Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Flintknapping Workshop in Calgary

I'm back in St. John's now. My trip to Alberta was quick, but busy. I had a chance to see some family and visit with friends from university and high school that I hadn't seen in years. The flintknapping workshop on March 6th worked out really well. There were two full day workshops run at the same time, Jason Roe had over 20 people in the beginners class and I had 10 people in the advanced class. We used a couple classrooms in the Archaeology Department at the University of Calgary, which is where I did my undergrad so it felt really familiar coming home.

There was a big lunch provided and snacks and coffee throughout the day. I was really impressed with how well organized the workshops were and everything went off without a hitch. In this lunchtime photo, Pete is using one of the knives made just that morning to skin a pack of Viva Puffs. No one was in danger of going hungry in this group of knappers and toolmakers.

For the workshop, I brought spruce branches with me from some of those Christmas trees that I scavanged off the street a few weeks ago and I collected a few straight willow branches on the drive into Calgary from the farm. Using the green wood we made some simple split branch handles for flakes, so everyone had their first hafted tool within the first hour of the workshop. Here's a link to a good write up on this style of haft, sometimes called a "Hoko Knife". After that first project people worked at their own pace for the rest of the day and used sinew, raw hide, hide glue and artificial sinew to haft more of their work. I was really impressed with everyone. There were some knappers there who had 10 years experience and came with a bucket full of rock and tools. I don't know what the final finished tool count was, but I think people averaged 2 or 3 hafted tools each. The tools in the photo on the left were made by 3 or 4 different people.

Some members of this group have been knapping together for years, and they've had several different guest instructors over that time. One of the tests they give to the new guys (like me) is to give them a biface and then challenge them to flute it. Fluted points aren't something that I'm particularily good at, but fortunately the preforms they gave me were obsidian and only a couple inches long so they were within my comfort zone. I made the mistake of fluting the first one while no one was watching, so they made me a second one and I had to do it again. They turned out ok, although I could only get the flute to work on one side of the first point and for some reason the second flute on the second point split down the middle, so there is a ridge running down the middle of the flake scar so it looks like two side by side fluting flakes. However, the main thing is they didn't break, which was the important criteria for passing the test.

Photo Credits:
1,5: Autumn Whiteway
2-4, 6: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
1: Talking about sinew and hide glue
2: Butchering Viva Puffs with a Hoko Knife
3: Brand new obsidian tools
4: Processing sinew
5: That's Bill in the white shirt - he kept me honest throughout the workshop, brought a tonne of sinew and hide glue for everyone to use and made the preforms for me to flute.
6: The obsidian fluted point that earned me a passing grade.


  1. Welcome back Tim! Looks like you had a great time with the workshop. I'm especially fond of the Viva Puff skinning photo - were you able to examine the usewear? ;)

  2. The usewear seemed consistent with previous stone tool butchering experiments on bags of Twizzlers and assorted bonbons. I think the next step would be to try the knives on something a little more robust, like blister packed electronics.

  3. I'm pretty sure I was in this workshop, the beginner one with Jason Roe. It may have been the previous year though, I can't recall. That was a lot of fun!

  4. These workshops are fun - Jason and I will be leading them again this March 3&4th. The format will be a little bit different so hopefully we get a chance to work with each other. I know I can learn a lot from him.

    Intro session on March 3:

    More practice on March 4:


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