In several Late Prehistoric Iberian sites across Western Europe, a tradition emerged using rock crystals to fashion micro-blades, arrow heads and daggers.
Most prehistoric cultures throughout the world manufactured stone tools and weapons from cryptocrystalline materials such as chert or flint, radiolarite, chalcedony, obsidian, basalt, and quartzite via a process known as lithic reduction.
This was generally done by striking stone flakes from a nucleus (core) of material using a hammerstone or similar hard hammer fabricator. In some strategies, a flintknapper reduces the core to a rough unifacial, or bifacial preform, which is further reduced using soft hammer flaking techniques or by pressure flaking the edges.
In parts of southern Iberia around 3,000 BC during the Chalcolithic Copper Age, a unique tradition developed for the elite that instead used types of macro-crystalline quartz, a monocrystal characterised by its hyaline translucent appearance. The period also saw the great expansion of megalithism, with its associated collective burial practices and the climax of the Bell Beaker culture in Iberia.
As a raw material, using crystal for tool/weapon manufacturing greatly reduces the functional use due to the less flexible and fragile nature of the stone. Stones such as variscite and amber were used exclusively to make body ornaments, whereas quartz monocrystals was used to manufacture arrowheads and micro-blades, whilst rock crystal in its natural state were sometimes used as personal amulets or charms.
Rock crystal weapons have mostly been found in small quantities in Mesolithic burial sites, with the exception being the dolmens of Lanchas I, El Corchero and Ontiveros, in which 15, 12 and 16 arrow heads were found respectively, as well as the Cuesta de Los Almendrillos megalith, from which 10 crystal micro-blades were collected.
During excavations of the Dolmen de Montelirio between 2007 through to 2010, an 8.5-inch crystal dagger was discovered along with crystal arrow heads and an ornately carved ivory handle. The dagger may have had a symbolic significance for vitality, magical powers and to connect with the ancestors, but also demonstrates an advanced craft in lithic technique and manufacturing.
Although the raw material was readily available throughout region, the scarcity in a fashioned form of crystal weapons suggests that only high-status individuals could afford the commission of sophisticated objects such as arrow heads or dagger blades.
Header Image Credit :Miguel Angel Blanco de la Rubia