Artifact of the Month: Files Not the oldest tool known to man, but... February 1, 2021 Author: Terry Williams, Conservator Square file from the QAR siteThe earliest toolmaking began at least 2.6 million years ago. As early man developed and his toolkit became more diverse, files appeared in the form of bone or fish skin, eventually becoming metal. The earliest metal file, a bronze example, was discovered in Crete and dates to approximately 1500 BCE. Fast-forward 3200 years to the QAR: a leaky ship with hundreds of armed pirates – both requiring lots of upkeep. Of eighteen carpentry tools identified from the shipwreck so far, only hammers with a total of 6, are more numerous than files. We have identified four files, representing three types: flat, square, and triangular, one with the handle still attached. Files from this period would most likely have been made by hand. In short, the blacksmith would take an annealed piece of iron cut to the right size and thickness and strap it to a support. This would allow lines to be cut into the surface of the metal using a chisel and hammer. Overcutting is the process by which one set of parallel lines are created on the tool, and upcutting is the second cut that creates the cross-hatched surface. Once the chiseling work was complete, the file was hardened by reheating. Imagine how painstaking a job this was. As an aside, consider the engineering mind of Leonardo DaVinci. Like his foreshadowing of the helicopter, he designed a machine to make files. A copy of it was recently built from his drawings, and true to form is quite ingenious. Triangular file from the QAR siteFiles differ in shape, thickness, and cut depending on their uses. Each of the files in the collection exhibits a cross-hatched pattern, called double-cut files, that could be used as mill or small finishing files. Recent ECU Program in Maritime Studies graduate Kendra Lawrence researched and wrote a thesis on the tools. Kendra found that fine files such as these were likely used to sharpen tools, which in turn would have been used by certain tradesmen aboard the ship, like carpenters, armorers, caulkers, and coopers. The triangular file specifically could have been used to get into tight spaces, perhaps to shape the teeth on a cog or saw. Flat file with wooden handle from the QAR siteDue to the delicate nature of the surface of the files, extra care must be taken in their conservation. The metal of the flat file was completely corroded, and the form was preserved by casting the void with epoxy. This file is the only one so far with a preserved wooden handle. In this case, the wood and “metal” portions were treated separately and reunited following treatment. This object can now be seen in the dedicated Queen Anne’s Revenge exhibit at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. References: -“Stone Tools.” Smithsonian Institution. Accessed January 26, 2021. https://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/stone-tools -“File.” Britannica. Accessed January 26, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/technology/file-tool -Lawrence, Kendra, “Tools of the trade: A Material Culture Study of Hand Tools from Queen Anne’s Revenge,” MA thesis, Department of History, East Carolina University, 2020. Images: -Square file from the QAR site. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. -Triangular file from the QAR site. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. -Flat file with wooden handle from the QAR site. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.