Friday, June 18, 2010

Adze and Harpoon Build Photos

The L'Anse aux Meadows Groswater Palaeoeskimo harpoon reproductions are almost ready to lash together.  I'll use sinew and hide glue to tie the endblades onto the harpoon head and to wrap through the groove around the open socket.
I used tamarack scraps for the wedge shaped piece that forms the other half of the open scarfed and grooved socket on the harpoon.  I'll use the hooded sealskin for the lashing to hold it in place.

The harpoon heads are antler and the endblades are chert.  The open sockets are cut into the base of the harpoon head through their ventral face.  The harpoon head on the left is shown dorsal side up and the one on the right is ventral side up.

These little wedges of wood weren't found with the artifact at L'Anse aux Meadows, but they would have been necessary to mount the foreshaft solidly.  There's no rule that they had to be made out of wood.  Priscilla Renouf and her crew at Port au Choix have found little bone or antler artifacts in Groswater contexts that appear similar to these pieces, at least in photographs.  When everyone gets back from the field at the end of the summer, I'd like to take a peak at those artifacts in person.
Tracing the adze in the lab.
Finished reproduction adze head.  I might keep sanding it to a higher polish, but the shaping is all done.

The adze head is designed to fit into an antler socket.  A section of caribou antler would have been used where it begins to flare out.  The artifact is sitting on the antler in a good spot to cut the socket.
This is the reproduction in the antler socket that I cut from the antler in the above photo.  Unfortunately, I cut this socket a little short and tried to work it while it was too dry.  The adze cracked the socket while I was wedging it in place.

I had to start over with a new piece of antler.  I'm soaking this one in vinegar before trying to wedge to adze head in place.  Hopefully it will be soft enough that it will mould itself around the adze head.  I did this on an adze socket last summer and it work well and when it dried it held its new shape.

The antler adze socket will then be lashed onto a wood handle.  I'm hoping that this forked piece of tamarack will do the trick.
Photo Credits:
1-4,6-10: Tim Rast
5: Lori White


  1. We no longer use stone blades now that steel is easily available, but the short handle of the Yupik adze is usually spruce. Tamarack is a tougher wood but is rare in western Alaska. The longer handles of the Tlingit or Haida hand adzes are made of red alder and my experience with alder handles is that it is very, very tough wood. In archaeological excavation, I suspect that that adze chips and their shape are ignored. The type of wood used, whether the blade was ground or chipped stone or metal could be id'd from these chips. Wood chips are important ad they eed to be examine ad not tossed!

  2. You'll be relieved to know that the site at L'Anse aux Meadows, where this adze and harpoon shaft were found contained a bog filled with worked wood and wood working debris. It was all collected, preserved and analyzed. Not everything preserves, even in a bog, and the larger pieces of wood had a better chance of surviving than the chips. Of the 644 pieces of wood recovered during the Parks Canada excavations in the mid-70s, 184 were wood chips. In addition to the regular annual reports, a 20 page report was prepared by Paul Gleason in 1979 from Washington State University on the wood artifacts. He examined every chip, looking at its length, width, thickness, angle-in, facets, and profile. He was able to distinguish chips and activities associated with both the metal using Norse occupation of the site and the earlier stone using cultures.

    As you say, wood chips are important and when we find them in an excavation every effort is made to retrieve, preserve, and analyze them. In a scientific excavation it would be pretty unusual to knowingly discard or leave behind anything (including wood chips) that was touched or modified by the people who occupied the site.


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