Thursday, April 20, 2017

Alaska Archaeology Month - Shaft Smoother

A pair of sandstone abraders
I'm working on a few shaft smoothers for Alaska Archaeology Month.  These are sandstone abraders, that were likely used to sand arrow or dart shafts smooth.  Based on analogies with such abraders that have been found elsewhere in North America, we are assuming that they were used in pairs.  I'm working the abraders into shape and trying to antique them as I go along.  At the moment, these preforms have the approximate shape roughed out, but I'm continuing to modify and antique them to match the reference artifacts.  
The cut blocks in the ledger stone make ideal
blanks for sandstone abrader
So far, the biggest triumph has been finding a good source of sandstone.  I know of roadcuts and quarries around St. John's where I can collect red or reddish purple sandstone, but I wanted something more neutral or buff coloured for these pieces.  I wound up buying sheets of sandstone wall facade at Home Depot.  In the past, I've had bad luck trying to use this sort of building material as a source of raw material.  I have a box of very poor quality quartzite ledger stone that I picked up at one point hoping that I could knap it.  It didn't work.  However, this particular stone worked perfectly, it is a tough, gritty sandstone that is perfect for this particular project.

Each section of ledge stone has at least a 1/2 dozen good shaft smoother blanks in it. I intend to use the remaining sandstone as abrading stone for other projects.  Later in May, I'll see how it works for grinding slate ulus.

I'm grinding and chipping the blanks down to match the reference photos.

The shallow groove in the middle is used to abrade dart or arrow shafts.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Crooked Knife

Crooked knife made from a file like the one
shown beside it
I recently completed a set of reproductions based on artifacts from Newfoundland and Labrador for the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society.  The NLAS is making an exhibit in a suitcase that contains reproductions and activities that can travel around and be used in places like schools to help interpret the Province's archaeological past.  One of the tools in the kit is a crooked knife.  The crooked knife is an historic tool that is still used today by Innu and Mi'kmaq in the Province.  The reproduction that I made is generic enough that it might be at home on the Island or in Labrador, although I primarily used Innu tools as references. My main source was this one in the collections of the Canadian Museum of History.  

The file fits into a slot cut into the side of the handle
Crooked knives were made from re-purposed iron, especially iron files.  I used a file to make this one.  I broke an inch or so off of the end of the file, so that I'd have a 4-5" long blade.  I sharpened it along one edge (and then dulled it again to make it safe to handle).  A bit of heat and a hammer and anvil is enough to curve the tip.  These are a type of draw knife and the crook in the handle is there to support your thumb as you draw the blade towards you.  

A matching wood plug fits into the socket
The tang of the file/knife blade is fit into the wood handle by gouging out an open socket on one side of the handle.  The way the blade is fit into the handle seems to be one of the slight variations in design between the knives made on the Island of Newfoundland and those made in Labrador.   On the Island, the Mi'kmaq would fit the blade in a slot in the middle of the handle or the back edge rather than an open faced socket, like this one, which is modeled after an Innu example.  A matching wooden plug is carved to close the socket and everything is then lashed securely in place.  I used a cotton thread for this lashing.  I've seen reference to rawhide being used here, but I haven't really come across any good ethnographic examples with rawhide.  Rawhide makes good lashing, but on a handle like this, I could imagine the sweat from someone's hand making the binding rubbery and loose on a hot summer's day.  I think something that doesn't expand of loosen with moisture would be more desirable.



The assembled knife, ready for lashing

Finished.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 17, 2017

April is Alaska Archaeology Month

Chert microblades and core
Every April, Alaska celebrates Archaeology Month.  This year, I'm making some artifact reproductions from the area, including some pieces that I've never attempted before, so I'm enjoying working on something new.  The first pieces, are slotted antler points.  The body of the points are antler, with long slots running the length of the sides.  These side slots hold microblades, so the first step of the process is to make the microblades.

Pile of blades
It always takes me a while to get into the rhythm of making microblades.   Fortunately, I'll need a lot for this project (and other spring orders), so I was able to dedicate a couple days last week to practicing and building up an inventory.  I tend to use soft hammer percussion or indirect percussion to produce the blades.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Clovis Points

Clovis point, Keokuk chert. Front and back
view of the same point.
2017 has been a busy year so far and I've been a bit lax in keeping track of Elfshot projects on this blog.  I was teaching the Lithic Analysis class at MUN, taking an evening class for interest's sake, working on a report from last summer's field work in Iqaluit, and trying to keep up with Elfshot orders.  It all kept my attention divided and blog posts fell off my weekly to-do list.  I'll try to share a backlog of photos and stories, starting with this look at a pair of Clovis points that I made earlier this year.   

Clovis Point, Obsidian. Front and back view
I find fluting points challenging and since I'm rarely asked to make them, there is always a bit of trial and error to get back into the groove of things.  I have a half dozen failed points on my workshop floor, before I finished two that I was happy with.  The white one is Keokuk chert and the black one is obsidian.

Fluted points and their channel flutes

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sicco Harpoon Head and Dorset Harpoon

Sicco Harpoon Head; antler, slate, sinew
I finished and shipped these pieces recently.  The harpoon head is a Sicco and the harpoon is Dorset Palaeoeskimo, based on artifacts found in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The Sicco harpoon head is made from antler, sinew and slate.  We chose antler for this piece over walrus ivory partly to keep costs down and partly to prevent problems at the border.

Dorset Harpoon; chert, antler, whalebone, wood, sealskin, sinew

The spare foreshaft is made from antler.  I prefer whalebone for foreshafts because they are not affected by humidity in the same way that antler is.  Antler will swell and bend in changing humidity. Whalebone is stable in all conditions.








Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Qulliq Reproduction

Soapstone lamp
This is a reproduction of an Inuit soapstone lamp, or qulliq, that will accompany the set of Inuit artifact props that I shared on Saturday.  I dragged my feet a little on this one and suggested some places around town where I'd hoped that the props department could find an Inuit artist to do the work.  This style of oil lamp is still made and used today, however, I guess they couldn't track one down in time, so they asked me to make one.    
Lamp with wood wick trimmer.  The wick
trimmer is important to tend to the flame and
spread the wick evenly along the edge of the
lamp.
Behind my workshop, I found a nice piece of soapstone that I'd collected for a project like this years ago on the Baie Verte peninsula.  The finished lamp is about nine inches across.  I wanted it to look well made, but functional and worn.  I left some tool marks and finished it with layers of polish, sanding, and scratches.  I wanted it to have a nice form, but it should look like it's spent years travelling around the tundra by pack and dog sled.  I was secretly hoping that it would break so that I'd have an excuse to repair it with some holes and stitching, but it held up to the carving and test burns, so no luck there.
Burning lamp with a lamp stand.  This
is the back view of the lamp.  The
person tending the flame would sit on
the opposite side.

The bottom is flat, so it will sit level on a flat surface, but lamps would usually be elevated on a lamp stand.  The simplest stand would be three rocks at one end of the sleeping platform.  An elevated lamp will radiate heat for long after the flame has gone out.  The lamp burns oil, which would have usually been seal fat and the wicks would be arctic cotton or dry moss.  In this instance I'm using canola oil and cotton balls.  For filming, I'll suggest adding some floating chunks of fat in the oil.  The cotton forms a continous wick that burns along the top of the long straight edge and trails down into the oil.  I experimented a bit with the lamp last night to see how much tending it would need.  A wick that is soaked in oil, but isolated from the oil reservoir will burn on it's own for about 15-30 minutes.  If the wick is connected to the oil, it will burn continuously as long as the oil is replenished.

You can see the flat cotton wick in the flame along the edge of the pot.  The pot gets hot.  I have had soapstone lamps shatter from thermal shock, but if that is going to happen it should happen in the first five or ten minutes.  I've had this lamp burning for hours and it seems like a good piece of stone.

Top view.  I left some tool marks inside the lamp to emphasize that this is a functional lamp, not an art piece.

The underside has a more polished surface.  I wanted it to look like it spent as much of it's life tied to a sled as it did sitting lit on a stand.

Shallow lamp.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Arctic Artifact Reproductions for Film

Reproduction knifes made from slate, whalebone,
caribou bone, wood, antler, metal, rawhide, sinew,
artificial sinew, red ochre, hide glue, and epoxy.
This is the complete set of Inuit artifact reproductions that I made for a period TV production that will begin filming next week.  The general time period is the end of the 18th Century/early 19th Century, when the Hudson Bay Company was active in Northern Canada. Often film work is quite rushed, but this one came with a month's notice, which gave me enough time to plan out the project with the Props Master, discuss options that would contribute to and work within the story, and finish the tools with some thought about how they would appear on camera.

Bow drill with mouthpiece socket and iron and
nephrite blades
We discussed the various scenes and the sort of objects that the actors would need.  Sometimes they would require specific objects to advance the story, like a knife, or a harpoon, or a needle and sometimes the ideas were more general, like "the character is working on a tool" and I could help flesh out the sorts of actions and items that would be true to the culture and time period.  Hopefully we see a bow drill being used to make a slate knife and when a character needs a needle, they can find it in a caribou bone needle case.

Steel knife with antler handle
The time that I had to work with the reproductions also helped me antique them in an appropriate way. A newly made tool looks the way that it would have appeared to the person who made it, when it was first finished.  Often that is the goal when I make a reproduction.  At the other end of the spectrum, there are reproductions that are meant to show a tool as it appears archaeologically.  It may be broken and discarded, with deep soil stains, root etching or lichen growing on it.  That level of antiquing is too much for this type of project.

"Dirt under the
fingernails" on
a slate adze
In this case we want the tools to look worn and used, but still functional.  They should look a few months or a few years old, but not hundreds of years old.  I wanted them stained from use, but not from centuries of neglect. One of the places that use shows up on tools is where the blade meets the handle. Stains build up on the handle and people may wipe the blade clean, but grime and hair and debris from past jobs collect in any gaps or cracks where the blade meets the guard.  To achieve this look quickly, I smooshed wet, punky wood from the burn barrel into the blade sockets.   The usual assortment of nicks, cuts, oxidation, and stains helped age the tools, but I found that cramming some "dirt under the fingernails" really helped make the tools look like they were just laid down in the middle of a job. If it works, it shouldn't be noticeable at all on film.  One of the things that I find really distracting is when I see tools in a period show that look way too new to have ever been used. 

Three complete harpoons.  These harpoons are fully functional with some modifications to materials and construction details that will not show up on film. The biggest changes that I made were substituting wood and antler in place of some of the whalebone and ivory components.  The main shafts are also made from a single piece of wood with the ends painted to look like ivory/whalebone sockets and ice picks.  The same is true of the foreshafts, which are made from wood.  
Antler harpoon heads.  The one in the foreground has a steel endblade and the one in the back is ground slate.  The colour is comparable, but the big difference with ivory is that you can get a lustre or shine to the tools.  I don't think that will be apparent on film and if they appear a little more dull than normal, then perhaps that will read as usewear on film.

I used whalebone for the line toggles and finger rests.  This was one instance where it was just easier to make them in the correct materials than try to fake them with a substitute.

All of the pieces move and detach properly.  Usually the socket on the mainshaft would be a composite piece made from ivory or whalebone.  In this case the main shaft is all one piece, with the socket painted on. 

This was a fun one to make.  The props department provided me with a forged iron blade and I modified and drilled the tang.  The handle is whalebone and the blade is secured in place with copper rivets.  What you see is what you get with this one.  It's one of the more authentic and durable pieces in the set.  

A slate knife with whalebone handle.  It is based on artifacts from northern Labrador.  This one is lashed together with artificial sinew and is designed so that it can be disassembled.  The construction or repair of this tool may be shown on camera. 

A curved whalebone knife and a metapodial dagger.  These pieces are for a bundle of miscellaneous knives.  The metapodial dagger is made from a ground and polished split caribou lower leg bone and has a caribou rawhide lashing that was stained with red ochre and leftover from a previous job.  The whalebone knife could be a flensing knife or a small snow knife.
This one is still one of my favourite pieces in the set.  I started out making a single edged slate blade with a tang, like a steak knife, but the tang broke off and I modified it on the fly.  That change of design built a randomness into the finished piece that I think gives the knife a very authentic feel.  I finished it with a wooden handle and braided sinew lashing.  I used epoxy for the glue to make it a little more durable and waterproof.

All of the knives in the set.

Slate and whalebone blanks.  Perhaps we'll see one of the characters making the knife shown above.

Slate Adze, with whalebone socket, wood handle, and rawhide lashing.  A functional adze, although apparently any of the tools that will actually be used on film are going to be cast and copied in rubber. 
A soapstone man and narwhal.  Soapstone carvings like this were challenging to find archaeological analogs for from the desired time period, but they are important to the script, so I found other models to base them on.  I used ivory and wooden figures as the inspiration for the man and Thule seal carvings, contemporary Inuit art, and photos of narwhals as models for the whale.
Caribou bone needle case with awl, needles and thimble.

The open case with more bird bone needles. 

Selfbladed harpoon head toggling.  I don't think there will be any specific shots of the harpoon heads in use, but they are all functional if the need arises.  This specific style of harpoon head is a few generations earlier than the period shown on film, but it has a nice silhouette.  Maybe the guy using it didn't like change. 

The full set.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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