Monday, June 14, 2010

L'Anse Aux Meadows Dorset Palaeoeskimo Knife

Reproduction, artifact, and pressure flaker
Here's a look at the finished Dorset Palaeoeskimo knife reproduction that is based on an original stone artifact that was found at L'Anse aux Meadows by archaeologists in the mid-1970s.  It dates to about 1500 years ago, give or take a century or two.  I showed a couple images in the last post of how this knife would have looked when it was new and here it is after a bit of retouching using a pressure flaker, to resharpen it along the working edges.  The antler tool in the photo is the pressure flaker that I used to remove the tiny chips of stone along the edge to rework the shape.

L'Anse Aux Meadows knife
These knives are quite diagnostic of the Dorset Palaeoeskimo in Newfoundland and Labrador, meaning that they are frequently found at their sites and that they are different from the knives used by other stone tool using cultures in the Province.  They have an asymmetry to the blade, which becomes more noticeable throughout their life as they are used and resharpened along one edge more than the other.  The side-notches tend to be narrow and relatively low along the edge, which allows a larger portion of the stone to be exposed out of the handle as a useful cutting blade.  This is a development from stemmed knives and points that earlier Palaeoeskimo cultures used.  A stemmed knife requires a larger percentage of the stone to be buried in the handle to create a secure haft, which means you lose all that cutting edge.  You can see what I mean on the reproductions of the Saqqaq knives from Greenland.

Side view of knife edge and socket
The handles for these knives were organic so they are much less likely to be preserved than the lithics, but there are a few examples.  There are two examples of stylized polar bear handles made from antler and found at Port au Choix, and at least one in the wood collection from Avyalik Island.  The handle I used on this artifact is based on the simpler Avyalik Island artifact, although I had to make the lip and notching area a little narrower to match this specific artifact.  I secured it using sinew and hide glue.  I think sinew is a good candidate for hafting this kind of knife, because its strong and fine and could create a secure bond through the narrow side-notches.  Sometimes when stone tools are resharpened in their hafts the handle gets in the way and they are easier to sharpen in one direction than the other, so the edge will move away from the middle or develop a twist.  This was the case with the pre-Dorset knife from Seahorse Gully, but it wasn't the case with the L'Anse aux Meadows knife.  The edge of the blade was kept straight and followed the midline of the blade.  This was certainly the intent of the Dorset knapper who resharpened the blade and was probably made possible by the relatively short handle which could be flipped and held in any direction without making things awkward during resharpening.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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