The Volgu point, a masterpiece of the stone toolmaker’s art

The Volgu point, a masterpiece of the stone toolmaker’s art

Volgu, Saône et Loire, France

Length: 28.2 cms
The British Museum

The Volgu point, a masterpiece of the stone toolmaker’s art This astonishingly thin and beautifully finished leaf-shaped point from Volgu, Saône et Loire, France, is a masterpiece of the stone toolmakers art. For practical, functional purposes leaf shaped stone spear tips were normally between about 3 and 10 centimetres long and took only a few minutes to make. This point and the fourteen others found with it in a deliberately buried cache are all between 23 and 30 centimetres long and less than one centimetre thick. Each one took around five hours and great skill to produce because the detachment of every flake had to be precisely calculated and the edge prepared by abrasion and notching to achieve optimum control of the removal to prevent breakage. This work needed experience and the ability to foresee the sequence of work several removals in advance in order to maintain the symmetry and straightness of the edges which are eventually so thin that no further flakes can be detached. The end result of this overinvestment of time is not a more efficient weapon but a non-functional tour-de-force with fragile edges which show no signs of use or damage. Such high specification knapping using flint sourced over 150 kilometres away and involving several stages or work to produce a preconceived form and volume is like a sculpture. It shows the ability and dexterity of the maker, as well as indicating the capacity to materialize and communicate ideas through the production of high quality objects by specialists.

No waste flakes, bones or other debris of everyday activities were found with the Volgu points suggesting that they were deliberately buried because they were valuable but the nature of that value remains a mystery. As the points show fantastic technical ability but are non-functional they have no economic value and may be a metaphor for the status of and relationship between the skilled toolmaker and the successful hunter. This symbol stemmed from expert knowledge of the best flint sources, specialist skills to produce the finest points with a heavy investment of time and the diffusion of the product by migration through a territory or by exchange between groups.

Like a sculpture, the Volgu point reveals a visual brain capable of perceiving perfection in the creation of a concept rather than a functional spear tip. Through this object the mind may refer to concepts of power or the wealth, status and relationships of the individual maker or owner or wider social group. The makers of leaf points painted in the caves of Lascaux and Altamira.