Two types of flint are present in the glacial sediments. Nodules of Senonian flint, similar that found at Barseback and Mons Klint, were quite abundant. But our primary interest at this location was the HUGE boulders of Falster flint; this type of flint has relatively few concrete inclusions that are typical of the Senonian flint that I had collected earlier.

The mine operator removes the large boulders and places them in piles. There was one rock pile that contained only large boulders of Falter flint! Several of the individual nodules of Falster flint weighed more than a ton and were too large for us to move.

Sofus had an answer for the large flint nodules! We gathered granitic boulders to use as large hammerstones and spalled the edges of the flint nodules, where possible, by dropping heavy boulders on available platforms. Using this method, we were able to detach spalls measuring up to 20 inches (50 cm) long. The photos below show the flint spalling procedure that we used, as well as the results of our efforts.


Like all knappable stone, there are various grades of material to choose from. In general, the flint that I selected for collecting in southern Sweden and eastern Denmark was of excellent quality. All of the material that I kept can be knapped raw, without heat treatment. This is particularly true for the darker, translucent flint located adjacent to the cortex of flint nodules. I made the spear point below out of raw Falster flint; the blade style is modeled after the Neolithic spear point that was pictured earlier in this story..

The flint that I collected in Sweden and Denmark can be made more brittle and easier to pressure flake with heat treatment. I found that the translucent flint located near the outer edges of nodules produces glossy flake scars with a relatively low heating temperature of 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). This very high quality flint is sensitive to over-heating and can be destroyed with excessive heat. I recommend against heat treating pieces of the translucent flint that are thicker than about 2 inches (5 cm). Temperatures of 425 to 500 degrees F (220 to 260 degrees C) can be effective in
making the coarser, non-translucent, gray interior portions of flint nodules more brittle and easier to flake. The larger concrete-like inclusions in the interior of many of the flint nodules do not respond to heat treatment.

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