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Metro explores the latest trends emerging on the West Coast of Canada.

Vancouver knappers sharpen their Neolithic skills

Vancouver trending: Modern flint knappers use a variety of stone and glass, even old TV sets in their craft

The ancient practice of flint knapping, shaping a stone by striking it with another object, is alive and well in Vancouver.

Courtesy David Gowman

The ancient practice of flint knapping, shaping a stone by striking it with another object, is alive and well in Vancouver.

In a dimly lit room, a man carefully hones a piece of stone with a bit of antler, revealing its delicate contours and sharp-edged strength. The scene could be thousands of years old, but it's happening in a Strathcona field- house. The craft of flint knapping is alive and well in Vancouver.

Flint knapping, or the ancient art of shaping stone by striking it with another object, has been used since Neolithic times. A key wilderness survival skill, it's a technique for creating sharp-edged stone tools. Contemporary knappers include archaeology buffs, primitive skills practitioner and craftspeople.

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David Gowman, a local knapper, artist and musician, has been flint knapping for several years. He recently hosted a flint knapping workshop, Urban Paleo for the City Dweller, displaying and selling his work at the Culture Crawl. His interest was first sparked when his brother "found an arrowhead when we were kids wandering through a construction site. I've been jealous ever since," he said.

"I use rocks people send me from Oregon and Mexico, mostly obsidian." said Gowman. Obsidian, a volcanic rock forged from cooled lava, is extremely hard and brittle, and is considered one of sharpest materials on earth http://www.wildernesscollege.com/making-arrowheads.html.

David Gowman shapes a rock with a piece of antler.

Courtesy David Gowman

David Gowman shapes a rock with a piece of antler.

But Gowman is a very modern urban forager, and besides obsidian, he also uses the bottom of glass bottles and even TV glass. "TVs I find in alleys. Sometimes I buy nice rocks at Mountain Gems in Burnaby," he noted.

Vancouverites' interest in ancient skills is growing. The city's combination of proximity to wilderness and access to knowledgeable practitioners is inspiring people from all walks of life to get back to basics.

There are a number of flint knappers in Vancouver, including Harley Slade, a young enthusiast who started in high school. JJ Stonecraft, which sells handmade knives on Granville Island, crafts blades from Cascade Range-sourced obsidian.

And the online community is ever-growing. Sites like Paleo Planet and Puget Sound Knappers offer neophytes and experts alike a forum for discussion and idea sharing.

Some of David Gowman's creations.

Amy Logan/Metro

Some of David Gowman's creations.

For true enthusiasts, who yearn to go deeper, wilderness skills workshops can put their techniques to the test. The Wilderness Living Project, for instance, offers survival skills classes as well as a weeklong immersive course that teaches participants how to start a fire, build a shelter, find and use medicinal plants, and make their own tools.

As Gowman put it, "Perhaps the scene is growing. Perhaps there has always been a primitive skills scene on the fringes of normal society."

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