Amarna Flint (the Egypt Centre and Beyond)
For a general introduction to flint working see Andrevsky (1998).
The Egypt Centre, like other collections of Egyptian items, has a number of sickle blades which come from Amarna. We know they are sickle blades because the same types from elsewhere have been found in wooden sickle hafts. Some also exhibit ‘sickle gloss’ from the cutting of plant material, though there are arguments as to how sickle gloss was formed (Meeks 1982; Unger-Hamilton 1984).
Spurrell (1894, 37), Petrie’s flint expert, reported that many sickle blades had been found near the palace waste heaps (Central City) and rough flakes were found in the southern suburb. Miller (1987) suggests that perhaps the first working was carried out in the southern suburbs and then sickle blades made near the palace. However, it could be that sickle blades were simply fitted to shafts at the palace. Flint has also been found in other contexts at Amarna.
Unlike earlier sickle blades which appear to be made from a blade, many Amarna pieces seem to be made on flakes. They are wider than earlier sickle blades and there is often little evidence of the ‘blank’ having been a blade. Spurrell (1894, 37) made a study of the Amarna flint and noted that a large number of naturally occurring pebbles which had been split by natural action had been gathered together for use in the southern suburb. It could be that some of these were used to manufacture the sickle blades/flakes.
A large number of sickle blades were found in the Main City at Amarna, but none from the Workmen’s Village (Miller 1989, 144). Instead here, among other items, a pick was found, perhaps made from tabular flint. In the Amarna vicinity flint sources include tabular flint and nodules as well as Palaeolithic flint tools. For more information on sickle blades from Amarna see: Sickle blades.
Miller (1987) also noted evidence of flint working from the tomb spoil near the Workmen’s Village. It seems that cores may have been roughed out on the site of the tomb spoil. The variation in cores suggested to Miller (1987, 147) competent but unspecialised knappers. Unretouched blades and flakes were also found (Spurrell 1894, 37). Spurrel (1894, 38) states ‘of the remaining tools only a few pieces need be mentioned, which might have been used to scrape a limestone surface.’ These unpublished tools may include the following types found in British museums: circular scrapers; a polished ‘burnisher’; various retouched flakes; a crescentic drill bit; etc. Such items have been seen by the writer in her research.
Perhaps surprisingly, given that they occur on other New Kingdom sites, few flint knives of the bifacial type seem to have been found at Amarna, or at least, I know of none in British Museums. Many of Petrie’s listing of ‘knives’ appear to be blades. However, one knife at least does seem to have been found. It is illustrated in Peet and Woolley (1923, 29-30, pl. XIII.6) and is described as coming from a large house in the Main City (object number 21.94). Frankfort (1927, 212) also describes ‘a large number of flints’ found at the northern house of Panehsy, ‘Overseer of the Cattle of the Aten’. However these are not bifacial knives nor the spalls from the sharpening of them. Bifacial knives are not of course essential to cattle butchery, but given their occurrence on other New Kingdom sites one might expect to have found them at Amarna. See page 4 on the Amarna Newletter ‘Horizon’ for a preliminary report on the flint work.
Amarna Flint in Egypt Centre:
W1380-1928/29 excavations. Excavation number: TA 29.1.110.
W1381-Excavation number TA 26-27 181. Found in V36.1 in 1926, North Suburb (Information from Cambridge Amarna Database at:
W1382 – Excavation number 28/29 123. Found in U36.48 See C of A II (North Suburbs) page 23 in house U.36.42 29/123 where it is simply listed as ‘Sickle flint, 6 1/2 cm.’. W1383
Mastic was put on the sickle blades to hold them in their wooden holder. It can be seen on some of the Egypt Centre sickle blades. Spurrell (1894) believed it was made from wax though resins may have been used. Endlicher and Tillmann (1997) showed that lime plaster was used for hafting sickle blades at 18th Dynasty Tell el Daba.
Tomb of Sennedjem showing him using a sickle with flint blades.
Flint was not a poor persons’ alternative to metal. Flint and metal tools were found side by side in houses at Amarna. The fact that the flint items such as sickles continued well into the New Kingdom suggests that copper alloy was not always a viable alternative for some tools. 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 after the New Kingdom (iron was used earlier but was not in common use until the Late Period) that flint had a functional competitor.
References and further reading
Andrevsky, W. Jr., 1998. Lithics. Macroscopic Approaches to Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Coles, J. 1973. Archaeology by experiment. New York: Scribner’s.
Endlicher, G. and Tillmann, A. 1997. Lime Plaster as an Adhesive for Hafting Eighteenth-Dynasty Flint Sickles from Tell el Dab’a, Eastern Nile Delta (Egypt), Archaeometry 39(2), August 1997, 333-342.
Frankfort, H. 1927. Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Tell el-‘Amarna, 1926-7, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 13, 209-218.
Meeks et al. 1982. Gloss and Use-Wear Traces on Flint Sickles and Similar Phenomena, Journal Archaeological Science. 9, 317-340.
Miller, R. L. 1987. Flaked Stone from the Workmen’s Village. Amarna Reports IV. B. J. Kemp. London: Egypt Exploration Society, 144-153.
Peet, T.E. and Woolley, C.L. 1923. The City of Akhenaten Part I. London: The Egypt Exploration Society.
Unger-Hamilton, R. 1984. The Formation of Use-wear Polish on Flint: beyond the ‘Deposit Versus Abrasion’ Controversy. Journal Archaeological Science 11, 91-98.
Spurrell, F.C.J. 1894. ‘Flint Tools from Tell el Amarna.’ In Petrie, WMF, Tell el Amarna. London, 37-38.
Steensberg, A. 1943. Ancient Harvesting Implements. Copenhagen: Nationalmuseets Skrifter.