Monday, November 29, 2010

What is Independence I?

Independence I reproductions (L) and artifacts (R)
I've mentioned Independence I a few times in the context of the Quttinirpaaq National Park reproductions.  Independence I is the name that archaeologists have given to the sites and artifacts left by the first people to populate  the Canadian High Arctic and northern Greenland, beginning about 4400 years ago.

Independence I is an unusually appropriate name for a group of Arctic pioneers, but the origin of the name is simply the location that the first sites belonging to this culture were found; Independence Fjord in northeastern Greenland.  In Greenland, sites belonging to this culture date from 4400-3300 B.P.   These early Palaeoeskimo sites were first described in the 1950s by Eigil Knuth, a Danish archaeologist.  He called the earlier sites, located at higher elevations, Independence I and the lower, later sites Independence II.  There aren't any Independence I sites in Newfoundland and Labrador, but there are remarkable similarities between Independence II artifacts and the tools found at Groswater Palaeoeskimo sites in this Province.

Muskox provided food, tents, clothes, but not fuel
Its hard to imagine the lives of the Independence I people, because the archaeological evidence creates a picture that is very different from the way the Inuit and even later Palaeoeskimo peoples lived in the far north.  The faunal remains suggest that musk-ox, and not seals were the primary source of food and resources for the Independence I people.  All of their dwellings seem to have been above ground tents, without any evidence for semi-subterranean dwellings, which became the standard cold season houses amongst later groups.  There's little or no evidence for soapstone lamps which would have burned seal oil.  Instead, it appears that the Independence I people were relying on open fires, built in slab walled box hearths for heat, perhaps depending on a relative abundance of driftwood that has since been depleted from Arctic shores by thousands of years of scavenging.

Ancient People of the ArcticIn his book, Ancient People of the Arctic, Bob McGhee envisions an Independence I way of life that is "well beyond the bounds of endurance known from any human group described by anthropologists or historians." (McGhee 1996:64).  In an environment where the summer is perpetual daylight and the winter is perpetual night, McGhee reconstructs an annual cycle of activity for the Independence I people in which they take advantage of the brief summer to prepare for near hibernation in the winter.  Without seal oil lamps, the people would have relied on inactivity and the careful conservation of body heat, through extended periods of inactivity and sleep, to survive the darkness and cold.

According to McGhee:
Eigil Knuth was the first to suggest that the Independence people may have passed the winter 'in a kind of torpor'.  The months of winter darkness must have discouraged all but the most essential hunting, preventing women from sewing clothing and men from working at their crafts.  We are forced to imagine a winter life devoted to amusing the children, singing or telling stories, thinking of the coming summer, and dreaming.  Northern Canada used to teem with anecdotes of isolated White trappers who spent the winters in semi-hibernation, passing days or weeks at a time in dream rather than in the reality of cold darkness and scarce food.  The early Palaeo-Eskimos may have survived the High Arctic only by adopting such a way of life as the ordinary custom for an entire society. (McGhee 1996:64-65)
Southern Ellesmere Island in September.  Imagine living on Northern Ellesmere Island in February with your family, in a Muskox skin tent.
Scraper from Kettle Lake, Quttinirpaaq
 On one hand its seems like a bleak existence, but as McGhee goes on to argue, it could also have been one rich in imagination, which may have have laid the groundwork for the artistic expressions of later Palaeoeskimo people.

Photo Credits:
1-3,5,6: Tim Rast

Friday, November 26, 2010

Completing the first Quttinirpaaq Reproductions

Artifacts (top),  Reproductions (bottom)
I can check off a few of the reproductions in the Quttinirpaaq National Park Independence I job after today.  I trimmed the microblades down that I made earlier in the week so that they match the artifacts and made a couple bifaces to match the endblades/projectile points in the collection.

Biface tip. Artifact (L), Reproduction (R)

Many of the pieces in this collection are broken, which can make them tricky to reproduce.  It usually means that I have to make a complete piece and then break it.  I really only get one shot at the break so unless its perfect I have to start over again.  One of the pieces that I worked on today has a funny break due to a flaw in the material.  In the photo on the left, you can see a little spur of stone hanging off the fracture in the artifact.  It may be difficult to reproduce exactly.  I got a pretty good copy done today, but I'll probably try another one later just to see if I can get lucky.

Serrated point, Artifact (L), Reproduction (R)
The little serrated endblade or projectile point is probably my favourite piece so far.  Its very finely chipped, with the sides of the stem being ground slightly to be fit into a socket on an arrow shaft or harpoon head.  I made one version of the this piece on the silicified coral that I showed on Wednesday's post, but it turned out to be too white.  I tried to scorch it a bit to darken up the colour, but overdid it and it wound up looking kind of messy.  I made a second one that I'm much happier with - its the one in the photos here.  I used another heat treated rock that I found in bucket of rock in my workshop.  I'm not exactly sure where it came from, but its a pretty good match for chert used in the Kettle Lake projectile point.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Selecting the Quttinirpaaq Stone

Serrated Endblade
Unfortunately, I don't have any chert from northern Ellesmere Island to make the Quttinirpaaq Independence I artifact reproductions from, so I've been going through my boxes of rock looking for good look alike stone.  The majority of the artifacts from the Kettle Lake sites are made on fine grained grey chert that looks a lot like the chert that I collect from Newfoundland, so they won't be any problem at all.  However, I had to find slightly more exotic materials for the tiny serrated endblade and the two microblades in the collection.

Microblades, the lower left two are artifacts
The microblades have a little more translucent quality to them than the chert that I collect myself in Newfoundland.  Translucent chert or chalcedony does show up in Palaeoeskimo sites in Province, but I don't know where the source outcrops are located.  Somewhere on the Northern Peninsula, I guess.  English flint has a similar appearance, so that's what I'll use for the microblade reproductions.   Most of the microblades in the photo to the left are made from English flint.  The original artifacts are the two microblades in the lower lefthand corner.

Silicified Coral flakes and Endblade artifact
The little serrated endblade is made on a very fine grained whitish-grey chert with a waxy texture.  I doubt the chert that was used to make the endblade found at Kettle Lake was heat treated, but it has a gloss to it that is similar to the inside of a heat treated rock.  The best match I've found so far was this piece of heat treated, silicified (fossilized) coral from Florida.  The endblade is so small that I can make it on relatively tiny soft hammer flakes - the kind of flakes that normally wind up in the garbage because they are too thin to work.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, November 22, 2010

Finished Central Arctic Drum

Trying out the Drum
The Central Arctic drum reproduction is ready to ship up the line to have the canvas airbrushed to match the look of the original artifact.  It should look pretty much identical to the original drum when its all done.  Up until the canvas went on I tried to keep the construction as traditional as possible, sticking with wood, sinew and a bit of hide glue to create the frame..

Finished drum and drumstick
 I did have to use a few non-traditional materials to work with the cotton canvas because it doesn't behave like a rawhide or gut drum head.  I hid a few staples under the braided sinew binding to hold the canvas tight.  The canvas just wouldn't shrink and hold itself in place like a real skin would.  I also applied a non-fray fabric glue around the edges of the canvas to keep the cotton cloth from fraying.  I don't really like admitting to doing stuff like that, but it was necessary for this particular project.

Here's a really dark video clip of me playing the drum.  Its too dark to see much, but at least you can hear the sound of the drum.  To play this drum, its necessary to moisten the canvas with water in to get it to resonate.  I'm certainly not an expert at this and there are a lot of very talented Inuit drummers in this province, so I hope they forgive (and help correct) my clumsy attempts to play and explain their instrument. 

Pine Drumstick
The drumstick I was reproducing didn't have any wrapping preserved on it, but today, many drummers wrap their drumsticks with rope or cloth to deaden the sound and prevent the clacking of wood-on-wood.  With this style of drum, you don't actually strike the top of the canvas with the drumstick, you strike against the wood hoop on the underside, flipping the drum back and forth as you play.  Its a very hypnotic and visual style of drumming.

Overall, it was a satisfying build and if I get photos of the finished drum in its display I'll be sure to post them in the future.  I take away from this project a lot of respect for Inuit drum makers and drum dancers.  While researching this build, I came across a couple Dorset Palaeoeskimo drum frames from Bylot Island that were made in nearly the same style.  I think it would be fun to try making one of those Palaeoeskimo drums with a rawhide or gut drum head.

Drum: Poplar, Tamarack, Canvas, Sinew / Drumstick: Pine
Photo Credits:
1 & video: Lori White
2-4: Tim Rast

Friday, November 19, 2010

Drum Dress Rehearsal

Drum skin and sinew drying
Since this post discusses musical instruments, I feel obligated to disclose the following information:

In elementary school I was in a drum and bugle band.  It was a marching band and I thought it was the coolest thing.  The teacher in charge started me on the bugle, but my mistakes were a little too shrill and noticeable, so after a few days I was moved to baritone bugle.  I guess the idea was that with fewer parts and lower notes my screw ups would be less distracting.  They weren't.  The teacher told me (actually he told my dad and I overheard) that "Tim has no ear for music". Thanks a lot, Mr. Crosby.  I spent the rest of my career in the marching band as a flag bearer.

The sinew cord fits into a groove
The Central Arctic Inuit drum reproduction that I'm working on is taking shape.  The canvas skin and sinew binding that wraps around the circumference of the drum and holds the canvas in place are drying.  Assuming the braided sinew dries correctly and gives a nice tight fit, the only step left will be to trim the canvas to match the shape of the skin on the original drum. 

I used a cloth to moisten the canvas so that it would stretch a bit while I pulled it tight across the hoop.  I held it in place with clips and clothespins until I wrapped the braided sinew cord on.  I also moistened the braided sinew so that it will shrink and dry tightly in place.  At the moment I have both the canvas and the sinew drying at the same time.  Its possible that the shrinking canvas will pull against the shrinking sinew.  I'm hoping that tension will create a stronger bond, but the shrinking canvas might pull the sinew out of the countersunk groove.  If that happens, I might try keeping the canvas damp while the sinew dries so that there is enough flex to allow the drying sinew to sink into the lashing groove.  

Tamarack (L) and pine (R) drumsticks
I want the drum stick to look well worn, so I've been burnishing the handle with antler to give it a nice hand worn polished look.  I've also been distressing it with the blow torch and hammering it against wood and antler to dent and wear away the drumming surface.  I have two drum sticks on the go, one made from tamarack and the other from pine.  I haven't quite decided which one I like better, but I think I'll probably go with the pine stick.  I'd forgotten about tamarack's tendency to split between grow rings and the stick started to rapidly wear down while I antiqued it.  Grow rings started to split and peel off like layers of an onion.  On the one hand that's the effect that I want, but it happened too easily, making me think its probably not a good wood choice for this kind of drumstick.

Handle lashed into place with sinew
The handle is attached to the drum frame with sinew.  Its laced on wet and dried very tightly with a small amount of hide glue.  I was a little worried that the handle would have some wiggle in it because the actual point of attachment between the handle and the frame on this style of drum seemed quite small to me, but the shrink dried sinew made a rock solid bond. 

When the canvas is secure, I'll trim it
Its not essential that this drum be a playable instrument - its intended to be wall mounted in a case, but I am happy to say that when the canvas is damp it has a nice rich tone.  When the canvas is dry its doesn't sound like much, but when its damp it definitely sounds like a drum.  That's about all I'm qualified to say on the sound of the drum - remember; "Tim has no ear for music".

It doesn't take long to reset the canvas and rewrap the braided sinew lashing, but it takes a while for the whole thing to dry.  I might try a blow dryer if I start to get impatient.  Hopefully everything should be done this weekend and I can ship the finished reproduction off first thing next week.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Building a Drum

Laying out the unfinished drum pieces
I started assembling the Central Arctic reproduction drum yesterday.  The first big step was to bend the wood.  I started with two slats - one poplar and one red oak.  The finished drum needs a diameter of about 20.5" and with a little bit of overlap at each end to fasten the hoop together, the wood needed to be at least 70" long to start.  My wood steaming box wasn't long enough to fit the slats so I decided to try heat bending the wood instead.

Bending the wood 1 degree at a time
I've had a lot better luck with using dry heat to bend wood than I have with steaming, so it was an easy switch to make.  Bending the hoop over a blowtorch would also save some antiquing time at the end thanks to the soot staining and give the hoop a more authentic looking, imperfect, segmented bend.  I started with the oak, because its supposed to be one of the easiest woods to bend.  It shattered the first time I tried to heat and flex the wood.  Lesson learned - don't try to bend oak with dry heat.

Almost there!
The poplar slat fared much better.  It took 3 or 4 hours to bend it into the 360 degree hoop one tiny bend at a time.  Occasionally the outer surface of the wood would tear slightly, but nothing too dramatic or deep that would endanger the integrity of the finished drum.  I sanded those scars down, and they'll be held together with the canvas drum skin.

The hoop clamped in place
The ends of the hoop overlap by 8 inches.  I found the middle of the hoop much easier to bend than the ends, but thinning the overlapping ends down to create a shallow scarf join helped make the tips more flexible.  The handle will be attached at the join, and an additional brace piece is tied on to the inside to the drum hoop to reinforce the join and provide a sturdier attachment point for the drum handle.

Brace piece on hoop, handle and drumstick
Everything will be tied together.  I'm chewing on a wad of sinew as I type this to lash the hoop and brace piece together.  While that's drying this evening, I'll keep braiding the sinew line that will tie the canvas into place.  Hopefully I'll be able to finish antiquing the wood and lash the handle and canvas skin in place tomorrow.

An hour or two into the bend
Its a different kind of build for me - I only have two reference photos of the front of the drum and a couple measurements to work from.  When I have the canvas on I'll be sending it to B.C. where someone else will finish antiquing it and install it for the client.  There's a bit of educated guesswork on the interior design of the drum and I don't have the usual fussing over the final antiquing and matching with the artifact to worry about.  Its just a nice, simple opportunity to learn about drum building.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, November 15, 2010

Planning out another week

Need to get this harpoon back on the wall
On Saturday, Lori and I went out to Glovertown to pick up Andrew.  It was a much nicer day than when I took him out at the start of the week.  We spent the rest of the weekend doing a bit of shopping around St. John's.  Today is mostly an office day.  I need to get caught up on some e-mails and paperwork.  There is still a pile of stuff in the front hallway to put away from the classroom visit on Friday.

Quttinirpaaq microblade to copy
It doesn't look like I'll get into the workshop today, but come tomorrow I need to get back to the Quttinirpaaq reproductions for Parks Canada.  I also have a Central Arctic style Inuit drum to make this week, which means steam bending wood again. I'll be using oak or poplar for this build, which should help make the bending go a little easier than the pine that I was bending last year.  It'll be interesting to see how the drum turns out - its going to be a prop in a museum display and someone else is going to finish the antiquing on the "skin".  So when I'm done with it, it will have an antiqued wooden frame and drumstick, but a clean cotton canvas skin.  Its doesn't actually have to be playable, but if its built right it should still turn out to be a functional drum.  

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, November 12, 2010

Flintknapping in the Classroom

An Excellent Bow Drill Assistant
Lori and I visited our niece's grade four class today for a flintknapping demonstration and to talk about archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador.  I showed them how an obsidian core is knapped into a spear point using stone and antler tools and then we talked about and drew some of the reproductions. Its a fun age to work with and there were some very talented artists in the group.  Its remarkable how much they absorb and remember.

Knapping a spear point for the class

Lori explaining the artifact reproductions
By the end of the afternoon, the kids were teaching us about what they had learned.
Photo Credits: 
1-2, 4: Lori White
3: Tim Rast

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Out and About with Andrew Qappik

Andrew Qappik
I've been helping Andrew Qappik, a printmaker from Nunavut, travel and locate supplies around Newfoundland this week.  He's in the Province working on a painting that was specially commissioned by the Nunavut Government.  I'm sure that there will be an announcement when the whole project is completed, so I'll hold off on posting too many spoiler photos or info until then, but here's a hint; that will be after the sea trials.

One of Andrew's designs
If you live in Canada or have travelled in Nunavut, you've certainly seen Andrew's work - he designed the Nunavut Flag, the Territorial Coat of Arms, and the Government logo (left).  He lives in Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island and you can see some of his prints online through the Pangnirtung print shop, Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts.  Andrew started printmaking when he was just 14, and this past spring he was the subject of a 30 year retrospective show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, who received a massive donation of 140 of his prints from a private collector.
Glovertown in the morning
Its been a lot of fun hanging out with Andrew as he started his work.  On Monday, we had a rainy, foggy drive from St. John's to Glovertown.  We listened to the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack the whole trip out.  Andrew kept cracking up over one of the songs which was sung in Hindi - apparently a lot of the words sounded like Inuktitut, and the chorus went something like, "no, no, no", "Look there's a hole!", "someones going to be breastfed."

Photo Credits:
1, 3: Tim Rast
2: Nunavut Government Logo, by Andrew Qappik

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sicco Harpoon Heads

Sicco Harpoon Head reproductions
I'm on the road for a couple of days helping out an artist visiting Newfoundland from Nunavut.  I'll post more about that when I get back, but in the mean time, here's a look at some Sicco harpoon heads that I made recently.  Two of them went to a thesis supervisor and her student to celebrate the completion of an archaeology Master's degree.

from Schledermann and McCullough 1980
Sicco harpoon heads are an early, decorated form of the Thule Type 3 harpoon head that show up in the earliest Thule sites in Nunavut and Greenland, although the name "Sicco Open Socket" originally comes from collections described at Point Barrow, Alaska (Park and Stenton 1998, McCullough 1989).  I primarily used Park and Stenton's Ancient Harpoon Heads of Nunavut, and photos and illustrations of Sicco harpoon heads found on Ellesmere Island by Peter Schledermann and Karen McCullough as references to make these reproductions.

Walrus Ivory and antler
The Sicco harpoon heads were a new form to me, so I decided to make them in a variety of sizes and materials just to get the hang of them.  They have a bit of a complex shape, with an asymmetric spur, open socket and lashing slots, so in addition to printing 1:1 paper patterns of the harpoon heads, I also sculpted a 3D model in modelling clay to help me visualize some of the specific angles and shapes that are peculiar to this style of harpoon head.  According to Park and Stenton, Sicco's range in size from 7-15 cm and are primarily made from ivory and sometimes antler or bone.  The largest one that I made is made from walrus ivory and is 13.4 cm long.  The other two are antler and are 9.3 cm and 7.8 cm long.

Sicco on foreshaft
Despite the range in size, all three seem big enough to be functional and all fit securely on the same foreshaft.  Its necessary to loop sinew or baleen through the lashing slots to close the open socket to use the harpoon head.  The smallest one, fit with an endblade and sinew lashings to close the open socket fits snuggly on a whalebone foreshaft and could easily have been used for seal hunting.

Antiqued and assembled
One of the defining characteristics of the Sicco harpoon heads is the presence of incised line decorations.  The lines seemed to accentuate the natural contours of the harpoon head.  To me, the finished effect is kind of like air brushed muscles on a superhero costume, highlighting and streamlining the design.  The large ivory harpoon head was left pristine white and the larger antler piece was antiqued in tea.  Those are the two pieces done for the supervisor and her student.  Before I sent them off, I experimented a bit with endblades.

Ground slate endblades
I wanted to try making a ground slate and copper endblade for each of them.  The Sicco harpoon heads found on Ellesmere Island by Schledermann and McCullough have an endblade slot width of 1.5 mm - 2.2mm.  This is really quite thin; for comparison, a penny is 1.5 mm thick.    It turned out to be too thin for the ground slate endblade on the largest harpoon head.  Those endblades broke while I was trying to fit them.  I could get slate endblades thin enough to fit on the two smaller harpoon heads, but they felt very fragile.  At that thickness, metal endblades seem like a much safer option.

Slate endblades less than 2mm thick cracked while fitting them into the narrow endblade slot

Hammered copper rod needs to be trimmed
To make the copper endblades, I used sections of the same heavy copper ground wire that I use for pressure flakers.  The wire wasn't big enough to make a passable endblade for the largest harpoon head so I'll have to get some bigger lumps of copper to try hammering the next time I make one of these large Thule harpoon heads.  I did get a couple nice endblades that fit the smaller harpoon heads, with comparable dimensions to copper endblades found with the Ellesmere Island Sicco harpoon heads.  I hammered the rough shape out on an anvil and ground the edges to give the endblade its final shape and sharpness.

Antler Sicco with copper endblade
I need to start using more copper and iron in my Thule reproductions.  Metal use and the quest for new sources of copper and iron is an important part of the story of the spread of the Thule culture across the Arctic.  Meteoritic iron and Norse copper in Greenland seem to have been a powerful draw that helped pull the early Thule pioneers quickly eastward into the Canadian Arctic and Greenland from Alaska.

Sicco Harpoon Head Reproduction: antler, sinew, copper ($175 Cdn, tax inc)
McCullough, Karen M.
1989 The Ruin Islanders: Early Thule Pioneers in the Eastern High Arctic. Archaeological Survey of Canada, Mercury Series Paper 141, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Ottawa-Hull.

Park, Robert W. and Douglas R. Stenton
1998 Ancient Harpoon Heads of Nunavut: An Illustrated Guide.  Parks Canada, Ottawa

Schledermann, Peter and Karen McCullough
1980 Western Elements in the Early Thule Culture of the Eastern High Arctic. Arctic 33 ( 4): 833-841

Photo Credits:
1, 3-10: Tim Rast
2: Screen capture from Western Elements in the Early Thule Culture of the Eastern High Arctic by Scheldermann and McCullough, 1980
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