Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ramah Chert

I found out a couple weeks ago that I got published in 2008! Lori brought me home a copy of the journal yesterday. My contribution is a pretty informal write-up that I did about an evening of knapping Ramah chert in 2001, but there are some really interesting articles in the rest of the volume. There are a couple of articles about Snack Cove, Labrador, which I mentioned in an earlier blog about my favourite barrel lid dartboard. There's also a well illustrated article about some of the spectacular caches that have been found in Labrador.

North Atlantic Archaeology Vol. 1 2008. Lisa Rankin at Memorial University of Newfoundland's Archaeology Unit is the contact person to buy a copy; $35 (or $25 for students). For Ramah chert enthusiasts, this looks like a good journal to have on your shelf.

Ramah chert is a peculiar stone from Northern Labrador that seems to have captured people's imagination since the source was found by the Maritime Archaic Indians several thousand years ago. The stone is found in archaeological sites throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, into Quebec and the Maritime Provinces. There was an isolated find of a Ramah chert arrowhead in a Viking grave in Greenland and within the past year its been identified in collections from Manitoba. Archaeologists and flintknappers seem drawn to the unusual appearance of the stone, which has been described by Jim Tuck as looking like slush on a windshield. The Innu say it looks like caribou grease.

The remoteness of the quarry source in Ramah Bay adds to the stone's mystery. At first glance the sugary texture of the stone doesn't appear to be an ideal candidate for flintknapping compared to some of the extremely fined grained cherts throughout the province. However, when you actually knap the rock it performs above average and it turns out that its a pleasure to work. There are very good, functional reasons to choose this particular stone above others.

Whitridge's Sampler is set of Labrador reproductions made from Ramah chert that I did for Pete Whitridge, who has been doing archaeological work in Northern Labrador for several years. He contacted me after one of his field seasons to tell me that he'd visited the Ramah quarry and that he had a piece for me. The only thing he asked in exchange was that I make an endblade or two out of it for him. An endblade is the stone tip of a harpoon and they are about the size of the end of your thumb, so I was expecting a fist-sized core. When I went to pick up the rock from him he gave me a core the size of a cinder block! I didn't feel that one endblade was quite an appropriate payment, so I made up the Whitridge sampler to say 'thanks!'

Photo Credits:
Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top, Journal front and back cover.
Middle Right, Large Core of Ramah Chert
Middle Left, Cover of Whitridge's Sampler
Bottom, Ramah Chert Bifaces in the sampler.

1 comment:

  1. Just finished reading your article on the flaking qualities of Ramah Bay Chert, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You have captured in words the excitment that only a knapper could know in working a beautiful rare peice of stone and the feeling of hoping and praying and holding your breath while doing your very best to your ability to try and make this stone into something beautiful while knowing full well that just one of the dozens of blows to it could well turn it into something far less than what is hoped for.
    Wonderful what you did with it!


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