Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Open Minds Demo Day

Today is another day at The Rooms with grade 5 students in the Open Minds program. I had such an awesome time with the class two weeks ago, that I can't wait to get in there this afternoon. Its like a half day of show and tell. I do about an hour long flintknapping demonstration with a selection of reproductions to pass around for the kids to look at. We talk about why people made stone tools and how they were used while they watch me work a core into a finished spear point. After that, the kids go back to their tables with some of the reproductions where they draw and describe them.

The grade fives are such a perfect age for this sort of thing, too. Two weeks ago, when I was explaining how sinew is string from animal tendons and that tendons are those tight cables in your wrists and ankles they thought it was the coolest thing and everyone was playing with their wrists. I told the same thing to a class of grade eight kids in a demo a few years ago and they gasped and looked faint. Although to be fair to those kids I may have missed the part in the explanation about using animal tendons, and they thought human forearms were the preferred source of sinew.

In grade 5, in Newfoundland and Labrador, the kids learn about the Beothuk, so they have more of a background for a flintknapping demonstration than the average person. But they can ask some tough questions, like "how do you know where to hit the rock"? which is a little like asking a painter how they know where to put the next brush stroke. Answering that one question is the topic of the flintknapping class that I'm teaching tomorrow evening, and even there we'll just be scratching the surface. By the way, there are still a couple of spaces available if you'd like to RSVP through Facebook or send me an e-mail.

It can be tough to summarize how a knapper decides where to hit the rock, because the piece that the knapper is working is constantly changing and the decisions that you make are influenced by problems that you are trying to solve at the moment, or avoid in the future, the physics of how a knappable rock breaks, and the final shape that you are aiming for (your mental template). Early on in the knapping process there are relatively few variables to consider when deciding where to strike a core to produce a flake. A core should have a nice flat platform that meets a face at about 90 degrees and it should be positioned over a ridge or two that will guide the flake. As you progress through the piece your decisions become more complex and there are more variables to keep track of. I'm working on a couple of handouts for tomorrows workshop that explain the important concepts in percussion knapping, which I'll summarize in a future post or two.

Hey -this just in - while I was editing this post, I noticed that a really cool blog that I follow called Northwest Coast Archaeology just profiled Elfshot: Sticks and Stones today. Check it out: Elfshot: Experimental and Replicative Technology!

Photo Credits:
1,2,4: Tim Rast
3,5: Lori White

Photo Captions:
1: You can see the minds opening in this photo!
2: The classroom in the middle of The Rooms. Just amazing.
3: Tim knapping.
4: Antler billets ready for the percussion workshop.
5: Planning to detach a flake of obsidian using a hammerstone.

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