Manchester Museum is holding a knap-in on 19th November and on Friday Dr Elizabeth Healy and a PhD student Ray Nilson came to talk to Anna Bunney, Curator of Public Programmes, and me about the arrangements and to see some examples of worked flint artefacts. At the event, which is limited to 65 participants and ticketed (£10, or £8 concessions) visitors will be able to watch enthusiasts striking or knapping raw materials and making a range of implements. There will be opportunities for people to try this for themselves under supervision of course. There is a real interest amongst visitors to the Museum in discovering how people in the past made things, some of them of considerable quality and demonstrating breath-taking crafts working skills.
I got out a selection of some of the wonderful flint and other stone objects in the lithics store at the Museum. A fine ground and polished early Bronze Age stone axe-hammer (below) is a wonderful exhibit although sadly we know little about where it was found. It was transferred to Manchester by Salford Museum some years ago and I live in hope that some day information about the circumstances of discovery will turn up in an antiquarian publication…This kind of material was the focus of research and collecting at Manchester Museum during the later 19th and early 20th centuries when William Boyd Dawkins was Curator. From the 1970s the focus shifted to Classical antiquities but now prehistory in back in fashion, not least because of changes to the National Curriculum.
One of the added benefits is asking the flint-knappers who are coming to the event on 19th November to make copies of stone tools that were used on Easter Island or Rapa Nui. Manchester Museum will show material from the island in a temporary exhibition opening in early April next year. Exhibits will include a stone statue called moai Hava that was brought back to Britain by HMS Topaze in 1868 and presented to the British Museum, and a range of artefacts borrowed from a number of other museums in the UK. We’re working closely with Prof Colin Richards of the Department of Archaeology at the University who has been conducting fieldwork on Easter Island. We will recreate for the exhibition part of the quarry at Puna Pau where Prof Richards has been excavating with his team. This was where islanders carved pukao or topknots that sat on top of some of the statues or moai.
We will dress the reconstruction of the quarry in the Museum with replica tools made by the flint-knappers for greater authenticity. Large numbers of stone implements or toki have been found in the quarry where the statues were obtained as if the work was suddenly interrupted and the islanders downed tools. It is not clear whether the islanders ceased to honour the statues after ‘first contact’ with Europeans or whether the notorious ‘blackbirding’ raids to secure labourers for Chile compelled the workers to drop their tools and flee or whether discarding the stone implements tools was part of the islanders’ belief system in relation to work on the statues. It’s a very exciting project and it’s nice to know that the knap-in is contributing to the exhibition.