Saturday, October 20, 2007
Crabtree, often referred to as "the Dean of American Flintknapping
Crabtree, often referred to as "the Dean of American
flintknapping". He was born June 8, 1912, in Heyburn, Idaho.
According to Harvey L. Hughett of the University of Idaho: Don spent
his early youth in Salmon, Idaho where he first became interested in
Indians and their tools. His mother would have him run errands for
the next-door neighbor and as a reward this woman would give Don an
arrowhead which her husband had gathered. Young Don became fascinated
with these tools and even at this early age began to wonder why and
how they were made. There were, at this time, many Indians in Salmon.
Thanks to Harvey Hughett, at the University of Idaho, whom is now
curator of the Don Crabtree Lithic Collection, we now know much more
about Don Crabtree's childhood. I spoke to Mr. Hughett a few in
October of 1999 (Val Waldorf had no problem either) he gave me
permission to quote his copyright article on Don Crabtree in Chips
Vol. 11, No.3, 1999.: "Young Don became fascinated with these tools
and even at this early age began to wonder why and how they were
made. There were, at this time, many Indians in Salmon. Their custom
was to sit flat on the sidewalk with their legs stretched in front of
them. Don found it great fun to jump over their legs and to talk with
them, for which he was severely reprimanded by his mother.
When Don was six, his Family moved to Twin Falls. This was desert
country and Don spent most of his time hunting for artifacts, Indian
campsites and building his collection of Indian tools. The family's
home was just a stone's through from the Snake River Canyon and Don
spent every possible moment hunting in the canyon, collecting from
campsites and caves and adding to his collection. He also collected
obsidian flakes and began to try to reproduce the artifacts. This
meant more trips to the canyon for knapping material. Soon, young
Crabtree had gathered a fairly large collection of artifacts and his
interest in experimenting with different stones and methods of
manufacture to achieve replication increased. He tried many
approaches to holding and applying force but with little success and
much failure. After interviewing many local Indians, he was
disappointed that he was unable to learn anything of how these
fascinating artifacts were made. Flintknapping was essentially a lost
art even at the time.
Don was constantly in trouble with his father for being away from
home so much, for the many cuts on his hands and the permanent
bloodstains on his clothing. He received many reprimands for coming
home after dark. Even this did not cure him of his quest for
knowledge of the Native Americans and their tools. At one point, his
father became so disgusted with Don spending so much time knapping he
offered to pay him $100.00 if he would promise never to make another
arrowhead. Don wanted a bicycle and a gun so badly that he considered
this offer for some time. However, the love of Indian lore won and he
told his father that he could not give up his attempts to make tools
as the Indians had.
In the late 1930's he was supervisor of the Vertebrate and
Invertebrate Laboratory at the University of California at Berkley,
this is also where Ishi's artifacts are curated. Also, Ted Orcutt
still lived not far to the North. Crabtree also worked in the
Anthropology lab with the well known Anthropologist Alfred Krueber,
whom was Ishi's friend and caretaker at the museum a few short years
before. According to Dr. Errett Callahan (1979), following a
flintworking demonstration at a meeting of the American Association
of Museums in Ohio, in 1941, Crabtree was employed at the Ohio State
Lithic Laboratory with H. Holmes Ellis and Henry Shertrone. He was
also advisor in Lithic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and
the Smithsonian Institution's museum.
During world war II, Crabtree was coordinating Engineer with
Bethlehem Steel in California. Between 1952 and 1962, he was County
Supervisor with the U.S.D.A in Twin Falls, Idaho. In 1962 and 1975,
Crabtree was research associate in lithic technology at the Idaho
State Museum in Pocatello."
Not only was Crabtree a master flintknapper and an inspirational
flintknapper , he was also an expert on the theoretical aspect of
stone tool studies. Crabtree published papers on replicative
flintworking and other aspects of lithic studies in such publications
"American Antiquity" (1939,1968), "Current Anthropology"
(1969), "Science" (1968,1970), "Curator" (1970), "Tebiwa" (1964,
1966, 1967, 1968, 1972, 1973,1974), and "Lithic Technology" (1975).
Crabtree's textbook, "An Introduction to Flintworking", was the main
publication readily available from 1972 on. The Crabtree book,
although 26 years old, is still a classic and is one of the most
referenced books in lithic studies today. The book is easy to read
and is full of excellent drawings and text. The book is available
through the Idaho Museum of Natural History, Idaho State University,
Pocatello, Idaho. They also have republished Crabtree's articles,
papers, and videos, his articles are better than ours decades later.
Crabtree was featured in many archaeological films in his day, many
were shown around the world in class rooms from elementary school to
doctoral classes. These films influence many up and coming
flintknappers. The film "Blades and Pressure Flaking" (1969) won best
anthropology film at the 1970 American Film Festival.
In 1972, the Idaho Museum of Natural History received a grant from
the National Science Foundation for the production of several 16mm
films featuring the legendary flintknapper. Just a few years ago
these films were dubbed onto VHS video tape and made available to the
public through Idaho Museum Publications. Though faded somewhat, this
footage still maintains its detail and shows Don Crabtree at his
best. In the Shadow of Man , Don is shown quarrying obsidian at Glass
Buttes in Oregon. The Flintworker discusses the basics of
flintknapping, stone tools are made using simple percussion
techniques, and the Hertzian cone theory is introduced. Ancient
Projectile Points covers the making of bifacial points. The hunter's
Edge covers prismatic blade making. The Alchemy of Time concerns heat
treating, and the manufacture of Clovis, Folsom and Cumberland
points. In 1978, Crabtree had open heart surgery with stone tools.
The blades Crabtree made were so sharp that Crabtree's doctor agreed
to use them on him after seeing how sharp they were. The first
surgery one of Crabtrees's Ribs and a lung section were removed, an
18 inch cut. Crabtree's stone tools were so sharp that there was
hardly a scar.
Don Crabtree flintknapped all types of artifacts including fluted
Folsom , parallel flaking, chevron flaking, notching, blade making
and even Ted Orcutt style large obsidian biface points. His large
points were very similar to Orcutts , some were so thin that they
looked like dinner plates, his obsidian arrow points were very
similar to those he helped to curate in Berkley made by Ishi.
While working agate Crabtree noticed that his had a satiny texture
and the Indian arrowheads out of the same material were like opal.
After much experimentation he rediscovered heat treating of flint
materials to improve knapping quality.
In the later part of his life Crabtree traveled the world meeting and
flintknapping with each nations leaders in lithic fields of endeavor
and really opened the door for all of us. During this time
flintknapping saw its heyday, "knap-ins", lithic conferences and
publications. Sort of what what is happening now but with the
Don Crabtree, Dean of American flintknappers, died on November 16,
1980 from complications of heart disease, within six months of
Francois Bordes . When Bordes and Crabtree passed away the 1970's
academic flintknapping heyday passed away with Them. THE PALEO
KNAPPERS : The Late Don Crabtree, of southern Idaho, is considered to
be the "Dean of American Flintknapping" not only for his fine
publications, but also for the vast amount of important information
he uncovered in a life devoted to the study of stone tools. Don was
most probably the first flintknapper in thousands of years to flute a
Folsom point, as early as 1941 Crabtree was employed at the Lithic
Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania and the prestigious
Smithsonian Institution. He had experimented with fluting in the
1930s but became quite famous for his studies into the Lindenmier
Folsom in 1966 . Don Crabtree passed away on November 16, 1980.
Jeffery Flenniken and Gene Titmus, students of Crabtree carried on
the studies and are still considered to be among the best
flintknappers in the world.