Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo Toolkits

Palaeoeskimo tool reproductions
Recently, I completed a set of reproductions based on artifacts found at Port au Choix, Newfoundland and Labrador.  Here's a look at the complimentary sets of Dorset and Groswater Palaeoeskimo hafted tools.  Each set includes a knife, burin-like tool, scraper, self-bladed harpoon head and endbladed harpoon head.  There are also a side-hafted and end hafted microblade which could belong to either culture.

Groswater Palaeoeskimo Toolkit
The Groswater Palaeoeskimo lived at Port au Choix between about 2800 and 1900 BP.  They liked to make their stone tools on very fine grained, colourful cherts.  They frequently used grinding throughout the knapping process and finished their tools with fine serrated edges and side-notches to haft haft them.  They left small camps, in locations where they could exploit a range of resources and seem to have adopted a generalist strategy to deal with the unpredictable nature of the world they lived in.

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Toolkit
The Dorset Palaeoeskimo lived at Port au Choix between about 2000 and 1300 BP.  They also used fine grained cherts for their small tools, but don't seem to have been quite as particular about the colour and finishing techniques on their stone tools.  Grinding was used by the Dorset on the Northern Peninsula, but not as routinely as when the Groswater lived there.  The Dorset would use grinding exclusively to make specific tools, like their little nephrite burin-like tools, but had other specialized finishing techniques, like tip-fluting to use on their endblades.  The specialization in their tools seems to be symptomatic of a more specialized society, which at Port au Choix, is focused on seal hunting.

Groswater (L) and Dorset (R) Harpoon Heads
Harpoon Heads: I've talked about the differences between Groswater and Dorset harpoon heads before.  The earlier Groswater Palaeoeskimo harpoon heads share a lot of features with pre-Dorset open socket harpoon heads.  The foreshaft socket was gouged out of one face of the harpoon head and they often closed back in with some sort of lashing material - I usually use sinew.  Their side notched endblades are tied onto a shelf cut on the nose of the harpoon head.  Their Selfbladed harpoon heads have similar bases, but may have one or more barbs instead of a stone endblade.  The Dorset versions have closed sockets, that are gouged into the harpoon head form the base.  Their endblades are frequently triangular, un-notched and tip-fluted.

Groswater (L) and Dorset (R)
Burin-Like Tools: Burin-like tools are small ground stone tools that would have been hafted and used as small engraving or carving tools for working organic materials.  They are modelled after the earlier chipped stone true burins, which create a cutting edge by removing a spalls along the edge of a flake or biface.  Burin-like tools (BLTs) force this sharp cutting edge by grinding.  The Groswater Palaeoeskimo used chert for their burin-like tools and chipped and ground them very flat, with edge bevels and facets to create the cutting edge of the tool.  They finished them with flaring stems, instead of the wide side-notches they used on knives or narrow side-notches they used on endblades.  There must have been a reason to use the flaring stems, instead of the notches that they used elsewhere, but I don't quite understand it.  The Dorset BLTs take the evolution away from the true burin one step further by doing away with a knapped preform entirely.  They used nephrite for the blanks and prepared the entire tool through grinding.  Even the single side notch is ground or incised into place.

Groswater (Top) and Dorset (Bottom)
Knives: Groswater Palaeoeskimo knives are frequently called asymmetric knives because they are often bent or unusually shaped.  There's so much variability that its difficult to describe them succinctly, but they have a tendency towards being long and narrow.  They are finished with side notches, often wide "E" notched, and will sometimes be serrated.  They are always finely made and frequently have an abrupt change in angle along one or both edges, creating bent or dog-legged blades.  Dorset Knives have less variability and are frequently wider across the based, with shallow side-notches for hafting and tend towards a more tongue or triangular shape.  Resharpening along a Dorset knife tend to create a softer edge and the abrupt changes in the edge angle that create the bent look in a Groswater knife aren't as common.

Groswater (L) and Dorset (R) scrapers
Scrapers: Both Palaeoeskimo groups made small, unifacial endscrapers.  I tend to think of the earred Groswater Endscrapers as being larger than the small triangular scrapers that the Dorset Palaeoeskimo left behind. The reproductions that I made show the difference in shape, but the size difference might be a little distorted, because the Groswater scraper is almost used up and the Dorset endscraper still has some life left in it.   The classic Groswater endscraper has a square base and flaring ears, although its not the only type of scraper they used.  The ears are a remnant of a wider scraping edge that has been resharpened down to flat muffin-top.  The triangular Dorset endscraper will shrink back into the handle as it is used and tiny resharpening chips are removed along the working edge.

You can see a preview of a brand new volume on the archaeology of Port au Choix edited by M. A. Priscilla Renouf called: The Cultural Landscapes of Port au Choix: Precontact Hunter-Gatherers of Northwestern Newfoundland.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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