Students learn to carve pumpkins with stone tools (with photos, video)
An art form discovered over a million years ago by hominids is being kept alive today by a Wesleyan sophomore.
Elizabeth “Beth” Cooper ’24, a modern day “stonemason”, uses moose antlers, pebble hammers and homemade copper gear to shape and “carve” stone into tools. This technique was historically used to make arrowheads, knives, blades, spears, shotgun stones, etc.
“I have always been interested in historical replicas and the recreation of old production techniques,” they said.
On October 27, Cooper shared his work and knowledge with his fellow students in a hands-on, traditionally seasonal activity: pumpkin carving. Sponsored by the Department of Archeology and the Archeology and Anthropology Collections, Cooper and Archaeological Collections Manager Wendi Field Murray led the first Pumpkin Carving with Stone Tools outreach program at the Hogwarts tent. Participants not only carved a pumpkin using Cooper’s stone tools, but also learned about the history and function of different stone tools through time.
“For millions of years, stone has been at the heart of the material culture and tool technologies of human societies. People used stone tools for hunting, butchering and processing meat, cutting, piercing, puncturing, scraping skins, incising and various other activities, but probably not for carving pumpkins! Murray said. “The tools you use today were modeled after different lithic (ie stone) technologies from around the world.”
Flint cutting is archeology and anthropology because it represents material culture, Cooper explained. “By analyzing the evidence for stone tools, we can learn more about the behavior and cultural values of prehistoric communities.” For example, the analysis of Ötzi the ice man, who lived about 5,300 years ago, shows that tzi made his tools from a chert deposit several miles from where his body had been found, and he also had a copper ax, rare at the time.
“For the most part, the stone tools are associated with communities that left little documentation or used short-lived organic media to document,” Cooper said. “The stone has the advantage of outlasting much longer than any organic evidence, allowing glimpses of many human communities that would likely have disappeared from the archaeological records.”
Participants were introduced to several tools, including projectile points (spear points, dart points, and arrowheads used for pricking or piercing); bifaces (cut stone worked on both sides or “faces” used for cutting and scraping); splinters (loose pieces of stone used for lightly incising and scraping); scrapers (tools with a prepared edge for scraping skins, plants and processing meat); punch (chipped tool with two short sides converge into a point and are used for punching / punching); knives (scaled to have at least one sharp edge and fitted into a wooden or bone handle and best used for intensive cutting, slicing and scraping); and chisels / engravers (tools with narrow chisel-shaped edges or protrusions used to incise or engrave wood, bones, shells and other soft materials).
“For archeology demonstrations, breeding experiments and for learning delicate techniques, I prefer tools made of moose, deer and elk antler purchased from suppliers as well as the hammers I collect,” a said Cooper, who led a live pruning demonstration during pumpkin carving. “When I have a large order for parts to produce, I prefer to use my homemade copper tools because they are faster and more durable. This pumpkin carving project was actually such a large commission that one of my main tools was worn through the metal.
Nina Hirai ’23, who specializes in anthropology, cinema and archeology, has already discovered archaic tools in her classroom work, but this was the first time she had used them.
“It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and it was definitely easier than I thought it would be, but still quite difficult,” said Hirai. “I had never used any of these tools despite handling and learning them in various contexts, so I thought it was a fantastic new way to learn about the actual handling and use of tools in. rock ! While I had a great time carving pumpkins with stone tools, I’m really glad we have modern knives and other utensils.
Zachary Klang, a graduate student in earth and environmental sciences, set out to carve a horseshoe crab, but it ended up becoming a stingray. After carving out his pumpkin, Klang used a biface to draw a deep outline and carved a wider linear notch at a 45-degree angle. He used a scraper to even the surface, with some difficulty.
“The biggest problem I had was the durability of the chert scraper tool. The edge was continuously breaking off as spots, so I had to rotate it in my hand to maintain a sharp edge, ”Klang said. “In general, I am satisfied with my result! I gave the horseshoe crab eyes with a stone awl that immediately made it look like a stingray, so I leaned in and used the biface to give it gills.
When Fletcher Levy ’23 sat down to begin carving his pumpkin, he observed the various blades, flakes, and scrapers available and settled on the scraper to remove the innards from the pumpkin. “Remarkably, it was an even better pumpkin casing spoon than any plastic spoon I’ve ever used,” he said.
After getting scooped, Levy decided to engrave the image of a Minion of the Despicable Me franchise on his pumpkin. He used the sharp edges of the flake tool to hollow out the pumpkin, resulting in nearly perfect cuts. “Overall, the experience was a great opportunity to see these tools in action and learn more about the work that goes into experimental archeology,” said Levy. “I can’t wait to carve pumpkins with stone tools again next year!” “
Photos from the “Pumpkin Carving with Stone Tools” program are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)