Amarna sickle blades
The picture shows sickle blades in the Egypt Centre from the site of Amarna.
Sickle blades make up the most commonly occurring formal lithic type of the New Kingdom and later. New Kingdom examples appear larger and more robust than earlier types, and in shape they are shorter and wider. They may be backed and denticulated. A number appear to have been made on flakes rather than blades. Cortex is frequently present, especially on end sickles.
Tillmann (1992, 94-99, pl. 26-38) discusses type A and B sickle blades of the 18th and 19th Dynasties from Qantir. Both type A and B tend to be retouched on all sides and type A tends to be heavily denticulated. Tillmann’s illustrations show cortex on several end sickles. He also clearly shows the ripple marks, which suggest from their angle that these ‘blades’ were actually made from blades rather than flakes. However, on a number of New Kingdom ‘blades’ which I have examined from Amarna, I was unable to detect the direction of the ripples and in some cases it appeared rather that the artefact was made on a flake rather than a blade.
Spurrell (1894, 37) describes parts of pebbles which had been naturally split ‘by action of the weather’ which had been gathered together for use at the south end of Amarna and states a similar use of material of the same date at Gurob. Some of these pieces appeared to Spurrell to have been used to manufacture sickle blades. Examination of examples from British museums supports this. Liverpool Museum 56.20.764-5 from Amarna which, although split, shows no signs of conchoidal fracture (this piece was also manufactured from tabular flint). Pitt Rivers 1922.30.2, a sickle blade from Amarna, also has no apparent signs of conchoidal fracture but the surface appears rather to suggest a naturally broken piece. Thus, New Kingdom ‘blades’ are not always ‘blades’. Indeed it is often difficult to tell if a blade or flake was used, e.g. BM EA58013, BM EA55155. It also appears possible that certain sickle blades may also be made on human-manufactured flakes. Tillmann (2004, pl.226.1) illustrates an end sickle that could well have been manufactured on a flake.
While New Kingdom blades are more frequently denticulated than not, it is also clear that at Amarna non-denticulated blades were also set (Spurrell 1894, 37). At Qantir, a completely unretouched blade was also identified by Tillmann (1992, pl. 37.6) as a sickle blade. Others such as Tillmann’s type B, discussed above, may be retouched but hardly denticulated.
In the Metropolitan Museum there are many sickle flints from the Rameside village of el Lisht. All have serrated cutting edges and many slightly curved to coincide with the arc of the sickle (Hayes 1959, 408-409). 4 flint sickle blades with serrated edges from the silo area at Tell el-Balamun belong to the Third Intermediate Period (Spencer 1999, 77). 18th-19th Dynasty sickle blades were found in the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina by Bruyère (1939 pl. XLII), most of which are denticulated.
Giddy (1999, pl.51) lists the sickle blades and other tools found at Memphis. Among them are 29 New Kingdom and later sickles. Some are denticulated, retouch appears on all four sides and cortex can be present.
Sickle blades have also been found in hafts. A curved wooden sickle with 16 inch blade grooved to receive a row of small serrated flint teeth and dating to 18th Dynasty is in the Metropolitan Museum (Hayes 1968, 215). It is clear that at least some of these examples had a ritual purpose.
It is clear that sickle blades continue in Egypt until the Roman Period. The fact that the type continued so late suggests that copper alloy was not really a viable alternative. This could be because of the ready supply of flint compared to that of copper. It could also be because flint was in some ways superior. Steensberg (1943, 11-26) and Coles (1973, 34-39) demonstrated that flint sickles are better than copper ones and equal to bronze. It was only when iron was introduced in the 20th Dynasty that flint had a functional competitor. Then there is the ‘added value’ of flint, in that it was not only a functional material but had religious significance.
Bruyère, B. (1939) Rapport sur les Fouilles de Deir el Médineh. (1934-1935) FIFAO 16. Imprimerie de l’Institut Français D’Archéologie Orientale: Cairo.
Coles, J. (1973) Archaeology by Experiment. Scribner’s: New York.
Giddy, L. (1999) Kom Rabi’a: The New Kingdom and Post-New Kingdom Objects. Egypt Exploration Society: London.
Hayes, William Christopher. (1968) The scepter of Egypt: a background for the study of the Egyptian antiquities in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (1675-1080 B.C.). Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Distributed by H.N. Abrams: New York.
Spencer, A. Jeffrey & British Museum. Trustees. (1999) Excavations at Tell el-Balamun, 1995-1998. British Museum Press: London.
Spurrell, F.C.J. (1894) ‘Flint Tools from Tell el Amarna’. In Petrie, W.H.F. Tell el Amarna. Methuen and Co.: London p.37-8.
Steensberg, A. (1943) Ancient Harvesting Implements. Nationalmuseets skrifter: Copenhagen.
Tillmann, Andreas. (1992) Die Steinartefakte des Dynastischen Ägypten, Dargestellt am Beispiel der Inventare aus Tell el-Dab’a und Qantir. University of Tübingen: