Wednesday, May 5, 2010

L'Anse aux Meadows Lithics

Side view of Dorset Knife
Here's a quick look at the 3 other artifacts in the L'Anse aux Meadows order: a chert knife, an endscraper and a slate adze.  I'm not certain of the context that they were all found in, but they would all be at home in a Dorset Palaeoeskimo site.  The most diagnostic is the knife.

Triangular, side notched Dorset Knife
Dorset Knife:  This is the same sort of triangular side-notched knife that I often haft with the stylized polar bear antler handle.  Since part of the story at L'Anse aux Meadows is the evidence for wood working, a wood handle has been requested to finish the piece.  I'll use some general impressions of the size and shape from the antler polar bear handles, but for the most part, I'll be basing this handle on a short, wide wood handle from Avyalik Island in Labrador.
Handle from Avyalik Island
The knife has been resharpened and although it is very nicely thinned from the base, its fairly thick through the middle and there are a few step fractures on the surface.  Its a good functional knife and I think a simple, stout Avyalik Island inspired handle will be a good match.

Flake Scraper
Scraper: This is a simple little flake scraper.  At first glance it looks like there is an isolated stem, which would help make it a little more diagnostic, but on closer inspection, that stem is a natural narrowing of the flake.  The only retouch is along the actual scraper edge.  That doesn't mean that the flake wasn't selected because of its stem, and it will serve as a convenient hafting area, but it does argue for caution in comparing it to more carefully formed tools.
All those little flakes on the edge make a scraper
A flake scraper like this could conceivably be found in any Paleoeskimo or Recent Indian site on the island.  My favourite stone source on the Port au Port Peninsula is perfect match for the scraper.  It may take a few dozen flakes to get one with the correct starting dimensions, but that's ok, the rest of those flakes can be turned into something else.

Ground stone adze
Ground Stone Adze:  Large ground stone tools are most often associated with the Maritime Archaic in Newfoundland and Labrador, however, Jenneth and I both think that this looks more like a Dorset adze than a Maritime Archaic adze.  Maritime Archaic adzes tend to be made long, narrow celts without a clearly defined hafting area.  This artifact from L'anse aux Meadows is wide and short and has an isolated stem.  Unlike the scraper above, where the stem was  accidental, there was definite effort put into creating a short-shouldered stem, that would fit into a socket.  Its quite large for a Paleoeskimo tool, but the form seems to argue against a Maritime Archaic association and favours a Dorset context.

Check out that polish!
The adze blade is made on a very large flake of quite a dense green slate. With the exception of some flake scars from the initial rough shaping of the blade, the dorsal surface is completely polished.  On the underside the the polish is limited to the hafting area and the bit end.  Look how highly polished it is - you can see my fingers reflected in the bit!

Adze made on a flake - Belly side up
Palaeoeskimo adzes are composite tools with relatively short bits fit into antler sockets that are then lashed to a wood or antler handle.  Sockets that could fit a blade like this have been recovered at Port au Choix, so I'd like to pop in and take a look at that collection for details.  Like the lashing on the harpoon, I'm excited at the opportunity to use some of the freshly cut sealskin thong to secure the socket to the wood handle.
I like the idea that the sealskin thong on these reproductions will have gone from the seal to the finished tool in a single season.  I think it will make them that much more authentic.

Photo Credits:
1-7: Tim Rast
8: Illustration from Prehistory of the Eastern Arctic (New World Archaeological Record)


  1. Pretty interesting stuff.
    But I've got a question - why are you wearing gloves when handling the inorganic artifacts but not the organic knife handle?

  2. I don't know all the rules on what's safe to touch and what isn't - I just wear the gloves all the time now. It looks more science-y.


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