Friday, January 13, 2012

Cataloguing Dorset Artifacts

A little side-blade, re-united
Another day in front of the computer, but at least this time I had bags of artifacts to keep me company.  Today, I was working through bags of artifacts from a Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo site on Baffin Island, Nunavut.  It was mostly bags and bags of flakes, but there are a couple dozen tools mixed in there as well.  Cataloguing is mostly tedious measuring and data entry, but it gives you an excuse to go through everything you have from a site and you often make new observations.

Bags and bags of flakes.  At one point in this post I was going to comment on how weird the Dorset were, but at least they had the sense to throw this stuff out.

Believe it or not, this got me through to the end of the day
By mid afternoon the highlight was fitting together a pair of biface fragments to make a complete side-blade.  Its the first side-blade from the site and its nice to add a new tool category to the inventory.   Side-blades are oval or bi-pointed little tools, often bifacially worked and extremely thin.  They would have been fit into slots on the sides of harpoon heads or bone lances.  An endblade or arrowhead on a projectile helps puncture through hide and flesh when hunting an animal, but a sideblade like this is designed to cut and do damage on the inside.

Typical endblade (L) monstrous preform (R)
The day's big surprise came when the base of this big preform popped out of a flake bag and refit with the tip-fluted distal end that was found a couple meters away.  There's nothing too unusual about the preform, except its made on a completely different scale compared to the endblades we are typically finding at these sites, which are tiny.  I'm pretty confident in calling it an endblade preform, as opposed to some other tool type, because its been tip-fluted and that's a feature that appears exclusively on endblades.  It would be less odd if we found a few endblades or preforms in between the two size ranges, but we haven't.  Were these folks so good at hanging on to their tools that they don't enter the archaeological record until they are good and used up or is this preform ridiculously large for no obvious reason?  For comparison, the preform weighs about 25 grams and the finished endblade beside it is less than 1 gram.  Flintknapping is a reductive process, but you really don't need to make your preforms 25 times the size of the finished product.  And when it broke - why throw it away? Every single tool found on the site could fit inside either half of the broken preform several times over.  It was good stone, so why not re-use it?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. nice to see them again :)

  2. No matter how many times you handle them in the field it's amazing to see what surprises, refits, and discoveries you find back home in the lab. Nice!

  3. Speaking as someone who's also spent many days in front of a computer cataloguing artifacts, I can understand why refitting a side blade can make the day.


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