Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Al's Earlobes

Yes, they're sharp
I was down at The Rooms for part of the day yesterday.  It was an Open Minds flintknapping day for a grade 8 class.  These students were a little older than the Grade 5 kids I was in chatting with a couple weeks ago.  I wouldn't call them morbid, but they were definitely drawn to the blood and guts side of stone tools.  They wanted to hear about scalpels, silicosis, cuts, tendons, wolfkillers, surgery -- the more graphic and squirm inducing the story the more they wanted to hear it.  I shared this anecdote with the teachers after the kids went to lunch.

Pulling a rope with thorns through her tongue
This happened to an archaeologist that I worked with in Alberta.  We'll call him "Al".  When Al was an undergrad at the University of Calgary he was out drinking with a few other archaeology students and their conversation turned to Mayan bloodletting rituals.  The Maya were big into blood sacrifices and would pierce their tongues, earlobes, or genitals with obsidian blades or thorns and let the blood flow as an offering.  After enough drinks, Al and his friends thought it would be a good idea to try this themselves, so they went back to the lab in the archaeology department and found an obsidian flake.  Al made a pair of small cuts to each of his earlobes and started bleeding ... profusely.  A whole lot.  Apparently earlobes really bleed.  His friends got scared and grabbed the first thing they could find - a handful of charcoal - and gave it to Al to staunch the blood flow.

The next morning, Al woke up at home, went to the bathroom and was scared himself in the mirror.  His head was caked with blood and charcoal.  He washed it off as best he could, but he didn't get all of the charcoal out of the cuts.  To this day, Al has a pair of faint charcoal tattoos on each earlobe.  I don't know if Al reads this blog or not, but I loved working with him because of his stories.  If you know who I'm talking about, buy him a beer and ask him about his earlobes sometime - its worth it.

I looked for a picture of Al's earlobes, but I'm not entirely sure that the man shows up on film.  If he does, then he's almost certainly somewhere in this photo.
Photo Credits: 
1,3: Tim Rast
2: Lintel 24 from Yaxchilan (Wikipedia)


  1. Actually, I'm Bruce Thomas, not Anonymous.

    Anyway, great anecdote today.

    I must say, as a just-starting knapper, that obsidian chips cause bleeding far more profuse than anything else I've ever cut myself with. Along with eye protection and leather gloves, I find band-aids indispensable when I work.

    By the way: I follow you daily and love your work.


    Bruce Thomas

  2. Hey Bruce, yeah its amazing how sharp they are. The nice part about obsidian cuts is how quickly and cleanly they heal. I cut myself regularly while I'm knapping but I don't have any knapping scars on my hands. They close right up again and disappear.

    1. Bruce again:

      I'm sure you've heard the anecdote about Ishi, the California Indian who worked with Kroeber and demonstrated knapping for UCal students. He did not wear safety glasses and was said, when a tiny flake lodged in the white of his eyeball, to avoid blinking, look at the floor, and strike himself sharply on the occipital lobe. I'm not sure that's true, but, on the other hand, it's so incredible it's unlikely anyone fabricated it.


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