Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Blog Post #1000

This is the 1000th Elfshot blog post and with it, I'm packing my bags in a different way.

Groswater Palaeoeskimo
Harpoon Head
I started this blog back in 2009.  Within the first couple of months I adopted the routine of publishing a new post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I liked the structured of it.  It forced me to write about something whether I was feeling it or not and sometimes the posts that I never would have thought to write turned out to be the ones that people responded most enthusiastically to.  Still, it was hard to maintain that schedule and with fieldwork and travel I would have to plan ahead and schedule weeks or even months of previously prepared posts (like this one) in order to maintain that Monday/Wednesday/Friday pattern.

On the downside, that create a lot of "filler" posts that were not necessarily on the major themes of this blog, which are archaeology, craft, and artifact reproductions.  My schedule, work, and interests change a lot through the year and when I'm working on some projects it seems like three posts a week isn't enough.  At other times it's a struggle to come up with content that is on theme and I end up posting weak or off-topic posts.

Groswater Endblade
Beginning with post 1001, I'm going to start going off schedule, but not off topic.  I don't know whether I'm going to blog more or blog less and I don't know when the next post will go up, other than it will be when I have something to say.

Thanks everyone that has tuned in so far. Hopefully I'll have some stories and photos from the field soon.


 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, June 29, 2015

Same Gear, Different Pile

It's that time of year again.  The thermals and bug spray are packed and it's off to the airport to begin the long haul north for another field season.  Stay safe out there, everyone.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast  

Friday, June 26, 2015

Atlatls and Darts for Alaska and the Yukon

Chert and obisidian atlatl darts representing finds
form Ice Patches in the Yukon and Alaska's
Northern Archaic
Here's one last look at the Northern Archaic darts heading to Alaska and the Ice Patch dart that is on it's way to the Yukon.  This project began several months ago with a request from Jeffrey Rasic with the National Parks Service in Fairbanks, Alaska to make an atlatl and dart set based on artifacts from the area.  He sent me some Wiki Peak obsidian to make Northern Archaic (ca. 5000BP) dart points from and put me in touch with Greg Hare in the Yukon to help fill in the blanks with the organic part of the tools. 
A simple birch atlatl and the ice patch dart
The ice patch darts recovered by Hare and his colleagues over the past couple of decades served as the models for the dart shafts.  That led to adding a direct reproduction of an Ice Patch dart to the order for Hare.  Unfortunately, there haven't been any atlatls found in either area for the time periods in question, so we decided that a simple hooked stick would be the safest way to represent that part of the kit.  As the order evolved we added a lithic production sequence showing how a dart point would be made from a core of obsidian and a second Northern Archaic dart for one of Rasic's colleagues.    

This 4-stage production sequence runs from left to right, with an obsidian primary flake on the left side of the image, through to a bifacially worked blank, a finished projectile point, and the hafted point on the far right.  The small flakes between the flake, biface, and projectile point are about 1/10th of the total number of flakes removed to advance the piece to each stage.  Conifer pitch, red ochre, and sinew were used to haft the point.
The Northern Archaic darts are hafted with ptarmigan feathers.  Modified ptarmigan feathers have been found in ice patches, although it's not clear if they were used as fletching.  We decided to use ptarmigan feathers on the darts heading to Alaska because they are from non-migratory birds, which should not have any issues crossing international boundaries.

The Ice Patch dart head is hafted into it's 182 cm long birch shaft with red ochre and spruce gum.  The lashing is sinew and hide glue. 
The middle dart is the ice patch dart, fletched with duck feathers.  According to Hare, there are a couple of different fletching methods found on the ice patch darts.  Some use whole feathers with sinew passing through the rachis of the feathers.  The earlier darts use split feathers lashed in place with sinew.  I used the split feather method, but would love to try sewing the sinew through whole feathers some day.  My one regret is that the fletching is relatively short on these darts - around 15 cm long, while Greg Hare told me that at least one of the darts was found with feathers 30-35 cm long.  To find feathers that long you'd need to use birds of prey, migratory fowl, or non-local bird species, like turkeys.  These darts needed a compromise either in the species used or the size of the fletching and in this case I went with the size of the feather rather than substituting a foreign species.  But maybe turkey feathers would create a more accurate looking reproduction. Something to consider for next time.

The Northern Archaic darts were made with foreshafts with a conical insert that fits into a sinew reinforced socket on the main shaft.  The design of these forshafts is based on ice patch specimens.

All three darts have a dimple in the end to fit the pointed spur of the atlatl.
The birch atlatls are simple and nondescript. I used the length of my arm from the tip of my outstretched finger to my elbow as a guide for their lengt.

The Northern Archaic darts flank the ice patch dart in the middle.  It's hard to photograph these things because they are so long and skinny.  The ice patch dart is a one piece dart, without a foreshaft.  It's the longer of the three at a little over 185 cm long (6'1" or so).

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

All done but the drying

Sinew lashings on red ochre
and spruce gum adhesive
 The Northern Archaic and Ice Patch darts and atlatls are all done.  They just need to dry overnight and I can photograph them and then put them in the mail tomorrow morning.  I'll share those final images here on Friday.   Between the various stages of lashing and drying I managed to get a couple copper riveted ulus finished as well.  Its a load off.  With two days left before the weekend and then travel north on Monday I have one small jewellery order that I'd like to at least attempt before I close up the workshop for July.  Fortunately the size and make-up of that order is a little bit vague, so if I can get anything done it will be better than nothing.

The hafted ice patch dart reproduction (right) and reference dart points collected from the Yukon.  There's a pretty wide range of point styles represented.  I tried to match some of the lanceolate forms in the bottom row.  You can see the ghost outline of the red ochre and spruce gum adhesive on the base of the points in the lower right corner of the photo.  The original image can be found in this article: The Archaeology of Yukon Ice Patches: New Artifacts, Observations, and Insights 
Slate ulus with spruce handles.  The two laying down have copper rivets securing the blades in place and the one standing up is tied together with sealskin raw hide.
A profile view of the ulu blade.   As a general rule, ulus were sharpened unifacially so that they'd have both a sharp cutting edge and a steep scraping edge for hide working.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast   

Monday, June 22, 2015

Archaic Darts

The two obsidian points are hafted
in foreshafts and the chert point is
in one long 182 cm long dart.
Shaping, filing, sanding, and burnishing the dart shafts for the Northern Archaic and Ice Patch reproduction darts took several hours, but they are finally ready to begin assembling.  The birch staves are a little tougher to finish than the soft woods that I'm used to working, but I think that the end product is worth the effort.  The points and feathers will go on with the help of sinew, spruce gum, and red ochre.
May was archaeology Month in Alaska.  Jeff Rasic sent me this poster. (click to enlarge)

This drawing and the artifacts that it is based on were the references for the reproductions.

I needed to knap a new point for the ice patch dart that is heading to the Yukon.  Instead of obsidian, I used chert and the style is a small lanceolate dart point.  

The point will be secured with red ochre and spruce gum and tied down with sinew.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, June 19, 2015

Birch Darts and Duck Feathers

Until they are done I'm going
to keep them bundled together
 so they aren't tempted to bend.
 I spent the better part of the day working on the birch dart shafts.  The split birch was fairly straight, with even grain and hardly any knots.  I've tried to match the dimensions of the ice patch darts as closely as possible and the resulting shafts seem strong with a nice whip to them.  Currently the shafts are about 2 metres long, but I'll most likely trim them down to 150-180 cm.  Two of them will have detachable foreshafts and one will be all one piece.  I have an extra shaft on the go in case something goes wrong with the three that I need for the order.  If all of the darts survive, I should have an extra one for my own collection.

The dart staying in Canada
gets duck feathers.  The ones
crossing international boundaries
are getting ptarmigan.
The proximal end of the darts is very narrow - about 7mm wide and they taper gradually for a little less than a metre and then they have a more-or-less constant diameter around 1.3 - 1.5cm.  This makes a very flexible dart with a good bit of weight towards the distal end.  Combined with a largish stone projectile point and ptarmigan or duck feathers for fletching these should be very efficient projectiles.  The three I'm making are for display and teaching purposes, but it would sure be fun to try playing with these.  If anyone has tried throwing these darts, I'd love to hear from you.

I removed another couple of
millimetres in diameter after this
photo was taken.  These darts
a lot of spring to them.
I've taken some liberties with the process.  I harvested and split the birch trunk by hand and I've been working the shafts with hand tools, but they've had metal blades and I've used an electric disc sander for a lot of the shaping.  If I was making these entirely with a stone and bone tool kit, I think I would have kept splitting the wood to get smaller and smaller diameter splits until I had something close to the right diameter for the dart shafts.  The final shaping could be done with a stone scraper or flake.  It seems like the birch would be fairly cooperative with this type or reduction.  It can be little stringy if you aren't careful with the splitting, but the grain is nice and straight and the resulting staves should also be nice and straight.   The bends in the wood are pretty minor and I used a heat gun to straighten the wood several times as I worked it down.  So far it seems to be taking the new shape well enough.  I don't anticipate any bending problems.

These ducks don't migrate and they
obviously don't need these feathers
anymore, so I'm taking them.
Thanks ducks.
For references on the dart shafts and feathers, I've relied on Yukon ice patch finds.  There are lots of good references, but these two have been especially useful:

ARCTIC VOL. 65, SUPPL. 1 (2012) P. 118–135 The Archaeology of Yukon Ice Patches: New Artifacts, Observations, and Insights P. GREGORY HARE, CHRISTIAN D. THOMAS, TIMOTHY N. TOPPER, and RUTH M. GOTTHARDT

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dart Planning and Planing

I started planing down the split birch staves for the Western Arctic atlatl darts and realized I still didn't quite have a clear picture in my mind of what I was aiming for so I paused to do a bit more planning.  A few weeks ago, Greg Hare sent me the measurements for four ice patch dart shafts.  The shafts range in length from 149 to 220 cm.  I traced out the dart diameters on a long piece of brown paper. It helped a lot.  Hopefully I can get into the workshop tomorrow and finish whittling down the birch. 

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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