Bob Estep celebrates the past chip by chip

Published 8:20am Friday, May 30, 2014

For a few hours this weekend, the clock will be turned back to another age at Sycamore Shoals State Historic

Bob Estep has been flint knapping, or making stone tools, for 25 years. He creates all of his tools traditionally - the same way Native Americans did 8,000 years ago.
Bob Estep has been flint knapping, or making stone tools, for 25 years. He creates all of his tools traditionally – the same way Native Americans did 8,000 years ago.

Area.
The Stone Age.
And Bob Estep hopes to teach visitors a thing or two about our links to that era.
“We are proof that the Stone Age worked,” he said. “If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Estep wants to use his passion for flint knapping and crafting other traditional Native American tools to teach the public the importance the Stone Age has on our modern culture.
Park visitors will be able to take a look at the range of Native American culture — from 8,000 years ago to today — this weekend at Sycamore Shoals’ 24th annual Native American Culture Festival.
The event will feature traditional Native American dances and demonstration tables, and Estep will demonstrate flint knapping, or the process of making stone tools.
“The whole idea is to educate the public on them,” he said. “All the items I will be representing this weekend are Stone Age items.”
Estep doesn’t take shortcuts when making his Native American tools.
He makes everything from the arrow tips to the glue that holds his knives together. He uses the same materials and the same methods that Native Americans would have used 8,000 years ago.
“I do it all the traditional way,” he said.
Estep has knives, scrapers, percussive instruments, ceremonial trinkets, arrows and many other assortments of tools in his handmade collection.
“A lot of people think they’re just novelty things, but you could actually use this stuff,” he said.
Estep begins with a homogeneous rock, or a rock that’s made out of the same material throughout such as flint or obsidian. If the material isn’t homogeneous, it could make the next step, direct percussion, much more difficult. Direct percussion involves breaking pieces off of the material with another stone or wooden tool into the desired, pointed shape. Then another tool is used for precision flaking, which simply “fine tunes” the desired edge.
Estep sticks to general, triangular points for his tools, but said that point could tell you a lot about where a certain tool may be from.
“Different cultures used different points,” he said.
Fueled by an interest in prehistoric culture, Estep began flint knapping 25 years ago. Now he teaches his own classes in addition to his demonstrations.
He says that flint knapping isn’t something to be learned without patience — something he found out on his first weeklong workshop in flint-knapping.
“I thought I was going to learn everything that this guy knew in a week, but I was wrong,” he said, laughing. “You’ve got to be passionate or you’re not getting anywhere.”
The Native American Culture Festival will be held at Sycamore Shoals this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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