6000 years old puzzle

Lots of flint


In archaeological excavations, you often find the waste that has occurred from the working of flint, in the form of a lot of flint fragments and flakes. During the Fehmarn Belt preliminary survey, archaeologists from Museum Lolland-Falster found just such a waste disposal site. Archaeologist Brian Westen has examined two of the flint pieces closely, and in two cases, he has managed to join them together into their original shape - an entire flint block.


"When we solve the flint puzzle, we can follow the flintworker's work process," says Brian Westen, Prehistoric Archaeologist at Museum Lolland-Falster.


Insight into a flintworkers' work

There were no immediate signs of a settlement near the flint concentration that the archaeologists found in one of the 16 m2 excavation boxes, which were excavated during the summer of 2013. In all probability, one of our ancestors found some promising flint blocks and set about knapping them into shape straight away.


Flint block

Flint block with three chips


"There are only three chipped-off pieces that I have been able to fit against the large block. I am sure they have brought the rest back home and used them as tools. From the small block, they have knocked off nine pieces that I have been able to fiddle back together. After knocking off the nine pieces, they would have seen that they could not get any further with this block, so they just left it there when they went home," says Brian Westen

It only took the Stone Age people a few minutes to create the puzzle, but it has taken the modern-day archaeologists considerably longer to piece it back together. "I have spent a total of 2 to 3 hours on this. But I had to leave the work a couple of times to clear my head," Brian Westen continues.


The flint changes

The fact is that flint is anything but an ordinary puzzle. When flint lies in the sun, it fades and can become completely white. This has made the piecing together harder. On the other hand, flint can have some characteristic patterns that do not disappear in the sun. The small block has such a pattern. Some fine stripes that helped piece it back together.


Flint block

Flint block with nine pieces chipped off; the stripes are still just visible.


"One block has had quite a lot of sun, and it is very pale. The nine chips that fit against it, on the other hand, are still dark. On the face of it, it looks as if they don't belong together at all," says Brian Westen.


However, according to Brian Westen, a couple of pieces are still missing before the puzzle can be completed. "There are small holes in the assembled block, which means that the very tiny chips are missing. Next time we find a flint concentration, we will need to use very fine sieves to make sure to extract it all," he continues.


An old craftsman's tradition

Based on the layers and the depth at which the flint was found, it is clear that it had its origin in Denmark's first peasant culture, the funnel beaker culture (ca. 3900-3400 BC). Many traditions from the Mesolithic Age were carried into this first period of the Neolithic Age. Flint craftsmanship is one of these, and thanks to Brian Westen's pottering, we have grown wiser about the craftsmanship of flintworkers.


Two flint axes

Flint-core axe (left) and flake axe (right) - mounted Drawing: Museum Lolland-Falster.


"I have found something highly unusual. Two of the pieces have been knocked off with a 90° angle between them. Pieces of this type can be mistaken for burins, tools that would have had many different functions, and which can be hard to define. However, after joining the pieces of flint together, I know that something that looks like a burin can also be the result of random splits," says Brian Westen. "My dream would be to be able to join together a big block, which had an axe-shaped hole in the middle. This would provide the ultimate insight into the flintworker's work, and we would be able to follow the entire working process," Brian Westen concludes.