Friday, October 29, 2010

Quttinirpaaq Artifacts Arrive!

First Impressions
I love my job!  Just a few minutes ago, Purolator delivered a package to the door containing 4500 year old artifacts from Quttinirpaaq National Park on the tip of Ellesmere Island.  The package wasn't sent from Ellesmere Island (it came from Parks Canada in Winnipeg), but at this time last year these artifacts were on Ellesmere.  At that time, the last people to have seen them would have been the Palaeoeskimo people who made them!   Archaeologists working for Parks Canada surface collected them this summer and they were catalogued and analyzed in Manitoba.  Now, over the next few weeks, I'll be knapping reproductions of all the pieces.

11 Kettle Lake artifacts
These are Independence I artifacts from sites at Kettle Lake, some of the earliest sites in the High Arctic.  The people who made these tools were true Arctic explorers - they travelled from one end of the Arctic archipelago to the other when there was no one around to ask for directions.  Well, maybe not the specific people who made these pieces, but perhaps their parents or grandparents made part of the trip.  The Eastern Arctic was populated very quickly, probably within a few generations.  The Palaeoeskimo people came from the Western Arctic and you don't find a gradual progression of early aged sites from west to east, like you might expect if the Arctic was populated slowly.  Instead, we find some of the earliest sites at the most northerly and easterly points in the Arctic, like Quttinirpaaq National Park, Ellesmere Island.

Tiny, serrated point
Maybe part of the secret to the early Palaeoeskimo pioneers' rapid movement was travelling light.  Check out how tiny these tools are! This will be my first time making Independence I artifact reproductions from a collection like this so I'm eager to get going and start figuring out all those little things that make them unique.

Photo Credits:
1: Lori White
2-3: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Maritime Archaic Morning

Steve, plaiding up the place
I spent this morning down at The Rooms going through boxes and boxes of Maritime Archaic Indian artifacts with my friend Steve.  Steve and I are two of the four authors working on a publication based on the Big Droke and Caines sites at Bird Cove.  Since we are the only two living in the Province and therefore have easy access to the collections, we got to go down and rummage through the boxes and get re-acquainted with the material.

Woodworking Tools
It was interesting going through the boxes.  Its been so long since either of us thought about the material it was like re-excavating the sites all over again.  We were both a lot younger when we worked on the sites, so it was nice to see that they lived up to our memories.  Big Droke is a large site and has some of the best evidence for Maritime Archaic Indian day-to-day activity between 4500 and 3400 years ago.  Chert and slate tools were being made on the site and there are several big heavy woodworking tools that show lots of signs of use. 
Rough bifaces from the caches
The Caines site is located a stones throw away from Big Droke and was used for a century or two at the end of the occupation.  Compared to Big Droke, it seems to have been a more specialized workshop site.  There was a more dedicated focus on roughly manufacturing early stage bifaces and there were even a couple of biface caches in a large hearth feature, which suggest that stone was being intentionally heat treated to improve its properties.

A finished projectile point from the Caines Site

A retouched ramah flake
Steve and I wanted to have photos for ourselves and to share with David and Latonia (co-authors living outside of the Province) while we all work on the paper.  Taking photos of the artifacts gave me an excuse to use my brand new photo scales.  Lori gave me a set of photo scales from Crime Sciences Inc for my Birthday.  I've got a whole bag full of scales in different sizes and colours to play around with now.  I love them!  We had some in the field this summer and they worked great on site and they're just as handy in the lab.  No more little paper cut out scales for me.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, October 25, 2010

Writing in the Mornings, Knapping in the Afternoon

Intermediate Indian point, coming up next
I finished off a few antler and walrus ivory reproductions late last week and will be putting them in the mail today for the friend who ordered them.  One of the pieces is intended as a gift, so I'll write more about it all after its been delivered.  This week will have a bit of flintknapping in it -- there are some Intermediate Indian projectile points and Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblades in the line-up.  At the start of November, I'll be assisting an artist from Nunavut who will be doing some work in the Province, so I have a small amount of preparation for that to do, but the big task for the week is to get back into writing mode.

Bird Cove Interpretive Panel
I'm co-authoring a couple papers with colleagues about some Maritime Archaic and Groswater Palaeoeskimo excavations that we were all involved with at various times over the last decade or so.  The sites are all from Bird Cove, on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula.  We submitted the abstracts earlier in October and our deadline to have the papers sent out for review is December, so we've got a lot to do.  Its been a while since I've had to dedicate a lot of time to writing, so I'm not exactly sure what sort of schedule I'll use.  In the past, mornings were my best writing time -- if I didn't get something written before 11am, it wouldn't happen at all that day.  For the past year an a half, I've written my blog posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, so I guess mornings are still my writing time.  That fits fine with Elfshot's production schedule - I tend to do most of my outdoor studio work in the afternoons, with a bit of indoor assembly and planning in the evenings.

Photo Credits:
1: Scott Neilsen
2: Tim Rast

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Pig That Could Only Turn Right and Other Stories

Helping dad unload piglets
There's this thing going around Facebook where you change your profile picture to one of yourself from the 1980s.  That got me looking through stacks of old photos from when I was a kid on the farm in Alberta.  Its my birthday today, so I figured it would be fun to post some pictures of my childhood pets.  The animals are probably the thing that I miss most about the farm, it was great place to be a kid.  I know you're not supposed to play with your food, but as an only child, one of my best friends growing up was The Pig Who Could Only Turn Right.

The Pig Who Could Only Turn Right
He must have had some sort of inner ear problem, because he always had his head rolled very slightly to one side, and, of course, he couldn't turn left.  Its like there was an invisible wall on that side of his body.  We couldn't keep him with the other pigs, because he'd eventually get stuck in a corner and they'd pick on him.  So for most of his life he roamed free around the yard.  He'd try to keep up with the dogs, but it wouldn't take too many left turns to lose him.  He spend most of his time sleeping in piles of hay, but he was very friendly and curious and if you walked by his hay pile the hay would start rustling.  He'd poke his head out, slowly wake up, and then trot out to see what you were up to.

Pig Camo
For a while we had problems with coyotes and had to start locking him up in the barn at night.  Despite his turning problem he was very smart and it didn't take him long to learn that he needed to head into the barn for supper.  I remember the first time I had to put him in the barn at night.  It was a long narrow barn and as he trotted beside it, the door was on his left side.  He walked right by it and I can remember thinking "great, now I'm going to have to chase this pig around the whole yard...".  But he knew exactly what he was doing -- as soon as his tail was lined up with the opening, he started turning right.  He spun 270 degrees around and headed straight through the door!  He was an excellent pig.

We also had a pet muskrat for a short time.  It was the strangest thing - my dad was in feeding the goats one day when this little brown lump waddled up to him.  It came from the direction of the dugout and was acting more like a cat than a wild animal.  It let him pet him and pick him up.  It kept following dad around, so he brought him into the house and it seemed perfectly happy.  I can remember having him locked in the porch for the first night.  We stuffed two big paper grocery bags full of newspapers between the wall and the freezer so that he wouldn't crawl in behind and chew on the wiring, but overnight he chewed a hole right through the bags big enough to crawl through.  That was my first experience with muskrats, and I still have a scar on the tip of one finger from when I learned that most muskrats are far less friendly.

Blue Heeler, possibly named "Tippy"
We did have lots of normal pets on the farm, too, although some of them had weird ideas about things.  This little blue heeler pup grew up to be a very clever working dog.  Blue heelers are my favourite dog breed, they have natural herding skills and even without any real training they are great help moving cattle and sheep around.  But as a rebellious youth, this pup enjoyed being dressed up in my old clothes and sitting on my tricycle.
Cat-lestar Galactica

Same sort of thing with this kitten.  She looks like a normal cat sitting in a shoe, but in actuality, she's checking the rigging on a tiny spacecraft.  She's getting ready to play Battlestar Galactica or possibly G Force with her siblings who are equipped with similar spaceships.  I'd have to spend hours running around the yard carrying their tiny ships, and making whooshing noises, because I didn't have the heart to tell them that shoes can't really fly.  But I didn't mind.

Photo Credits:
1: I can't remember who took this picture, but it was probably one of my friends from school.  I tended to be much more helpful around the farm when I was showing off to friends.
2-6: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Early Dorset Palaeoeskimo Harpoon Heads

Early Dorset Palaeoeskimo Harpoon Head Reproductions
Harpoon heads are probably the most diagnostic artifacts found in Arctic and sub-Arctic archaeological sites.  Most of the major divisions assigned to northern cultures by archaeologists are tied to distinctive harpoon head types.  The frequencies and types of other artifacts might change over time and space, but you can count on every culture having their own unique style (or styles) of harpoon head.  I just finished making a pair of Early Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon heads.  In the photo on the right, the top one is made from antler, and the bottom one is walrus ivory.

Harpoon head, in situ
At Early Dorset Palaeoeskimo sites, harpoon heads with "slices" in the socket are diagnostic.  The slice is an extra little slit that extends from the base of the harpoon head on the ventral face for a few millimetres.  Earlier pre-Dorset harpoon heads had open sockets, and while open socketed harpoon heads don't completely disappear from the Dorset toolkit, closed socket forms become the norm for the Dorset culture.  Early Dorset sites date in the 2500-2200 B.P. range and they aren't found in as wide an area across the Arctic as earlier and later palaeoeskimo cultures.  For example, Early Dorset Palaeoeskimo sites are not found in Newfoundland and Labrador, although both earlier and later palaeoeskimo groups did live in the Province.  The sites that I used as references for these reproductions are from Baffin Island, Nunavut.

Open socket, sliced socket, closed socket
The slice is a curious feature and I'm not exactly sure whether it has a functional explanation or if its just an interesting design element.  When you see it alongside earlier open socketed harpoon heads, you get the impression that the open socket is slowly closing up until they are completely closed.  An open socket is somewhat easier to make using stone tools than a closed socket, especially in ivory.  If you work antler while its wet, then closed sockets aren't too difficult to make, but they are pretty tedious scraping in a material as tough as walrus ivory.

The slices are only on the ventral face
Perhaps the slice is meant to provide some limited access to the socket to make carving it out a little easier.  However, some of the slices are so narrow, that they wouldn't really be that much help.  I added the slices on mine after I had already gouged out the socket, so they were no help at all in carving out the sockets.  Although, I was using a rotary tool and x-acto knives, so its probably not a fair test.  Maybe the slice has some function in helping release the harpoon head from the foreshaft.
Or maybe the Dorset were so conservative that it took them a few hundred years to accept a completely closed socket harpoon head, and kept opening them up symbolically so that they looked more like grandma and grandpa used to make them.

I'd be very interested to hear from anyone who has seen a sliced harpoon head abandoned in manufacture.  Were the slices made at the same time as the socket? Before or after? Any theories on their function?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, October 18, 2010

Making Ötzi's Pressure Flaker

Ötzi's pressure flaker, reproduction
The 5300 year old mummified remains of a man nicknamed Ötzi, (or Oetzi) were found in 1991, melting out of a glacier in the Ötztal Alps. Many of the tools that he used in his day-to-day life were found scattered around his body.  Ötzi's mummified remains have provide a wealth of information on his health and diet and cause of death, but I've always been more fascinated by the tools that he was found with.  As a flintknapper, his antler and lime wood pressure flaker is probably my favourite of all his possessions.

Copper and antler pressure flakers
A pressure flaker (sometimes referred to as a retoucher in the iceman literature) is a tool used to finish or resharpen a chipped stone tool.  Antler is probably the most common pressure flaking material, because its soft enough to grip the edge of a stone tool without crushing it, strong enough that a large force can be applied to it without deforming, and durable enough to last through repeated use.  The simplest way to make an antler pressure flaker is to cut a single pointed tine from an antler, that fits comfortably in your hand.  The tip of an antler tine from any species of deer is a perfect natural pressure flaker.  In this century, antler isn't always the easiest material to get a hold of, so many knappers use copper tipped pressure flakers as a substitute.  Copper has the right combination of softness and strength and is even more durable than antler.  Rather than use an entire rod of copper, most copper tipped pressure flakers are made by inserting a heavy gauged copper wire into a wooden handle.

Image of the original artifact from Spindler 1994
The pressure flaker found with Ötzi was a clever combination of the two.  It looks almost identical to the modern copper tipped pressure flakers that many knappers use, but instead of a copper insert, it had a long antler spike driven into its end.  It looks like an oversized pencil.  The overall length of the implement is 11.9cm long and an x-ray of the flaker shows that the antler spike is 5.1cm long, although it only protrudes a few millimetres from the whittled end of the tool.  The end of the tool opposite the antler has a groove cut around it, presumably an attachment place for a cord.  I don't know if the species of the antler has been identified, but the wood was a branch from a lime tree; not a lime tree that grows limes, the other kind of lime tree, from the Tilia genus.

Lime tree destroyed by Hurricane Igor
Bowring Park, St. John's

Lime trees aren't native to Newfoundland, but there was one planted in Bowring Park in 1914 to celebrate the opening of the park.  It was a beautiful old tree and I've been meaning for years to get a couple branches from it when it was pruned to make a proper iceman pressure flaker.  Unfortunately, I was too slow and the tree was blown over a few weeks ago in Hurricane Igor.  By the time I visited the park to check on it, it had been cut up and all the branches were taken away.  I was pretty disappointed, but there were some exposed roots that were the right diameter, so I took some of those.  They're not lime tree branches, but at least they're wood from a lime tree.
I found some pressure flaker diameter roots

Reproduction above an x-ray of the artifact
The moose antler spike that I wound up using in the reproduction was actually the third spike that I attempted.  The first one I used was a scrap of antler.  I'd hoped that the design of the flaker would let me recycled some of the small fragments of antler that I've been saving, but the scrap I picked was too soft.  It was from the flat pan of the antler, and not a tine, so it bent and deformed when I tried to use it.  The second spike that I tried was the dense tip of an antler tine, but midway along its 5 cm length it turned porous and brittle.  I'd hoped that change in density wouldn't matter too much because the tine would be buried so deep in the wood, but it cracked and broke as I tapped the spike into place.  The third tine was the one that worked and its a solid, dense piece of antler along its entire 5 cm length.

Copper, antler, antlet tine
As a reproduction, I'm happy with it.  Its a few millimetres longer than Ötzi's pressure flaker, but I intend to use it and it will get shorter through use.  The wood was still quite green and soft when I worked it, so it was easy to cut and shape using a large chert flake.  The wood did crack as I hammered the spike into place, but Ötzi's pressure flaker had a large crack running its length, so I'm in good company there.  Even with the crack, the very long antler spike is wedged so firmly in place that its a comfortable and sturdy tool to use.  Lori just came in and smelled it and said that it smells nice.  She never says my reproductions smell nice, so that's a huge check mark in the plus column.

A reproduction that will be used
I'm going to use it like this for a while to get a feel for it, but the original artifact has one more detail that will be interesting to experiment with.  The tip of Ötzi's pressure flaker was fire hardened.  I've never tried fire hardening my antler pressure flakers, but its certainly an idea worth experimenting with.

Photo Credits: 
1-2, 4-9: Tim Rast
3,7: Artifact photograph and x-ray from Konrad Spindler's The Man in the Ice, 1994

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tech Report: Hammerstones, Harpoon Heads and Lasers

Checking the reference photos
Yesterday was a bit of a running around day, but hopefully I can spend today in the workshop or at least part of it.  The harpoon heads are coming along nicely.  I try not to move too fast when I'm working on designs that are new to me.  I find it takes a while to wrap my head around the new shapes and if I try to finish them too quickly there are always details that I miss.  I'll make a few cuts in the workshop, then bring the pieces back inside and compare them with the reference photos or artifacts, if I'm lucky enough to be working directly from an artifact.  In the evenings, I'll fidget with them and make new notes and marks on them while watching TV or working on the computer.

The Elfshot wall at the PAO
I had a quick visit up at the Provincial Archaeology Office yesterday to collect some rock samples that need some smaller flakes knocked off them.  The cores don't know it yet, but they are on their way to get laser ablated in the Department of Earth Sciences at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  But before they can be ablated, they need to be cracked and walloped into manageable size pieces that will fit inside the machine.  The analysis gives a detailed picture of the elements that make up the rock.  The purpose of the testing is to attempt to match stone tools made from an un-sourced material with rock samples from known quarries, to try to determine where the ancient knapper got their stone.

Prepare to be ablated.
I like the idea that the same technology used to prepare tools to butcher an antelope 2.5 million years ago in Africa can be used to prepare rock samples in 2010 for something called Laser Ablation Microprobe Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shifting away from Ground Stone

Early Dorset Harpoon Head, in situ
I'm starting work on a few harpoon heads this week in antler and walrus ivory.  There are a couple Dorset and Thule styles that I've never tried before, that I'm curious about.   I've also had orders for them, which definitely helps justify spending a bit of time playing around with new forms.  A couple of the harpoon heads will probably have ground stone endblades, but for the next few days I'll be working organic materials.  Which I don't mind too much, but the smell of carving antler and ivory is that burnt bone smell that you get at the dentist.  Lori loves the way it sticks in my clothes and my hair when I come back into the house.

Screen Capture from Northwest Coast Archaeology
I've been getting lots of good feedback and questions from the ground stone work, which I really appreciate.  It makes all the time in the workshop go by a little quicker.  I packaged up and sent one of the ulus to a customer in Australia, yesterday.  I bet it never expected to end up there!  A reader from Labrador also pointed out some early ulu-type knives from Stephen Loring's work at Kamestastin in northern Labrador, which have some similarities with Thule ulus, but come from much earlier contexts.  Meanwhile, Quentin Mackie, at Northwest Coast Archaeology posted a thoughtful discussion of some of the similarities and differences between ground stone technologies on the east and west coasts of Canada.  There is lots of good information in his post, Elfshot goes "ground stone", and the comments that it generated.  The slate knives from British Columbia seem to be quite good analogs for the Kamestastin knives and if I ever work on reproductions of those pieces, I think I'll look to B.C. for hafting ideas.

Photo Credits:
1:Tim Rast
2: Screen Capture from Northwest Coast Archaeology

Monday, October 11, 2010

What is a Cache?

The man in orange built this fish cache
Its the Thanksgiving long weekend in Canada; a harvest celebration and a time of plenty.  At this time of the year, there's more fruit and vegetables, meat and fish available than can be immediately used.   At the same time, days are noticeably shorter, and winter is on the horizon.  As long as people have been living in environments with seasons of abundance and seasons of shortage, they've had to deal with food storage.  One way of storing food is to cache it.

The lichen growth shows the age of this cache
Archaeologically, a cache is a storage feature.  They can have lots of different shapes and sizes depending on the contents being cached and the materials available to construct them.  The photos that I have are all stone caches from the Eastern Arctic and were either made by Inuit or the earlier Palaeoeskimo people.  A food or meat cache is designed to help preserve food for later use, often by creating an environment that promotes natural preservation processes like freezing, drying, or fermenting.  A good cache will also need to keep scavenging animals from eating its contents before you have a chance to return to the cache and retrieve it.  At first glance, a cache might just look like a pile of rocks, but there are actually a lot of clues that can help you figure out what it was used for and how old it might be. 

An opened cache can look like a big stone nest
Some caches are hunting caches, built by hunters at the location of a kill where meat can be stockpiled for retrieval at a later time. Marine resources, like fish, seals, walrus, and whales are cached near the coast.  Caribou caches can also be found near the coast, but they can also be found far inland or on high mountain trails.

Clean, pink rocks mean a recent cache
Some caches are associated with living sites, built near the tents or houses that people lived in and used as a kind of outdoor freezer or pantry.  In some cultures, these caches were built right into the walls of the structure and will appear as a concentration of rocks on the edge of a house or tent ring.

A long narrow kayak cache
But food isn't the only thing that people cached for later use.  They also cached equipment. Equipment caches were used to store gear from one season to the next, or to protect it from dogs or wild animals.  One of the coolest kinds of equipment caches in the Arctic are kayak caches.  These are long narrow, boat shaped caches that were used to store the one person skin boats (kayaks) from one season to the next.  The kayaks would be made from sealskin stretched over a wooden frame, so if they were left unprotected they'd be a tasty treat for foxes, wolves, and bears.

Modern camp equipment cache
People still use caches and not all of them are found again.  The photo on the left is a fairly recent Inuit cache of equipment at a campsite.  The half moon shaped object on the rock is a lamp cut and hammered out of a 45 gallon drum lid.  There are also roasting pans, a meat grinder and other domestic equipment in the cache. I've shown pictures of this cache before, and it always makes me wonder whatever happened to the people who left it and if they'll ever be back to use it again.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Sampling of Slate Ulus

Ulu Rhapsody
Here's a look at the 5 ulus I was working on.  I was experimenting with using sinew and sealskin laces to tie drilled slate blades onto wood and whalebone handles.  The inspiration for the 3-holed blade comes from an ulu on display in The Rooms in St. John's.  I found the single holed version in an illustration on the SILA website, which was put online by Isuma Productions out of Igloolik to provide supplemental information for their film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen.  Several of the other handles are based on artifacts that I found by searching through the Museum of Civilization's online Artifact Catalogue.

Engraving from SILA website
Both the sinew and the sealskin worked well.  I worked both lashing materials while they were wet and as they dried they shrunk and solidified, creating very tight, secure bonds.  The darker handles are tamarack wood and the lighter coloured handles are whalebone.  Many of the ulu handles that I've seen in collections from Labrador are made from wood, but, understandably, the farther north you go, the more common whalebone handles become.  Aside from the greasy, fish and mammal smell that whalebone gives off when you work it, I really like using the material.  Its a little softer than wood, it works easily when wet, and it doesn't have a grain to it like wood, so cuts don't have a tendency to get away on you.
Slate, tamarack, sinew $150 CDN Tax inc.

Slate, Tamarack, Hide Glue SOLD

Slate, Whalebone, Sealskin $170 CDN Tax inc.
Slate, Tamarack, Hide Glue $115 CDN Tax inc

Slate, Whalebone, Sinew $170 CDN Tax inc
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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