Friday, February 26, 2010

Palaeoeskimo Side-Hafted Microblades

Microblades are one of the hallmarks of the Palaeoeskimo toolkit. They are parallel sided linear flakes made systematically from a carefully prepared core. Each blade removed sets up the core with long parallel ridges that guide the shape of the next flake. In this way a single core can produce dozens of uniform blades. They have a razor sharp edge along each side. I tend to have the best results making microblades with indirect percussion by striking an antler punch with a heavy antler hammer. Other folks can produce long beautiful blades by simply pushing them off with pressure flaking or through careful percussion work.

Microblades can be further modified into lots of different kinds of tools or hafted as blades into organic tools and weapons as a sharp cutting edge. Microblade knives can either be end-hafted, like a scalpel, or side-hafted to create a kind of straight razor. A complete microblade has a natural curve to it and to get a knife with as straight an edge as possible I trim down the blades that I mount in the handles. Usually I snap off the distal end of the blade because the curve tends to be more exaggerated as the blade wraps around the bottom of the core, although that isn't really true of the blade shown in this photo.
In the Wapusk collection I need to side-haft a microblade and before I get to that one I wanted to make a few practice pieces. Also, I'm doing a flintknapping workshop in Calgary next weekend on the topic of making hafted Palaeoeskimo tools, so I'd like to have a few microblade knives on hand as examples. The Palaeoeskimo often used a two piece haft for side-hafting microblades, with a slotted main handle and a small triangular brace piece to hold the blade securely in place. As one blade dulls, a new one could be popped in its place, just like changing the blades in a disposable razor.

I've used wood handles for this set of knives because they are meant to be practice for the Wapusk reproduction and there were lots of woodworking tools found at Seahorse Gully (not shown). There are also good references for wood microblade handles in collections from Labrador that are stored at The Rooms (shown here).
The Avayalik Island site has lots of wooden handles, including this style of microblade handle. In these photos of wood artifacts from Avayalik Island, you can see the general shape of the handles and the slots for the microblades. The reproduction in the photo is an earlier side hafted microblade that I mounted in a bone handle of the same design.

So, I have made these before using bone and antler, but ever since seeing the Avayalik Island wood handles, I've wanted to try them in wood. I really like the way the wood handles work. The microblades are extremely sharp, but they are very fragile. A harder material like bone can crush the blade quite easily while you mount it, but the wood yields and the blade will sink into the soft wood without crushing to create an even firmer mount. I noticed this especially with the small brace piece. Wet antler would behave the same. For this particular pair of microblade knives I used sinew lashing, although I'll try to use baleen to bind the rest together.

Photo Credits
: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
1: Microblades and the antler punch I used to make them
2: A side view of the longer blade in the set
3: The pieces of a side-haft Palaeoeskimo microblade handle
4: looking down the microblade slots on the wood Avayalik Island handles
5: Side by side comparison of the wood handles and a bone handled reproduction
6: The knives as they are assembled
7: Finished side hafted Palaeoeskimo microblade knives with sinew binding and wood handles.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I never would have thought to hafting a blade like that! I'm going to have to try this.


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