Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Post - Athens, OH
The independent newspaper covering campus and community since 1911.
The Post
A number of Miller's rocks are taken out of their case at a flint quarry near Flint Ridge State Nature Park on October 11, 2016.

Flintknappers dig through quarries for “Ohio’s Gemstone” to make arrowheads, tools

Chris Miller descended into a quarry that, when he stood at the bottom, reached several feet higher than his head. Above him, a tree sat on the edge of the quarry with its exposed roots extending down into the bed of flint where others had previously dug into the earth hoping to find a vein of Ohio’s official gemstone in Flint Ridge State Park in Glenford.

He’s been a flintknapper for 20 years, and he knows exactly for what he’s looking. Sifting through the layers of discarded flint littering the ground beneath him, he spotted it: a vein of flint protruding from the wall of the quarry. Its red and yellow hues were still visible through the layer of dust and dirt covering it. After some trial and error, he dislodged a sizable chunk of flint and turned it over in his hands. He continued to knock pieces off, looking for any cracks or crystals in the rock that could cause problems later in the knapping process.

“This piece could actually be taken home and used,” he said.

Flintknapping is the process of breaking down pieces of flint by removing tiny chips, which creates a razor-sharp edge — the reason Miller always wears protective gloves when digging. Knapped flint can be used for tools like arrowheads and knives, and the process itself dates back to about 15,000 years ago, when Paleo-Indians moved to Ohio and began hunting in the region, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The veins of flint in Flint Ridge are located on private property, so it is up to the owners of the land whether they want to allow diggers on their property.

Marion Nethers has lived on the property where Miller’s favorite quarry is located since 1956. Her son owns the land, but she weighs and sells extracted rocks to diggers who wish to make use of the quarry. Because she can’t always be present to take payments, she relies on an honor system with a scale and a sign-in sheet on her front porch.

“My theory on it is, I gave you every opportunity to be honest,” Nethers said. “And if you choose to be dishonest, it’s not going to hurt me, but some day you will have to answer for it.”

Flint Ridge is one of the most well-known flint deposits in Ohio. People have worked with its deposits of flint for more than 12,000 years, since Native Americans came to the area to replace their broken and worn-down flint tools.

Miller, from Mansfield, along with his friend and fellow knapper Chris Strickette, hosted a tent at the 2016 Paw Paw festival, where they allowed customers to pick out chunks of flint to be knapped into different types of tools. He said he has done similar shows in just about “every state east of the Mississippi.”

Certain conditions have to be met in order for the flint to be ideal for knapping. Due to its composition, when flint is struck head-on, a cone-shaped fracture comes off at the point at which it was hit. Crystals, cracks and exposure to the sun and cold are all factors that could cause unpredictable fractures in flint.

After Miller extracted a piece of flint from the quarry, he took out his tools and began chipping away, slowly forming it into a rounded shape. When the edge of the flint is hit by a hammer, the vibrations travel down the “ridges,” or raised surfaces of the rock.

“Once you learn the art of ‘coning,’ now you can take off the flakes that you want to remove because you understand the shape of them,” he said.

The more Miller struck the flint, the closer it began to resemble an arrowhead. The rock just previously buried under sediment and roots was transformed into a tool whose design dates back thousands of years.

Once the flint has been formed into its desired shape, knappers use a process called heat treating to create a glossy finish on the rock and to enhance the natural colors. Heat treating occurs in a kiln and can take from 24 to 36 hours, with temperatures up to 550 degrees, Miller said.

Depending on the color and style of the flint, as well as the time that went into making it, Miller said some of his arrowheads will sell for up to $150. One particular arrowhead, which was made using one of the oldest-known techniques dating back to more than 13,000 years ago, could sell for nearly $1,000 an inch.

Since starting his maintenance business and caring for his mother who recently developed Alzheimer's disease, Miller has not had much time to return to Flint Ridge. He said he used to spend upwards of a third of a year living in the area, digging and knapping flint for a living. In the past three years, Miller estimated he had only returned to Flint Ridge fewer than three times.

“This is like my second home,” he said.


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2016-2024 The Post, Athens OH