Friday, March 23, 2012

Palaeoeskimo Pressure Flaker First Impressions

A little blunter and worn
Here's an update on those walrus bone Palaeoeskimo pressure flakers that I made a few weeks ago.  Since then I've had several opportunities to work with them and these are my first impressions.  Generally, I've preferred the feel of the shorter of the two tools and have used it the most.  I've used them both almost exclusively for pressure flaking, although I did try using the short one as an indirect percussion punch for a half dozen or so blows. I haven't carefully kept track of the time I've spent using the flaker, but I'd estimate its somewhere around 10 hours.

This is what they looked like fresh and new.  I had a fairly sharp tip on them , but that wore off quickly.  The bone in the back is a walrus mandible that I used as the raw material for the pressure flakers.

Pitted with embedded micro-flakes
Initially I was a little concerned because the bone tip started chipping, in a way that I wasn't used to seeing with antler.  If it would have kept flaking apart like that it would have worn down to a nub in no time.  But once the fresh polished surface was worn off it seemed to stabilize into a slightly pitted, blunt working surface that seemed relatively durable.  Still, it seems to wear a little faster than antler.

Better interpretive tool than a copper flaker
I like working with the flaker tip slightly blunt.  There is a little less grinding using this sort of bone flaker than a more solid copper tipped flaker.  With a copper flaker, the edge of the stone must be continually ground or prepared so that it is sturdy enough to withstand the pressure from the hard copper tip.  With the softer bone flaker, the edge of the stone can be left a little sharper and the stone will bite into the bone to create the support for the required pressure.  I noticed when I took these photos that there are actually tiny flakes embedded in the tip of the flaker.

The same flaker.  The pitting is a combination of the natural porosity of the bone and the damage from contact with the sharp chert.

Apparently I have frog fingers
One benefit that I see from not having to work from a ground edge is that the biface will take on a thinner, flatter, sharper cross section more easily.  With the bone flaker, you can stop at any point in the process and the biface will tend to have a thin sharp edge, with edge angles and preparation that looks comparable to an artifact.  With a copper flaker, the biface you are working alternates between a blunt edge and sharp edge.  Leaving a sharp edge with a copper flaker is a conscious decision of the knapper at the final stage of the knapping process, but with the bone flaker, the objective piece never really passes through a dull stage - its always sharp.  Maybe I'm overthinking it, but there were a number of instances where I stopped and looked at the unfiinished pieces that I was working on and was taken aback by how thin and "Palaeoeskimo" looking they were, without any effort.

Bone knapped point
Secondly, I find the flake pattern left on finished tools by the bone flaker a little more authentic feeling.  It probably has to do with the different platform preparation and the way the flaker wraps itself around the sharp edge and as opposed to the narrow pressure point from the copper flaker.  I suppose I could set up an experiment that is a little more systematic to see if any of this is real or just my imagination. The point on the right isn't Palaeoeskimo in style, but I made it with the walrus bone pressure flaker.  I feel like there's something about the flake pattern that makes it look more authentic than comparable points that I've made using a copper pressure flaker.  Sometimes copper leaves a point a little too neat and tidy.

Some glue staining near the haft
As for the rest of the design of the flaker, I found that after an hour or so of constant use the sinew and hide glue binding started to become sticky in my hand.  The scarf joint never became loose, but I could feel the glue becoming rubbery and it has left discoloured marks on bone piece where it meets the wood handle.  I think when I wear these flaker tips out and replace them I'll make a nice solid baleen wrapped handle.  At this point I want to sharpen the blunt one so that its similar to the more pointed version.  I want to make smaller tools and although its still working, I feel like I need a smaller working edge for the next set of reproductions.

Photo Credits:
1-4: Tim Rast
5: Jason Prno
6-9: Tim Rast

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