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Culture

[ZOOM KOREA] Prehistoric knives are useful works of art

Mar 22,2018
Joseph Park, a stone carver from Seattle, visits the Jeongok Prehistory Museum in Gyeonggi province and demonstrates the process of how he makes a stone knife. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Park, above, examines Paleolithic remains in the Jeongok Prehistory Museum. From top right, Park demonstrates the process of creating a stone knife out of obsidian. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Joseph Park chooses the handle and colors for each of his custom-made stone blade knives.
Due to great advances in technology, many revolutionary changes to the way that people live have happened in the past 30 years. Society is rapidly changing as intelligence information technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), big data, and mobile devices affect the way we live our lives. But, even in the midst of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, there are some who choose to live as if they were living in the Paleolithic Age, which ended some 12,000 years ago.

Joseph Park, whose Korean name is Park Gyu-sup and resides in Seattle, is one of those people. Using volcanic glass, he creates stone bladed knives, which was one of man’s earliest inventions. Excluding the colors, curves and details, the knives are created using the same materials, tools and methods that the early humans did.

It was at an outdoor show held in New York in 1982, that Park first became interested in stone harvesting knives. At the time, Park was working at the New York branch of Hyundai Shipping. While at the expo, he met a Native American elder who was striking a pair of antlers with a stone to create a sharp knife. The moment he laid eyes on the knife, he became fascinated by it. After talking to the elder for a long time, he was able to finally learn more about this technique.

His childhood memories contribute greatly to his instant attraction to what is known as a obsidian knife. Until third grade of elementary school, he was raised in Jeongok, Gyeonggi. One day, he came across a glittering rock in the fields. Because it was such an interesting object, he eventually asked his friend’s father, who was the museum director of the Kyunghee University Museum, what it was. He found out that the rock was a flint arrowhead made using volcanic glass, or obsidian, from the Paleolithic Age.

Before the wide usage of metal, obsidian was the sharpest tool that humans knew how to use. Native Americans used the material until the beginning of the 20th century. There are even some doctors who operate using stone bladed knives made of obsidian on their patients to this day.

After moving to Seattle in the 1990’s, his hobby of carving knives which started at the New York hobby club, became a full-time job. He devoted all of his time to carving knives. Fortunately, there was an abundant supply of obsidian at Yellowstone National Park, which was not far from his new home. Park ventured out into these areas often to collect obsidian for his knives.

The procedure of making a knife is not complicated. After examining the stone, he decides what kind of knife he should make. Next, he either uses antlers or animal bones to break the stone into smaller pieces. To create the shape he wants, he begins a process of repeatedly grinding and carving the stone with a bone. He does this process twice. Then, a beautiful stone bladed knife is produced.

To study stone knives from the Paleolithic Ages, he frequently visits historic sites all over the world in his spare time. Park looks around museums and prehistoric sites in the U.S., Denmark, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Japan, China and etc.

While evaluating the value of stone knives, Park considers the color, lines and the handle the most important factors. To create high quality colors, the color of the raw material, obsidian, needs to be beautiful. This is why it is important to use high quality obsidian. Design is also important - many modern knives have handles made of animal bones.

Many Americans believe that placing knives in their household gets rid of evil spirits or bad luck. Therefore, many people display the knives in their houses or offices. Nowadays, stone bladed knives have even become popular presents. Knapping, the process of shaping rocks, has also become a popular hobby for many Americans.

The stone knives created by Park are known for their high quality. Just by taking a brief glance, people are able to recognize that what they are holding is a “Joseph style knife.” Park has customers in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany. Even the Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has purchased two knives made by Park.

Park’s knives are also sold at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. Many tourists to the city say that Park’s knives are a must-have souvenir.

PARK SANG-MOON [moonpark@joongang.co.kr]
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