Monday, June 28, 2010

Genuine Sealskin Bindings and Ice Picks

One for Parks, one for me
I'm trying to wrap up a few loose ends this week.  I have a couple small orders to finish and the L'Anse aux Meadows reproductions should be dry enough to pass them along to Parks Canada so that they can be installed in the new exhibits at the site.

wrapping the lashing
I had the first opportunity to use the hooded sealskin on the adze and harpoon reproductions last week.  I worked with the 30 foot section that we shaved a few weeks ago.  The line had been stretched and drying in the backyard since then.  I took it down and stored most of it in a rubbermaid filled with wood shavings.  I'm still not exactly sure what to do with it.  It'll take days to shave, but I don't really want to do much more with it right away.  Right now it looks like I might try storing it with the hair on and shave lengths as I need them.

I cut all of the sealskin that we shaved down the middle
Even split it was still thick enough
To make the lashings, I cut off the shaved section of thong from the rest of the line and soaked it in warm fresh water for a few hours until it got soft again.  Since I'm using it for lashings, I wanted it to be flexible and stretch a bit while I used it so that it would shrink as it dried and create a stronger bond.  When it had softened I cut it lengthwise down the middle.  If that keeps up I might be able to double the amount of usable skin in the 335 foot long thong.

Ice picks for the Groswater Harpoons
This is what the whalebone ice pick on the harpoon looks like under the lashings.  Its not based on any specific Groswater artifact.  The long tapered end is designed to fit the scarf joint on the end of the harpoon and the shape of the point is inspired by Groswater bone points from Port au Choix.  The scarf join on the harpoon shaft was very long and shallow.  If the taper was a little steeper and the scarfed section half the length, then the ice pick would look similar to a common Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifact, with an unknown, or at least, uncertain function.

Dorset Whalebone Reproduction
This is a reproduction of one of the Dorset artifacts that the ice pick reminds me of.  I made this using stone tools a couple winters ago for Patty Wells, a Ph.D. candidate at Memorial University who is studying Dorset organic tools from Port au Choix.  The form is similar to what an ice pick should be, but I still don't understand what the hole and groove would do.  The square holes are a good fit for a sealskin thong, which has a rectangular cross-section compared to other types of cordage which are round.  If they are icepicks, then the hole and the groove would be on the end under the lashing - what function would they serve? 
Using pliers to hold the end of the line
To haft the whalebone icepicks on the Groswater harpoon I did start the wrap by tucking one end of the line under itself at the point where the hole is on the Dorset artifact.  I didn't do that to try to match the Dorset artifact, it was just the most convenient place to start the wrap.  I used pliers to hold the line in place because it was so slippery, but a hole in the icepick could have done that job for me.  That doesn't really explain the groove though, unless I wanted to be really tidy, then I could have carved a groove in the pick for the line to lie flat in while I wrapped the lashing around it.  Or, more likely, if I wanted that line to run back down the length of the harpoon towards the harpoon head, then I could have carved a guide channel, threaded several feet of line through the hole, laid it in the groove and wrapped the lashing around it, so that part of the line is tied down in the groove and the rest of the length is free.  That scenario would account for all the functional elements of the Dorset artifacts.  Maybe that free line running parallel with the shaft could be used to help launch the harpoon or secure the harpoon line.  I'm not sure.  Its the sort of thing that you could come up with a dozen different ways to make it work and still never figure out the right one.  There's also no guarantee that these objects had anything to do with harpoons - they could have been hafted on to a completely different type of tool altogether.

Photo Credits:
1,3.5: Tim Rast
2,4: Lori White
6: Patty Wells

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