Monday, November 25, 2013

Grise Fiord Artifact Replication Workshop

Students researching a harpoon head
The week in Grise Fiord flew by.  I'm so grateful to Parks Canada for sponsoring the workshop and to the teachers and students at Umimmak School for making me feel completely at home in their community.  On Monday through Thursday, the workshop was set up in the school's Manual Arts room and I had full days working with the thirty students enrolled there.  On Friday the school was closed for renovations to the heating system, so we moved into the attached gymnasium.
The bow drill, always a crowd pleaser

Between the 30 students, their teachers and parents, the hamlet workers, RCMP officers, and elders who visited the workshop and handled the artifact reproductions, I'm sure that at least half of the town's 114 residents dropped by at some point during the week.  I think I met the other half in the Co-op during my daily grocery runs. The focus of the workshop was recreating stone tools based on the artifacts left by the very early Independence I musk ox hunters who lived in Quttinirpaaq National Park on northern Ellesmere Island upwards of 4000 years ago.  
Finished pieces were initialed with
 an engraver to recognize the
knapper's effort and to avoid confusing future archaeologists.
The emphasis was on knapping chipped stone tools, with over 70 pounds of obsidian and flint flown into the community for the workshop participants to work with.  The bow drill gave the younger kids a project to master and the older students were able to spend additional classroom time drawing, researching, and recording the artifact reproductions.  The classes were small and the kids in Grise Fiord were so handy and comfortable around tools that I was able to work individually with kids as young as grades 4 to 6 to get them safely flintknapping.  They did a marvelous job, with the star students finishing arrows, flint and obsidian knives, and scrapers.  I'm very proud of them all.

Umimmak School's Manual Arts rooms was the ideal space for the workshop

Working in the school allowed time for quiet reflection
and one-on-one work with the artifact reproductions
The workshop was set up in the school and all of the students were encouraged to participate as much as they could during the week, with many choosing to come back in the evenings to continue working on their projects.  Having the artifact reproductions in the school from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Parks Canada, and my own collection allowed for some excellent learning opportunities for the students.  One afternoon, I borrowed a journalling exercise that I learned from the Open Minds program at The Rooms and worked with the Junior High and High School age students to draw and record the tools in their notebooks.
Students traced the reproductions and recorded details like the materials used in their construction, the culture and time period they represented and where they were found.  This is a process that I use myself when researching a new reproduction, but its also part of the cataloging process on any archaeology project.

Cooperation and discussion were part of the exercise
Each student selected one artifact reproduction at a time, which they traced into their notebooks and annotated with information that they found in reference books or by asking myself or their teachers about the pieces.  Throughout the week, the students learned first hand about how archaeologists can learn about the past through experimentation, but this exercise gave them an opportunity to examine specific pieces in more detail.  I wanted to make the point that archaeologists use a lot of different ways to try to understand the past.  The journaling exercise introduced the idea of cataloging artifacts, as well as the concept that careful observation and recording of artifacts is an important part of the archaeological process.  So too is consulting previous literature and asking other archaeologists about their experience and thoughts on different aspects of material culture.  I think that the conversations that came out of that afternoon were some of the most interesting that I've ever had with students about archaeology.

An example of a student's journal page.  The primary sources used in the journaling exercise were Doug Stenton's and Robert Park's illustrated guide books: Ancient Harpoon Heads of Nunavut and Ancient Stone Tools of Nunavut.  The books are bilingual in English and Inuktitut and are written in language that anyone can understand.  I used the Stone Tools book as the textbook for the workshop and brought 25 copies along for students and teachers.  I left copies with the hamlet offices, hotels and RCMP in Resolute and Grise Fiord.

Student projects.  The first step was to learn to knap obsidian.  Then we moved on to hafting and working with flint.

Everyone should have a bow drill.

A knife made by one of the star grade 6 students.

If she keeps at it, I'll come back in 4 years and take lessons from her!

A powerpoint projector in the room was always running and showing slides of sites, wildlife and artifacts.

Student projects: Obsidian, driftwood handles, sinew and hide glue

I hadn't realized how difficult it would be to find feathers in winter in the High Arctic Communities.  One of the teacher's donated a raven feather that was big enough to split and fletch an Independence I driftwood arrow reproduction.  I'll show some photos of the finished arrow in a future blog post.

Another star pupil with his flint knife and obsidian tipped arrow scarfed together out of 3 pieces of driftwood.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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