Friday, May 6, 2016

Completed Alaskan PalaeoIndian Spears

Alaskan Spear Reproductions
Here are a few photos of the completed set of four PalaeoIndian Spears based on artifacts from Alaska which will be used in a travelling exhibit in that state.  They can be broken down into interchangeable foreshafts and mainshafts, which should make transporting them a little easier.  

PalaeoIndian spear reproductions:  Spruce, Birch, Alder.  Various cherts and flints.  Rawhide, gut, sinew.  Pitch and hide glue.

Fully assembled, the spears range in length from 77 1/2" to 84", with foreshafts ranging from 15 1/2" to 18 1/2" and main shafts ranging from 64 1/2" to 70 1/2".
Generally, the lithic tools that I make are much smaller than these heavy spears.  These have a nice weight to them and should make an intimidating statement alongside the Ice Age mammals of northern Alaska. 
Each foreshaft and mainshaft ends with a tapered "scarf" joint.  The mainshafts have tough rawhide sockets attached to them so that the foreshafts can be fit securely in place.  All of the scarfs have the same angle of cut and the shafts all have similar diameters so the pieces can be mixed and matched with each other.
One of the challenges that I often face in photographing these sorts of reproductions is finding a way to balance the projectiles on edge so that I can photograph them from the side.  This morning, I realized that the plastic safety covers for wall outlets work perfectly for holding pieces this size on edge.  You can see them at work in this photo, but I bet you didn't notice them in the previous photo until I mentioned them here. The prongs are flexible enough that I think they'll work on any projectile from arrows and darts to spears.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Thursday, May 5, 2016

PalaeoIndian Points Fitted with Foreshafts

Lashing the points in place with gut
I've been back in the workshop finishing up a set of PalaeoIndian spears for shipment to Alaska.  I've been returning sporadically to this order for several months and I'm finally wrapping things up this week.  Since the last time I updated this project, I've cleaned up the knapped points with pressure flaking and gave them the characteristic rounded bases of the reference pieces.  I've fitted them to hardwood foreshafts with a combination of pitch, hide glue, sinew, and gut lashing.  
The knapped reproductions with reference drawings
Softening the spruce gum and
red ochre pitch on the stove
 I wanted to create a bit of variety in the set so that they didn't all look identical.  I used pitch on some and hide glue on others.  I used caribou sinew on some and gut on others.  The points and foreshafts are all different lengths and sizes, although I did try to keep the proximal ends of the foreshafts the same so that all of the foreshafts would be interchangeable with all of the main shafts.

The points hafted in their foreshafts

Forming the rawhide sockets
 For the joint between the foreshafts and the main shafts, I used a simple tapered scarf join.  Scarf joints are a characteristic of the few surviving PalaeoIndian foreshafts found in North America.  I tend to think of scarfed joints as permanently fixed joins, but they can also work as detachable joints.  In this case I cut long tapers on the ends of the foreshafts and made a matching taper on the spruce main shafts.  I wrapped the end of the foreshafts in saran wrap, fit them in place against the matching scarf joint on the main shaft, and then wrapped around the overlapping joint with rawhide.
A dried rawhide socket (left) and the matching scarf joint on a foreshaft (right)
The foreshafts in place while the sockets dry
As the rawhide dries it hardens and bonds to the wooden main shaft while the saran wrap prevents the foreshafts from being glued in place.  The rawhide holds it's shape and creates a tough socket with an inside mold of the matching foreshaft.  I coat the outside of the rawhide with hide glue to add to it's stength.  The end product is a little like a fibre glass socket on the end of the main shaft. I'll update again with some final shots of the assembled spears when everything is dry and ready to ship.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, March 28, 2016

ARCH 4153 Field Trip to The Rooms

Touring the Archaeology vault at The Rooms,
with Lori Temple (in green)
I've been teaching ARCH 4153 Lithic Analysis this semester at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  A good part of the course was hands-on flintknapping, especially early in the semester.  In was a fun start to the course and it gave the students first hand experience with working stone.  The latter half of the semester was dedicated to an analysis of lithic debitage collected from the Spearbank Site (DlBk-1) in the community of Cow Head, on Newfoundland's west coast in the mid-1970s.  This is the type site for the Cow Head complex.

One student's flake
This is an important site for the Province and has been periodically re-examined since Jim Tuck first excavated it 40 years ago.  The most recent and systematic work was done by Latonia Hartery as part of her MA research at the University of Calgary in the early 2000s.  However, there are still many, many bags and boxes of debitage that have not been touched.  We tackled one crate of debitage this semester.  Each student was given a sample of around 250 pieces of debitage, made up of flakes, cores, and shatter and they systematically poked, prodded, and measured two dozen attributes on every single fragment.  They put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to study each piece in painstaking detail.

Sifting through the diagnostic artifacts from the Spearbank site at The Rooms

Boxes of artifacts
Earlier in March the class met at The Rooms during our regular class time to tour the Archaeology Lab with Lori Temple, the Archaeology/Ethnology Collections Manager.  We viewed the vaults where the diagnostic artifacts from the Spearbank site are stored and the students sorted through the boxes of artifacts to find examples of diagnostic artifacts from the same levels and units that their flake samples came from.  The idea was to help put the flakes and the site into context by seeing some of the tools that were being made and used at the site.

Archaeology lab space at
The Rooms
There do seem to be patterns emerging in the collection, even in these relatively small samples (the site was a quarry and the total flake count from all of the excavated material must be in the hundreds of thousands).  The students are working on their final papers right now and I'm looking forward to reading all of their results, thoughts, and conclusions.  I've been extremely impressed with the effort and commitment to the course from everyone in the class.  We have one more fun class of flintknapping and hafting stone tools and then the semester is over.  I'll certainly miss hanging out with them every week.

Arch 4153 at The Rooms

A flake attribute analysis is a lot of work.  The payoff for the students is an increased familiarity with the sort of debitage commonly found at any pre-Contact archaeological site.  The benefit to the collection is a high resolution snapshot of the way lithic resources were used.  The cost is time.  A lot of time. 
Photo Credits:
1-3, 5-7: Tim Rast
4: Lori Temple

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Portable tool kit for Parks Canada, Nunavut Field Office

Composite tools for a portable
Discovery Kit
It feels so good to be getting more orders out the door!  Here is a pair of hafted artifact reproductions based on the Independence I artifacts found at Kettle Lake in Quttinirpaaq National Park in Nunavut.  I've been working off-an-on with this collection and the Parks Canada Nunavut Field Office since 2010.  Originally I reproduced the artifacts exactly as they came out of the ground and then in 2013 I traveled to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord to host artifact reproduction workshops in the communities.

Case Closed.

The case has been re-opened.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

More Reproductions for Nunavut Schools

Thule and Dorset Harpoon
This is a second set of Dorset, Thule Inuit, and Historic artifact reproductions on it's way to Nunavut for inclusion in a traveling archaeology school kit that I've helped the Inuit Heritage Trust assemble over the past year or two.  In December, I visited Iqaluit for a few days to help deliver a pilot version of the program in the local high school along with Torsten Diesel from Inuit Heritage Trust and Brendan Griebel with Intuit Arctic Research.
Dorset Palaeoeskimo Artifact reproductions. Hafted microblades, tip-fluted endblade with antler harpoon head, chert scraper and knife blade, slate lance, and ground nephrite burin-like tool.

Thule Inuit artifact reproductions.  Ivory harpoon head with copper endblade, slate point, slate ulu with whalebone handle and chipped slate ulu preform.
Historic artifacts. Klik can and rifle casing.
The reproductions are buried in this 1x1m sandbox built by Brendan.  The whole kit is designed to be portable, so the sandbox collapses and fits in an action packer with all of the dig tools, artifacts, as well as the materials needed for a slate ulu making workshop.  The sand is supplied by the destination community and there is a manual with instructions for teachers to assemble the kit and lead the students through the activity.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, February 29, 2016

How-To Care For Your Thule Harpoon Reproduction

This blog post is for the folks at The Manitoba Museum who will be receiving this Thule Harpoon reproduction in the mail in the coming days.  The harpoon has several moving parts and there will be some assembly required.  I'll walk through that assembly in the second half of this post.   I work several of the materials used to construct the harpoon while they are wet (sinew, sealskin, and whalebone) and I try to let them dry naturally on their own before I ship them.  I do use foam and bubblewrap to protect some of the objects in the package, but I also use a lot of paper and cardboard to let the material breath and allow any remaining moisture to seep out.  

Still, it would be a good idea to open up the package soon after it arrives to reduce the chance that any mould or mildew will grow where any remaining moisture might be trapped.  There is also a healthy coating of mineral oil over all of the surfaces to help keep the moisture and humidity sensitive components, like the wood and walrus ivory, from gaining or losing moisture too quickly as the harpoon travels from the coast to the interior of the continent.  If anything starts to dry out over the coming years, a periodic application of mineral oil will help prevent cracks from forming in the wood and ivory.  
The harpoon foreshaft is held in place with a braided sealskin cord.  This cord will also stay stronger and more pliable if it is kept damp with mineral oil.  I use unscented baby oil.  When the harpoon arrives you will need to rotate the foreshaft into it's socket so it looks like the image on the right.  It should be a fairly snug fit.  You can adjust the fit by tightening or loosening (shortening or lengthening) the leather cord.  The cord winds it's way through two holes in the whalebone foreshaft and four holes in the wood main shaft.  Sliding the cord through these holes will change the tension in the fit between the foreshaft and the whalebone socket.

Near the middle of the main shaft you will see an ivory finger rest which is there to prevent the hunter's hand from sliding along the harpoon when it is thrown with mitts on.  It is tied in place with twisted sinew thread.  Near this is a small whalebone hook that is inserted into the side of the harpoon shaft.  This hook is designed to fit on to a whalebone tension piece that is sewn on to the sealskin harpoon line with sinew.  

When you assemble the harpoon, the harpoon head will be held firmly in place on the end of the foreshaft when this tension place is slid over top of the hook as shown in the photo on the right. The tension piece has two holes because the sealskin line will change length depending on whether it is wet or dry.  The line shrinks when it is dry and you will need to use the far hole on the tension piece.  The hooded sealskin line that I used is very tough and you may need to rotate the foreshaft in the socket a few degrees to allow enough slack in the line to fit the harpoon head onto the foreshaft and lock the tension piece onto the plug.

If you rotate the socket a few degrees you can get enough slack in the line so that you can lock the harpoon head and tension piece in place.

When the foreshaft is straightened out again the harpoon head will be firmly secured to the harpoon and the only way that it will detach is if the foreshaft rotates in the socket again and allows slack in the line.  The force from the impact when the harpoon is thrown is designed to cause the foreshaft to buckle and rotate in the socket so that the harpoon head will detach and toggle in the wound.

 Every component and joint in the harpoon is custom made and individually fit together.  On this particular harpoon, you will notice that the harpoon head fits better one way than the other on the foreshaft.  The harpoon line is also very affected by moisture.  If you find it impossible to secure the line to the harpoon using the tension piece, then you can soak the line in warm water for a few minutes and it will soften and length to a point that you can easily slip it in place.  If it is completely soaked, you may notice that you need to use the second hole in the tension piece in order to secure the harpoon head in place.

The wood and whalebone components will be the most durable parts of the harpoon.  Whalebone was used for the foreshaft, foreshaft socket, the tension piece, and knob.  Ivory is hard, but sensitive to light and humidity.  Storing or displaying it in direct sunlight will cause it to crack.  The harpoon head, finger rest, and butt of the harpoon are made from walrus ivory.  The sinew is tough, but sensitive to moisture, if you soak the harpoon line in water, then the sinew lashings on the tension piece will expand and may come loose.  When they dry again they will tighten.  The sealskin line works best when it is slightly damp, either with water or mineral oil.  When it dries out it can crack if you try to bend or force it into a new shape, but when it is damp it is strong and flexible.  The slate is thin and sharp and is one of the more fragile materials on the harpoon. Be careful about lying it down on hard surfaces or knocking it on doorways.  The slate endblade is relatively quick and easy to replace if it becomes damaged, but use caution in handling it.

The fully assembled harpoon.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A few Arctic artifact reproductions

Harpoon heads and foreshaft
I've been working one day a week and taking evening classes at Memorial University this semester.  This week is Reading Week, so I have a bit of a break from teaching and studying to focus on Elfshot again.  Rather than two days a week, it looks like I'll be able to spend a full four days this week in the workshop.  That will help a lot with getting caught up on a backlog of orders.  I'm still several months behind in work, but at least now I'm able to get some projects finished and shipped off to the customers who have been extremely patient with me over the past winter.

This is a reproduction Thule Inuit harpoon that I'm working on for the Manitoba Museum.  My goal is to have it ready to ship by the weekend.

At this point, all of the pieces are blocked out and I'm working on all of the joints.  These harpoons have a lot of precision fit pieces.  Some are fixed and some are moveable, so it always takes a while to find the right fit and friction for all of the assembled parts.  The materials used include everything from whale bone and walrus ivory to slate and wood.  The harpoon line and lashings will be sealskin and sinew.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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