Friday, April 18, 2014

Intermediate Period Quartzite Biface - Spear or Adze?

Identical quartzite bifaces are hafted
in each of these tools - one as an
adze and one as a spear.
This was a fun reproduction, or pair of reproductions to make.  It shows two alternative interpretations of a red quartzite biface from the 3000 year old archaeological site in Sheshatshiu, Labrador. In one version the tool is hafted as a spear point and in the other it's hafted as an adze.  I love that the exhibit designers for the Labrador Interpretation Centre opted to show both concepts.  Often when I'm commissioned to work on a set of reproductions there are artifacts in the set that could be interpreted in a number of different ways.  Is it a knife or a harpoon endblade?  A dart point or an arrowhead?  I usually prepare a quote for the client based on each of the interpretations and then they pick the one option that fits their storyline or budget the best.  In this case, the designers came to me with two competing interpretations and rather than lock the exhibit into one of the options, they elected to show both ideas.

For a bit of context, you can see the original artifact in this video clip. What do you see?


The two reproductions in their
hafts flanking a photo reference
of the original artifact.
I don't want to prejudice either option by saying which version I prefer, but I will say that after making both of them, I think they are both plausible interpretations.  As I assembled them there were pros and cons to each design, but I didn't encounter any issues or technical reasons why one version would be impossible.  There are analogs in the archaeological record for both chipped stone adzes and wide stemmed spear points. At the same time, one is probably wrong and one is probably right, but I don't really know which is which.  Its kind of a Schrodinger's reproduction - simultaneously correct and incorrect at the same time.

Radically different tools and interpretations stemming from the same artifact.

Adzes are wood working tools, kind of like
a chisel hafted onto a small axe handle.
In support of the interpretation of the tool as a spear point, it does appear to be thinned at the base, ground along the wide parallel sided stem but left sharp and serrated along the leaf shaped edges toward the tip, which also appears to have impact damage.   On the other hand, the projectile points found at the site are much smaller and side-notched rather than stemmed.  Ground stone woodworking tools are curiously missing from the assemblage, but the people living there 3000 years ago must have worked wood somehow.  The slight grinding around the base may also be a bit of usewear or it may have been intentionally ground to smooth and even out the edge, which is important in a chipped stone woodworking tool to remove unintentional platforms that could accidentally detach flakes during use.   After all, hard wood can be used as a billet to knock flakes off of knapped tools, so using a chipped stone blade as an woodworking tool would be risky business if you weren't careful with the angles and platforms that you leave exposed on the working edge.

The antler socket is a shock
absorber and creates a larger
hafting area to lash the stone
blade to the handle.
Originally I thought that I would tie the biface directly to the wood adze handle, but as I started to assemble it I decided that a caribou antler socket lashed to the handle with rawhide would be a much more practical solution.  Perhaps the pointed end of the quartzite biface is actually there to help wedge the tool more tightly into the socket and the impact damage is really from contact with the inside of the socket.  I have seen comparable chips happen in handles when retooling things like projectile points and drills. The socket needed to be quite deep to fit the profile of the tool and I used a bit of hide glue to lock it in, although I could have done the same with pitch.  I think I elected for hide glue so that the join between the blade and the antler socket would be more visible.   I only made one version of this tool and it needs to survive to deliver to the client so I'm not going to be able to use it to determine whether it could actually function as a adze, but from what I've seen it is certainly sharp and I think it's a reasonable interpretation.

Hafted as a spear, the quartzite biface creates a much more
robust lance than the small side notched projectile points
recovered from the site.
Hafting the biface as a spear point was fairly straightforward.  I used pitch made from spruce gum, red ochre, and charcoal for the glue with gut for the lashing.  I scaled up the dimensions of the foreshaft to match the scale of the biface, but the foreshaft is still designed to fit the same five foot long mainshaft as the side-notched point and knife mentioned in previous posts.  Its a different scale than the other points and so it would probably have been used in a different way; perhaps on different game or as a stabbing lance as opposed to a thrown or launched projectile. Like the adze, I'm sure this would be a perfectly serviceable spear or lance.

What do you think?  Is one of the interpretations more or less likely?  Is there a third (or fourth) option that we didn't consider?  Leave a comment - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

An adze?

A spear?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Intermediate Period Spear Reproduction

The hafted reproduction
alongside a 1:1 photo of the
original artifact
This is a hafted reproduction of an Intermediate Period spear or dart point based on an artifact found in an approximately 3000 year old archaeology site in Sheshatshiu, Labrador.  It is hafted in to a foreshaft with spruce gum and red ochre glue and sinew lashing.  The foreshaft is fit into a main shaft that is based on historic Innu caribou hunting spears.  The historic period spears had permanently fixed iron spear heads and were used for spearing caribou in close quarters, especially from canoes while the caribou were swimming.  

The foreshaft and socket
The recorded lengths of Innu spears range from 4 feet to well over 7 and a half feet long, although most of the references I've come across are in the 4 to 6 foot range.  For this reproduction I used a main shaft that is just over a five feet long and the total length of the spear is around six or six and a half feet, depending on which of the foreshafts is mounted in it.  Like the historic spears, the socket of the main shaft is reinforced with lashing to prevent splitting.  I used gut for this lashing and spruce for the mainshaft.  Other details borrowed from the historic Innu spears is the straight, non-tapering shaft with a consistent circular cross-section of a little over 2 cm.  There is also a small knob on the butt end of the spear, presumably this was there to assist in thrusting and retrieving the spear.

Spruce mainshaft, softwood foreshaft, gut and sinew lashing, red ochre and spruce gum binding. The mainshaft is 5 feet 1 inch long and when fitted with this foreshaft, the complete spear is 6 feet long. (click to enlarge)

The antler knife handle is tapered at
the end so it will also fit into the
spear mainshaft.
The interchangeable foreshafts will allow the interpreters to change the character of the spear by swapping out different foreshafts mounted with different point styles.  In total, there will be three different foreshafts, each mounted with a different biface or projectile point, including the knife that I mentioned in the last blog post.  The one limit will be the mainshaft itself.  Its a very good representation of a handheld thrusting spear, but it is not an aerodynamic design and doesn't easily lend itself to the interpretation of many of the notched bifaces as projectile points, perhaps fitted onto darts that were launched with a spear thrower.  Imagine a slighter shaft, with more of a barrel shape, lacking a knob on the butt end and perhaps outfitted with feathers to create drag and spin.  Again, that's one of the benefits of the detachable foreshaft technology.  The same foreshaft that could be fit onto this thrusting mainshaft could also be used on a light dart designed to be hurled at prey with a throwing stick or atlatl.

I had a choice of projectile points to use on this reproduction.  I went with the point with the tip damage over the more complete examples because I found a stone that was a very good match to the original artifact.
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 14, 2014

Intermediate Period Chert Knife Reproduction

A small knife like this was lost in
Labrador about 3000 years ago.
This is another reproduction in the Intermediate Period set based on artifacts found by Scott Neilsen's crew in Sheshatshiu, Labrador.  Like all the other pieces in this set, only the lithic component of the tool was preserved, so the organic handle and binding materials are educated guesses.  For this particular biface we went with red ochre and spruce gum glue and sinew for the lashing.  The red ochre is based on the abundance of ochre staining found in the site.  We also used antler for the handle to bring caribou into the story.  Caribou hunting would have been very important to the Intermediate Period people living in the area of North West River and Sheshatshiu 3000 years ago, so we want to reflect that in the artifact reproductions.

Intermediate Period Knife Reproduction.  Banded chert blade, red ochre and spruce gum glue, sinew lashing, antler handle
The banded chert
is not a bad match
for the original.
The design of the handle is quite simple, although we purposefully kept it long and narrow so that it could double as a foreshaft for a spear or dart.  Making the handle serve a dual purpose keeps the interpretation of the biface as a knife a little more flexible as well as demonstrating that tools could serve multiple purposes across their lifetime.  The same projectile point that was used to hunt a caribou, could be used as a small knife to butcher the animal.  I'm still working on the mainshaft that will fit this knife and a couple other hafted bifaces, so I might have to do a small bit of shaping on the end, but I think its finished enough now for you to get the idea.

This piece will be used in support of an exhibit on the archaeology at Sheshatshiu that is being developed for the Labrador Interpretation Centre.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 11, 2014

Quartzite Biface

I had a bit of trouble getting my hands on red quartzite for a couple of important artifact reproductions in the Sheshatshiu Intermediate Period set, but my luck recently changed.  This is one of two copies of a particular biface (below) that I need to make and haft.

This photo shows the original artifact.  There are a couple different interpretations of what this tool might have been used for and I'm going to make two versions and haft them in two different ways to illustrate the different theories.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Half Mast

Flags at The Rooms and Memorial University of Newfoundland were flying today at Half Mast in honour of Priscilla Renouf, a professor at MUN and the first chair of The Rooms board.  The Rooms is shown above and the church in the lower left distance is The Basilica Cathedral.  
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 7, 2014

Beothuk Triangular Biface Knife Reproduction

Beothuk reproduction scrapers, knife,
and harpoon head
There were a few smaller tools included in the set of Beothuk reproductions that I recently completed for The Mary March Museum, including a hafted knife and scraper.  The scraper was a relatively simple flake scraper hafted in a nondescript wood handle with sinew and covered in red ochre.  In the photo on the right, the two tools in the left half of the frame are scrapers.  The knife next to them is based on a couple of different sources.  I used a Little Passage triangular biface from Inspector Island as the main reference for the blade and a wood handle illustrated in Howley 1915 for the handle.

The handle is based on a wood artifact illustrated in this plate from James P. Howley's 1915 book; The Beothucks or Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland The two items labeled  #5 are a knife and knife handle.  I used the top one as my main reference for this reproduction.

Beothuk or Little Passage reproduction knife.  Chert blade, softwood handle, gut lashing, pitch glue, red ochre stain

Here are the knife and scraper with the bow and arrow included in the set.

Photo Credits:
1,3-4: Tim Rast
2: Plate from Howley 1915 from Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dr. Priscilla Renouf

It's a terribly sad day here.  I woke up to word that Dr. Priscilla Renouf passed away early this morning.  Priscilla was one of my MA thesis supervisors at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  The opportunity to learn from Priscilla was one of the biggest reasons that I came to Newfoundland and Labrador to study.  The experience that I had at MUN under her guidance and the opportunities that she provided to me after I graduated convinced me to stay.

When I entered the program at MUN, it was a little different than today.  The Archaeology Unit was part of the Anthropology Department and was composed of faculty from anthropology, geography, history, and folklore.  There was no PhD program and the year I started, 1996, there were only three other graduate students starting their MA, and I was Priscilla's only new student.  I can still remember my first visits to her office in the Ingstad Building where she would open up drawer after drawer full of incredible Palaeoeskimo artifacts from her work at Port au Choix.  Priscilla invested a lot of time and guidance into her students.  Her MA students would compare notes with each other after our meetings and often it seemed like we were supervised by completely different people.  She knew what each of her students needed and gave us the guidance, or patience, or criticism that we needed when we needed it.  She didn't try to fit us into her mold, she tailored her supervisory style to fit our personalities and challenges.  The relationship that develops between a student and supervisor is something that stays with you throughout your life.  Priscilla followed all of her students with pride throughout their careers and in turn, we graduate student siblings, celebrated with her during her many academic and personal triumphs.

I always meant to tell a story about Priscilla from the field when she retired, but she passed too early, before she could savour the sort of retirement that archaeologists enjoy, working on the problems and papers that they never had the time to explore earlier.  In 1997, when I did my fieldwork in Burgeo, Priscilla was the sponsor on my permit application from the Provincial Archaeology Office.  I had to check in with her midway through the season, so I took everything that I had found and drove up to see her on the northern peninsula.  I stayed for a week and when I got there she was looking through the local paper, the Northern Pen, at a story they had just been published on her field season at Port au Choix.  It was accompanied by a terrible photo of her.  A really, really bad photo, like she was caught in the middle of a sneeze or something.  She, like anyone, was mortified and probably would have thrown out all the copies she could find, save for the fact that the incorrect name was printed in the caption.  She was unrecognizable in the picture and misidentified in the caption, so the plan became to just say nothing about it for the week and hope that no one outside the crew would even realize who the crazy person in the photo was.  She endured the week.  I helped out around the site and she gave me the feedback I needed on my own project and just as I was about to leave town, the new Northern Pen arrived. It was full of new photos and new stories and no one would ever remember that horrid old photo.  Except... the paper had caught the error in the caption and reprinted the photo, now with sincere and bold apologies to Dr. Priscilla Renouf for their mistake in misidentifying her the first time around.

I so wanted to find those two editions of the paper and bring them out at her retirement.  This just isn't the same.  I'm going to miss her greatly and I know that all her former and current students, colleagues, friends, and family will too.

Inside Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology, April 14, 2014: Dr. Priscilla Renouf

Government of Canada SSHRC Press Release, April 7, 2014: Passing of Council Member Priscilla Renouf

Canadian Press (MetroNews): Respected Newfoundland Archaeologist Dies

VOCM News: Celebrated Archaeologist Passes Away

House of Assembly; Statement by the Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Recreation, April 7, 2014 Renowned Archaeologist Remembered for her Outstanding Contributions:

The Telegram, April 4, 2014: MUN Mourns Loss of Archaeologist Priscilla Renouf

MUN.CA: This week I was going to write about other things, but I am sadly distracted today by the passing of a colleague, Dr. Priscilla Renouf by Dr. Noreen Golfman

In Memorium: Priscilla Renouf

Caul's Funeral Home: Dr. Priscilla Renouf

Photo Credit:
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