Monday, December 13, 2010

Palaeoeskimo Endblades; Groswater and Dorset Style

Harpoon head blanks and endblades
I guess everyone has a lot of things on there to-do list at this time of year.  I'm no exception.  We did get a parcel full of cards and presents sent out west on the weekend, which might seem ahead of schedule, but some of that is for my Dad's birthday on Saturday, so its still cutting it kind of close.  I also sent off the Quttinarpaaq reproductions last Friday.  They didn't take up much physical space, but having that job done, does clear up a big space in the work schedule, so I'm back to working on pieces from a little closer to home this week; Groswater and Dorset harpoon heads.  And then there's those two papers that I've been half-heartedly working on all fall due at the end of the week.

Groswater Triangular Endblades
I've got the endblades for some Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon heads more-or-less ready to go.  The Groswater Palaeoeskimo finished their endblades with side notches.  At the moment I have a pair of unnotched triangular endblades, that are a little larger than they need to be, but that I can trim down as I work on their matching antler harpoon heads.  Interestingly, these triangular endblades frequently show up in Groswater Palaeoeskimo assemblages and a friend of mine, Steve Hull, did an archaeology honours thesis at Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1997 checking them for usewear.  He found it - the triangular endblades seem to have been used just as frequently as the notched versions.  Notched endblades have to pass through an unnotched triangular phase, but Steve found that they might hang out at that unnotched stage for a while and be used as cutting or scraping tools.  Perhaps the unnotched triangular endblades were even the intended final product in some cases.  (I can't find Steve's thesis online, but I have a .pdf version that I don't think he'd mind me sharing if you want to e-mail me.)

This is the flake used to make the grey endblade
The Groswater endblades have a flattened, D-shaped cross section, sometimes called plano-convex by archaeologists.  I find them fascinating, because although they have strong left-right symmetry, they don't have a symmetrical cross-section, which is very unusual for a knapped projectile point.  The dorsal surface is convex and the ventral surface is flat.  They're not too tricky to make if you start with a large microblade or flake with one or two pronounced ridges running down the middle.  In addition, the Groswater Palaeoeskimos ground a lot of their tools during the manufacturing process, which I'll do several times throughout the process to help get rid of problem spots or set up the surface for the neat parallel pressure flakes that they liked to finish their tools with.

Tip-flute (L), Dorsal surface (R)
The Dorset Palaeoeskimos, who overlapped with the tail end of the Groswater Palaeoeskimo occupation, and survived after they disappeared in Newfoundland and Labrador, also made endblades with an asymmetrical cross section.  They tip-fluted their endblades, which gives their tools a pretty distinctive appearance.  Tip-fluting is in the same family of knapping skills as making burins and microblades.  Long, linear flakes are driven off the endblade on the ventral face, starting form the tip.  Ideally, the last two tip-flutes removed are places evenly on the left and right side, with a ridge running exactly down the middle of the endblade.  They should remove a tiny bit of each edge, creating a sharp cutting edge.  On Dorset endblades the dorsal face isn't tip-fluted, although I've seen photos of similar projectile points from Mongolia that are tip-fluted on the dorsal surface as well, creating a diamond shaped tip, with 4 burin or tip-flute facets meeting in a single point.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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