Bifacial Sickle Insert

Neolithic Period

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 101

This small piece of flint was a key element to a successful agricultural season in ancient Egypt. Grain was a staple of the economy, as bread and beer made from grain were consumed daily. They also formed the foundation of eternal sustenance, as funerary offerings. Ancient Egyptians used sickles made from flint and wood to reap grain. Pieces of flint such as this one were shaped to fit into a wooden haft along with a number of other such inserts, and secured with an adhesive. The flint pieces provided a sharp edge to cut the grain stalks. With use, the flint would wear down and develop a shiny gloss. The flint inserts could be re-sharpened or replaced as needed.

Bifacial sickle inserts like this constitute some of the earliest evidence for farming in Egypt. They were made mainly during the 5th- 4th millennia BC, after which they were replaced by sickle inserts made on thin blades with less invasive retouch. The sickle inserts on blades were faster to produce, but likely did not last as long as the larger, thicker bifacial inserts. This change marks a transition in systems of production and distribution of flint tools that coincided with the development of the state.

Flint, rather than copper alloy, was the primary material used to make sickles in Egypt until the first millennium B.C. when iron became more widely available. The reason for using flint was probably multifaceted and included considerations such as its abundance, its ease of manufacture compared to casting metal tools, flint’s proficiency at cutting grain, and the relationships between the people who made flint tools and the people who used them.

Bifacial Sickle Insert, Flint

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