Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Experimental Archaeology

I have a pizza in the oven so I have 24 minutes to work on this post. I'm working in the shed today. I suppose I should say workshop instead of shed - it sounds more professional.

I built the workshop in 2004 behind my house. In the winter I go out an hour before I start work to turn the heater on and then I work out there for an hour at a time. On a good day, I'll make 3 or 4 trips to the shed.

Currently, I'm working on a jewelry order for the Craft Council Shop at Devon House in St. John's. Its been a good year for wholesale orders, so far. Usually I'm working on reproductions for museums or universities from January-March, but this year I already have 3 wholesale jewelry orders in.

This time last year I was working with Patty Wells, a Ph.D. Candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland on some organic Palaeoeskimo reproductions. I was using stone tools to gouge, carve, cut, and grind bone and antler. By the end of the project, I made a bird bone needle, an antler harpoon head, a caribou bone barbed point and a whalebone whatsit. Patty is working on figuring out the function of the whalebone thing - sometimes they are identified as harpoon foreshafts, but we don't find harpoon heads in Newfoundland that fit on them.

Patty's project was a fun change from normal. Usually, my reproduction work is focused on producing an end product that is as close as possible to the originals. How I get there doesn't really matter. But in this case the process was the important part. I made a set of Dorset Paleoeskimo stone tools and tried to determine which tools would have been used at all the stages of manufacture. Patty was also interested in the waste materials and the forms the organic tool took between being an animal part and a finished artifact.

Using the stone tools was novel for me and I learned a lot about the functional aspects of making and hafting them. I've been flintknapping and working with stone tools since the mid-1990s and its a constant learning process. Plus, I usually just have the radio on for company in the workshop, so it was a treat having Patty perform Flight of the Conchords episodes from memory while I scratched away at soggy antler.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast (top), Patty Wells (Middle, Bottom)
Photo Captions:
Top, Workshop in winter with Thule harpoon reproductions
Middle, Gouging whalebone in the workshop
Bottom, Cutting the notch in the bottom of an antler harpoon using a stone knife

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