Bifacial Knife from the Oasis Fayum


Large flat tools from pre- and early/ middle dynastic Egypt, that strongly resembling a modern knife shape, with one specialized cutting edge, can be reasonably called  knifes. These  knives are perhaps the most discussed flint tool in Egyptology largely as they are found in larger numbers, are often aesthetically pleasing, and are depicted on Old and Middle Kingdom tomb walls in slaughter scenes. Some scenes may display rituals and some of them may depicting scenes of everyday life. Bifacial knifes from Egypt seem to have been traded throughout Levant. For example at least one piece was found Early Bronze I Erani and others were transported to Byblos and Knossos.

Egyptian knife manufacture has been subject to experimental work, particularly the aesthetically pleasing Predynastic and Early Dynastic ripple-flaked forms, replication experiments have shown that such fine examples take about 17 hours to manufacture by modern knappers. However, the manufacturing technology is still generally poorly understood and varies geographically and temporally.

Unless found in secure contexts, knives are traditionally assumed to be Early Dynastic or Old Kingdom and indeed many unprovenanced examples in museums have been assumed to be this date. During the New Kingdom knives are usually manufactured of metal, but there is also some iconographic evidence that flint knifes continued to be also used.

The varying outlines of the flint knife seem to follow a chronological pattern, though size and other variations are chronologically relevant. Most of these typologies are of a general nature. Exceptional large knifes up to 40 cm long are known and many knifes were often heavily resharpened to smaller size, like the example from Fayum, displayed here.

Most of the particularly fine and apparently non-functional knifes date to the Pre or Early Dynastic periods. It has been speculated, that such knifes have been used in ritual slaughtering of animals and men, in circumcision rituals and were used in mummification procedures. Unfortunately we have no unambiguous proof for such popular readings. However, from the context and iconography it is clear, that at many knifes were used as simple butchering tools. In addition, there is some evidence that knives of the shape usually categorized as butchery knives were used as sickles.

Suggested Reading:

Rethinking Pitt-Rivers | Flint knife 1884.140.82

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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