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What materials were used to make tools in ancient times?

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In ancient times, the tools were made of stones

Quite a lot is known about ancient tools thanks to the importance the Egyptians attributed to their use in the next world. The graves of craftsmen often contained tools or models of tools, and tomb walls were at times decorated with scenes of artisans at work demonstrating their techniques. And just to make sure that one would not be left without the necessary implements some had lists of tools carved into the walls.

List of tools, mastaba of Kaiemankh, 6th dynasty, Giza

Hermann Junker ed., Grabungen auf dem Friedhof des Alten Reiches, Band IV: "Die Mastaba des Kai-em-anch", Wien und Leipzig 1940, Tafel IX

The 6th dynasty official Kaiemankh had such a list: a thousand adzes (an.t) [23], a thousand axes (mjb.t), a thousand mnx-chisels , a thousand DAm.t-chisels, a thousand sA.t-chisels, a thousand gwA-chisels, a thousand saws (tfA). He also did not forget to supply some raw materials like bD.t, apparently chunks of metal (bD refers to a crucible or mould), and Tr, a mineral brought from Elephantine [22].

Wooden tools

12th dynasty spindle and wooden 19th dynasty tools found at Gurob     Wood, ivory, bone and stone have been used for making tools since earliest times. Wood has marvellous qualities for which it is used and loved to this day. It combines toughness and pliability and can be given almost any shape. It was part of many tools, generally forming the handle. But some tools were made entirely of wood and remained so through the millennia:

    Ploughs did not have a European-style ploughshare. There was no need to turn over the soil, as the Nile deposited nutrients with every yearly flooding. Used only to break up the topsoil, they continued to be lightly built.

    Hoes, rakes [18][19] and grain scoops too were made of wood as were some tools mostly women used, such as spindles [13] and looms [14][15]. Carpenters' mallets were often just blocks of wood with a handle [16]. Fire drills consisted of a wooden bow and a plant fibre string

    Many of these tools changed but little over the centuries. The spindles of the twelfth dynasty for instance had whorl of greater depth than those of the New Kingdom and at the top a long spiral groove for the thread. In Roman times this groove was replaced by a metal hook.

Stone tools

12th dynasty stone tools     Stone has basically three functions for which it is suited: pounding, grinding and cutting. A relatively high specific weight and hardness give it much more impact power than a similarly sized piece of timber would have. This hardness is also what restricts its use as a hammer, because it splinters easily.

    The stone was either chipped or ground into the desired shape depending on the kind of stone: Fine sandstone, limestone and the like were ground serving as grinding stones and the like, while flint was generally chipped and used for cutting.

    Some materials like granite could only be worked with spherical hammerstones made of diorite, a stone of even greater hardness. Thanks to their roundness and composition these hammerstones rarely splintered. Applied with measured force they were used to slowly pulverize and shape the workpiece.


    The possibility of creating cutting edges is due to the hardness and crystallinity of the stone. It would be wrong to think that one could just bend down, pick up any stone and make a blade of it. Few kinds of stone are suitable for knapping, the most widely used being flint and chert. Such stone was often found far from the population centres and had to be mined and transported. Desert flint is found in the eastern desert in the form of small cobbles while tabular flint contained as nodules in limestone is quarried: Upper Egyptians got much of their flint from the quarries near Thebes, while Lower Egyptians were possibly supplied from Abu Roash.

    Opaque flint was preferred by the toolmakers to the clearer varieties. It seems the resulting flakes were longer and straighter, their edges tougher and they did not splinter as easily.
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