Sunday, May 21, 2006

Callahan Flintknapper


By: Ray Harwood
                                                                HARWOOD       CALLAHAN
The Thinking Man: One of the most knowledgeable and talented
flintknappers of our time was a Virginia Flintknapper, whom has
influenced hundreds, if not thousands, Errett Callahan. We can sit
and wonder where Callahan came from and why he was such an influence.
The answer is this, Callahan came into knapping with a great deal of
skill, intellegence and strength, at a time when a whole new
generation of archaeologists were coming out of the old school with a
lot of questions. Crabtree had just released his book and was bumping
out students by the bus load. Archaeology was hungry and Callahan was
just what the doctor ordered. He had fresh ideas and an uncanning
knapping ability intertwined the craft and theory like no one before
or since.
In 1956, just out of high school, Errett spent the summer in
Yellowstone National Park working at the Old Faithful general store.
He was exposed to a lot of history at the park and had access to
obsidian, this gave him the start he needed and he began knapping
seriously then and has been doing it full steam ever since, later
combining his early grinding methods as part of his flaking strategy.
It started on a trip out when he was waiting for the train in
Montana. He went into a local library and found a book on various
point types. He was fascinated by this and it sort of plugged some
into his memory. In his spare time he would try to duplicate these,
using small pieces of obsidian and bottle glass and guided only by
the flintknapping picture in Holling's book. It was another 10 years
before Errett realized that there were other people flintknapping. Up
until then he thought he was the only one.
Errett read more and more of Bordes's works and met him several
times. Francois Bordes stayed at Callahan's house for several days in
1977. Bordes, as Errett, was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs and he
published numerous science fiction novels. Callahan, as a college
student, had once been assigned to be Bordes's escort to a knapping
demonstration sponsored by the Anthropology department in D.C. for
the Leaky Foundation lectures. In 1977 Bordes spent four days
knapping there in Richmond. Bordes had plenty of money to visit the
U.S.A. because not only was he a master flintknapper and Europe's
leading archaeologist, but also one of the most popular science
fiction writers in France. According to Callahan Bordes wrote dozens
of novels under the pen name of Franci Carsac. Callahan was
influenced quite a bit by Bordes. At the same time Errett was also
reading the works of Don Crabtree. Errett was Fascinated by Crabtree,
they met in Calgary in 1974 and Crabtree gradually became a heavy
influence on Errett's knapping. J.B. Sollberger was another major
influence and led Errett to bigger and better things than he could
have without that input. Gene Titmus of Idaho, a friend of Crabtree
was also a major influence on Callahan, mostly his notching and
serrating techniques. Errett stayed in close contact with Gene for
many years, Gene a master knapper of percussion and, like Don, about
the nicest and humblest guy he'd ever met.
Some other overseas influences on Errett were Jacques Pelegrin and Bo
Madsen. Pelegrin had been Bordes number one student in France,
working under him for years. Pelgrin first trained with Bordes over
six summers, for three weeks each summer. Pelegrin worked with a
hardwood billit, which he learned to use from Bordes's friend in
Paris, Jacques Tixier, whom was one of the Masters of flintworking of
the time. Pelegrin became very good with boxwood. Jacques Pelegrin's
father built a cottage in the French woods, here Jacques reflected on
archaeological concepts and flintknapping. At this time, in the
1970s, Pilegrin was writing a bit back and forth to Master Don
Crabtree in the USA and Jacques had begun to read and interprit
Crabtree's publications. Pelegrin did public flintknapping
demonstations in the Archeodrome, which is on the main road between
Beaune and Lyon, France. He is concidered one of the best
flintknappers in the world. Pelegrin and Bordes learned English
together and spend years flintknapping together and learning, master
and student became knapping partners. Jacques Pelgrin went through
almost all the Paleolthic French technologies while learning his
craft- Levallois, blade making, different kinds of Paleolithic tools,
different kinds of flint cores, and leave points, including Solutrean
pressure material. It is an interesting fact that Pelegrin learned to
flintknap standing up and only changes after his first exposure to
other knappers and text.
Bo Madsen is Denmark's premier flintknapper, a grand- master of the
Danish art. Madison is an expert on Danish lithics and earned his
Ph.D. at Arhus in Jutland, Denmark. Madsen's dagger research
influenced Callahan greatly and this spread to America and in this
era many knappers were attempting dagger production: Waldorf, Patten,
Stafford, Flenniken and Callahan in particular. Errett spend a good
deal of time in the 1970s in Scandinavia and returned again in August
of 1984. Madsen had moved over to the University of Arhus and was
teaching a talented portage, Peter Vemming Hansenat at the University
of Copenhagen, the two had co-wrote and published a paper on the
replication of square- sectioned axes. While in Scandinavia Callahan
gave several flintknapping workshops sponsored by the Archaeological
Institute of the University of Uppsala, Sweden, he was assisted by Bo
Madsen and Dr. Debbie Olausson. According to Callahan, the Copenhagen
area has several talented non-academic knappers as well Thorbjorn
Peterson, Asel Jorgensen, and Soren Moses.
In later years Errett's biggest influence was Richard Warren. Richard
was completely underground and out of contact for most of his
knapping life, he became a lapidary knapper that had an exclusive
clientele. Richard Warren's work was incredibly precise, much more
than anyone at the time thought was possible. Errett had to
reconstruct the Warren technique entirely from scratch. Richard
Warren showed Errett one important thing- perfection is possible- and
that's all he needed to know. Richard Warren died a few years ago,
Warren's curiosity was to know what could be done with flint if
someone picks up where the best stone age knappers abandoned the
craft for metal technology or extinction. In short Richard's quest
was for knapping for the sake of art-perfection, by any means
possible. Richard used the term "Teleolithics" to describe what we
now call lapidary knapping, flake over grinding (lap-knapping). After
Hannus' colon operation, in 1983, for which Errett made the obsidian
blades used in the surgery and observed the entire operation, two of
Callahan's students decided to start a company with him to market
these blades to the medical community. The one who was supposed to do
the marketing dropped out and little became of " Aztecnics".
Errett markets his obsidian art through "Piltdown Productions" in
Virginia. Callahan is best known for his published work The Basics Of
Biface Knapping In The Eastern Fluted Point Tradition A Manual For
Flintknappers And Lithic Analysts. This was published in Archaeology
Of North America, . He has also published many other books and
articles. Including: "Flintknappers' exchange" (the original
journal), "The Emic Perspective" and "Flintknapping Digest". The
Basics Of Biface knapping In The Eastern Fluted Point Tradition was
the single most influential lithic book ever written.
The Callahan biface book is Vol. 7, No. 1 of the journal Archaeology
Of Eastern North America. The book introduced many new techniques for
the study of stone tools, for standard and experimental archaeology.
The concepts, "the lithic grade scale, and biface staging, are widely
used in flintknapping circles to the point the most new knappers
didn't even know these concepts were fairly new and discovered by
As Crabtree before him Callahan was the only living flintknapper with
the confidence to have major surgery done with stone tools he crafted
himself. According to the news release on December 9th, 1998, Errett
Callahan had major surgery done to repair his right rotator cuff
tendon. The two hour landmark operation was done by Dr. Jay Hopkins
of Blue Ridge Orthopedics at Lynchburg General Hospital. Callahan's
rotor cuff tendon had become completely torn off the top of his
humerus bone and had to be extensively reworked. Dr Hopkins said that
it was as bad a tear as he had ever witnessed. All incisions were
made with Callahan's obsidian scalpels. Dr. Hopkins, after performing
the operation, was impressed with the great reduction of bleeding in
the initial incisions and states: I used the obsidian blade for a
shoulder operation and found them quite satisfactory. They performed
very much like a scalpel and the bleeding with the first cut through
the skin was minimal. Healing appears to be very much normal, if not
Errett Callahan was founder and president of the Society of Primitive
Technology for many years . The Society is an international
organization devoted to the preservation of a wide range of primitive
technologies. The SPT preserves and promotes this knowledge
principally by means of a remarkable magazine, the Bulletin of
Primitive Technology. Errett has now retired from his editor and
chief and president but he will stay an active member. For more
information contact Society of Primitive Technology, P.O. Box 905,
Rexburg, Id 83440. The Bulletin is now being edited and produced by
Primitive skills expert David Wescott. At this time Errett Callahan
is in the midst of writing a major book on flintknapping - everything
he knows...and he knows a lot..The book is going to focus a on Danish
Daggers. The book is addressed to both the archaeologist and
flintknapper a like. This book is a 20-year research project in which
200 daggers were replicated. The research was funded by a grant from
the King of Sweden and by Uppsala University. Callahan is cowritting
the book with Jan Apel, a PhD student at Uppsala and fellow
flintknapper. The new book will do for daggers what his biface book
did for that field. Callahan is also working on a book on
experimental archaeology.
Callahan still puts on his week long classes at Cliff Side on
flintknapping, traditional archery, primitive pottery, lithic
analysis, and more. Bob Verrey, a former student and long time
flintknapper, archaeologist and supplier of knapping tools offers a
scholarship to the school but it is very competitive. .