James Parker began flintknapping in 1977 because he was interested in the arrowheads he was finding in fields near his house. At this time, there were only two books that covered flintknapping and they both were concerned with the use of old world tools. These books were: Cro-Magnon Man (F. Clark Howell, 1973), which was a part of the Time-Life Emergence of Man Series, and Early Man (F. Clark Howell, 1965), part of the Life Nature Series. These books showcased two famous French flintknappers Jacquex Tixier and Francios Bordes. The information that we have today concerning flintknapping was not readily available making these two books incredible resources to James’ flintknapping studies. It was still two years before Dr. Errett Callahan would publish The Basics of Biface Knapping in The Eastern Fluted Tradition and ten years before James would meet Dr. Callahan and begin flintknapping in the Callahan style.
Dr. Errett Callahan is one of the Grandfathers of Primitive Technology. In addition to being a master flintknapper, he has been building and shooting bows most of his life. Errett has built many primitive houses and attempted most types of primitive technology in the field. He has conducted landmark primitive living experiments such as the Pamunkey Project and Old Rag, where Errett and his students practiced primitive technology in the field. He has knapped every grade of material, using traditional methods. He is currently writing the definitive work on Danish daggers. Errett founded the Society of Primitive Technology and was a past president. The Society of Primitive Technology exists to encourage communication among teachers, students, and practitioners of early skills and methods. Another goal was to re-discover the lost processes and re-teach traditional skills. Callahan’s belief in his method helped James see the need for high standards in the areas of technique, authenticity, and quality of his work.
Prior to taking Callahan’s workshop, James had to teach himself flintknapping. James’ knapping had entered a standstill and Callahan’s stages method of production got James over the hump. Callahan also introduced James to Old World knapping techniques and advanced bifacial reduction (this is the stages of manufacture from a flake or spall to a finished point). In 1990 James received a scholarship to attend Errett’s workshop again. This workshop furthered James’ journey to advanced flintknapping. The two workshops that James spent with Callahan helped shape James into the knapper he is today. At Callahan’s, James saw films, photographs, and the actual replications Callahan had finished on all grades of material. James was introduced to hand axes, blades, cores, and many things from across the globe that Callahan had replicated personally from a wide array of cultures.
James took Callahan’s instruction to heart and pursued flintknapping obsessively. James attended hundreds of knap-ins and was disappointed at the lack of traditional knappers. He made thousands of replications and knapped for years attempting all types of replications. James can replicate old and new world tool kits, hand axes, cores, blade and flake tools, as well as unifacial and bifacial tools.
Today, James practices and preaches traditional knapping techniques using wood, antler, and stone tools. James uses these techniques and tools not only because the native people used these techniques, but because they work. On harder materials, such as rhyolite, wood billets and pressure flakers are the only tools that are effective. James has travelled across the country attending knap-ins (events that foster communication among collectors, flintknappers, and rock merchants from around the world). There are traditional and non-traditional techniques in the reproduction of stone tools, arrowheads, and blades. James has many flintknapping “followers” who have chosen to knap traditionally because of him. James strives to promote the authentic methods and ethics of flintknapping.
James also would like to recognize some traditional knappers who have also influenced his knapping. Jack Cressan, an archaeologist from New Jersey, uses traditional techniques to make tools out of harder materials such as argillite. Scott Silsby, who specializes in greenstone tools, told James to simply slow down, which improved James’ knapping. Mike Stafford, another Callahan student, is presently working on making Danish daggers. Scott Jones, a knapper from Georgia gave James one of the best pieces of advice he could have given by telling James to simply “slow down” and pay attention to every aspect of knapping. Finally, Steve Watts is another knapper who helped shape James Parker. Steve held a knap-in each year at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia. James met Steve at the end of the first knap-in the Schiele Museum held. James maintained his friendship and professional relationship with Steve for thirty years until Steve’s passing in March of 2016.
In 1986 James Parker met Steve Watts and began taking workshops from him. Steve directed the Aboriginal Studies Programs at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia. Its goal is to promote the teaching and awareness of the vast set of aboriginal skills (such as fire-making, hide tanning, shelter building, pottery, weaponry, etc.) that early man had to procure just to survive everyday life. The program uses annual museum events as an opportunity to have instructors and demonstrators come and teach. This is done to educate the public on significant knowledge, abilities, and ways of life of the Native Americans that were indigenous groups in that area. The program also puts on several workshops each year for groups of individuals wanting to focus on and learn more about the specific skills of Native Americans and other primitive people throughout the world. These classes last for two days and are for individuals who want to gain a deeper understanding of primitive peoples and gain the ability to apply particular primitive technologies. James has taken almost fifty of these classes from Steve and attended all but one of Steve’s applied primitive skills outings. An applied skills outing involves the actual use and application of this knowledge in the field. It is in these different learning settings that James’ education and capabilities accumulated, allowing him to put them into practical use. Steve was an outstanding teacher who could make primitive technology easy to understand for even the inexperienced. When you look at a finished primitive item, you do not see the stages of production, simply the final result. Steve could reduce complex skills to simpler components and explain them in a way which was easy to understand. Steve influenced James, not only with his teaching style, but also with an enthusiasm and appreciation for the importance of promoting and teaching primitive living skills. James believes that it is important not to forget these skills. Knowledge of primitive technologies shows us where we’ve come from and how to be more self-sufficient in this modern world.
Steve Watts was the president of the Society of Primitive Technology. He worked on the film Castaway making props and training the screenplay writer. He was also featured on the television program Extreme History with Roger Daltry. Steve’s book, Practicing Primitive, is available now. He regularly taught workshops at the Schiele Museum’s Center for Southeastern Native American Studies. To find out about Steve’s workshops, write to: The Aboriginal Studies Program, Schiele Museum of Natural History, 1500 E. Garrison Blvd., Gastonia, NC, 28054.
James has Steve to thank for his journey from student, to practitioner, and finally to teacher. James has volunteered as a public education instructor at the Schiele Museum, supporting the advancement of primitive living skills and primitive technologies as well as performing demonstrations at museum events. He has assisted in the construction of shelters and housing in a reproduction of a Catawba Indian Village at the museum. He has also taught workshops as a guest instructor at the museum’s Center for Southeastern Native American Studies.
James helped begin and nurture the development of the first reproduction Indian village at the Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum in Bastian, Virginia. He was also a consulting flintknapper at the Uwharries Lithics Research Conference in the Uwharrie Mountains near Ashboro, NC in 1999. He aided in the understanding of the use of rhyolite by the prehistoric people of Morrow Mountain and the surrounding area. James has been asked to teach and demonstrate lithic skills and other primitive technologies at various archaeological and historic locations such as: Red River Gorge in Kentucky; Moundville Archaeological Park in Moundville, Alabama; Chehaw State Park in Albany, Georgia; Historic Camden in South Carolina; and Fort Defiance in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
James is also a member of the Society of Primitive Technology and encourages you to join the society. The society was created from the vision of Errett Callahan and other leaders in the field of primitive technology and experiential skills. The most recent president was Steve Watts and Dave Wescott (Boulder Outdoor School of Survival) is the current editor. The Society publishes the Bulletin of Primitive Technology twice a year. To contact the Society, please contact Dave Wescott at: The Society of Primitive Technology, P.O. Box 905, Rexburg, ID 83440 USA. Website: www.primitive.org
James’ love of archery began in his childhood at the age of six, as he constructed and shot simple bows made of sticks and strings. From there, his journey in bow-making began. James researched and studied books on the art, history, and skill of building bows. His learning came from books written by J. B Hunt, Jim Hamm, Dr. Charles Greyson, Klopsteg, Adam Korpawitz, and many others.
James has made primitive self-bows (a bow comprised of a single piece of wood) as well as replicas of the bows various Native Americans and other indigenous people used daily. James has replicated nearly every type of Native American bow known to modern man. He has also produced a wide array of arrow types including primitive, medieval, and traditional arrows.
The range of James’ bow-building experience extends from the modern to the ancient. In his repertoire are modern composite recurves and longbows. These are all-wood or wood and fiberglass bows made from bamboo and different laminate materials. On the other end of the spectrum, James’ capabilities include the construction of the bows and weaponry of primitive people from all over the world representing weapons used at various times throughout known history. James’ ancient archery skills reached their apex when he began successfully replicating horn bows. In the past, horn bows were built in many parts of the world, but they were prolifically used by the Chinese, Turks, and the Mongols. The horn bow is a composite bow made of layers of wood, sinew, and water buffalo horn. This exceedingly powerful bow was a war bow and was commonly shot from horseback. It is extremely difficult to master and even more challenging to build. James has built horn bows of the type and quality that were found in China, Hungary, the Middle East, and various parts of Asia.
James’ love and knowledge of archery is not only intellectual; it is also personal and widely used and practiced in his daily life. Not only does James make his own personal bows, but he also makes his arrows of rivercane, which are tipped with his own stone arrowheads. He uses these to hunt and provide for his family of five.
James is familiar with many facets of archery and attempts to further archery education. He has practiced and taught horseback archery (equine archery), which is the shooting of a bow from a running horse. He has instructed bow-fishing classes. He has attended and assisted the set-up of many 3-D archery shoots, utilizing a plethora of stationary targets, moving targets, and aerial targets. He gains much satisfaction from instructing others in the tradition of archery and has a strong desire to keep it alive.
For twenty-two years James has been a member of the North and South Carolina Traditional Archers and would like to recognize Herb Reynolds for his support and knowledge of archery.
James has been a member of the North Carolina Knife Makers Guild since 1992. James is the only member making stone knives and one of the youngest members in the guild.
James has also studied martial arts for twenty-five years. James considers martial arts as an extension of his primitive skills. In 1997 James was awarded a black belt from Grandmaster Ric Ward in Si Lum Chuan-Fa Kung Fu. Master Ward then awarded James a black belt in 1999 in Kung Fu Arnis and Sasamba. James also received a degree in the Indonesian art of Pentjak Silat from Ric Ward and Dr. E. Kash, PhD. James helped Ric form the “Black Turtle Society” where Ric’s martial arts students practiced and learned primitive skills.
Other instructors that James has worked with include Grandmaster Amador Remey Presas and Dr. Gaudlosa Ruby. In 2000 James was awarded Instructor of the Year by Dr. Ruby and was inducted into the Filipino Marital Arts Hall of Fame.
With this broad background of experience, James is ready to instruct the student in all areas of Primitive Technology. Whatever the student wants to learn about primitive technology, James has experimented with or done on a regular basis. James realizes that there is no natural ability in doing primitive technology. This is the reason you need to find great teachers, practice the skills, and do the work in the field with students who are willing to work hard.