Friday, June 11, 2010

A L'anse aux Meadows Knife and Adze Update

Scraper and Adze in progress
I'm making some good progress on the L'Anse aux Meadows reproductions.  The knife should be done by lunch time today and I'll be able to make a final comparison with the artifact when I visit The Rooms this afternoon.The scraper won't be far behind.  It might take another one or two visits to finish matching the adze blade and the harpoon shaft, before I can begin fitting them with all the bits and pieces that will turn them into complete tools.

Knife; reproduction on left, artifact on right
The original knife blade artifact was resharpened several times in the handle before it was lost or discarded.  As the edge is resharpened it gets narrower, but the retouch doesn't extend all the way to the middle of the blade, so it retains its original thickness.  There was still a lot of good cutting edge left on this knife, but relative to a new blade the resharpening would give it a slightly thicker feeling.  Maybe it wasn't working as well as it did initially and the owner decided that L'Anse aux Meadows was a good place to pop this blade out of the handle and fit the knife with a new one.  Or maybe it was just lost and not found again until 1974.

"New" knife blade in handle, with glue
I decided to replicate the life of this tool a little more authentically than usual.  Normally I'd knap a new knife blade, then remove the short resharpening pressure flakes to change the shape and match the original artifact, then haft it in a handle.  That method lets me be certain that the reproduction matches the artifact before investing the time in making a handle for it.  But really, the artifact would have been resharpened in the handle - there's a tiny little lip just above the notches on each side that mark the portion of the blade that would have been buried in the handle and that couldn't be reached by resharpening.

Artifact sitting on top of reproduction
So, for this reproduction I made a new knife blade, mounted it in a handle with sinew and hide glue, and I'll re-sharpen it to its final shape while its in its haft, just like the original.  That's why the reproduction looks larger than the artifact in the photos posted here.  When these photos were taken I wanted to ensure that the base and notches that would be secured inside the wood handle were a good match for the artifact.  In the photo on the left you can see the area of the "new" blade that needs to be resharpened away to match the original. 

Reproduction and artifact adze made on slate flake
There are a couple updates on the adze blade.  When I was going though my rocks, I found a big adze blank started on a large slate flake that I must have began making years ago and forgot about.  I really can't remember when I started it, but other than the size, the ventral surface of the flake is an excellent match for the artifact.

Cutting away the excess mass
Fortunately stone working is a reductive technology, so starting out big and working down to small is no problem, as long as I orient the finished adze around that unpolished ventral flake surface it should be possible to cut and grind the big adze down into a good copy of the original artifact.

Postville Pentecostal site celts or adzes
When I was working on the endblades for the harpoon, the L'anse aux Meadows Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblades reminded me of the Groswater endblades found at the Postville Pentecostal site in Labrador.  Stephen Loring and Steven Cox, who excavated that site in the mid-1970s reported finding several large ground stone celts or adzes.  Its such an interesting and unique collection that many of the artifacts are on public display at The Rooms, including these two big adzes.  The L'anse aux Meadows adze was found isolated from other artifacts, so the exact time period and culture that it belonged to is uncertain.  However, based on these large Groswater adzes from Labrador, I think Groswater Palaeoeskimo are just as likely to have made and used the L'Anse aux Meadows adze as the later Dorset Palaeoeskimo.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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