Friday, April 25, 2014

Beothuk Iron Arrowheads

A reproduction Beothuk arrowhead
I'm working on a couple orders right now that are heavy with Beothuk and Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifact reproductions.  Today I made four Beothuk arrowheads by cold hammering square cut iron nails.  Laurie McLean did his MA on Beothuk ironworking and I used a short publication that he put together with the Newfoundland Archaeological Heritage Outreach Program in 2003 as a reference for the work.  He shows there how the Beothuk would hammer nails in the middle to remove the end and start the shaping of the blade.  He also gives some idea of the size of nails used and the arrowheads made from them.

The four arrowheads on the right were all cold hammered and ground out of nails that were identical to the two on the left.  They lost their rust during the hammering. 

I worked two of the nails by chiseling
off the hear.  This is not how the
Beothuk worked them.
I started with 4 inch nails that I bought off a supplier that I found through eBay.  I picked 4 inch nails because I was aiming for a finished arrowhead in the 11 cm range (about 4 3/8").  I knew the nail would get wider through hammering, but I guess I wasn't thinking about how it would also get longer.  The four arrowheads that I made today were all made by hammering and grinding and they ranged in size from 10 to 14 cm long.  For the longest three, I either left the head on the nail as I hammered or chiseled it off flush with where it joined the body of the nail.  I thought that I needed to do that to preserve the length of the finished arrowhead.  But of course that was unnecessary and the better reproduction came from actually following the Beothuk method as it was preserved in the archaeological record.

Based on artifacts recovered from Beothuk archaeological sites, this is how they began working nails into arrowheads.   The nails were hammered flat in the mid section.

When the iron gets foil thin, its easy to bend and snap the nail head off.

A sequence from nail to
completed arrowhead
To work the nails, I hammered them cold on an anvil with a metal claw hammer.  I made a few strikes with a hammerstone and it worked fine, although the long handle on the hammer made things much easier.  To grind the blade down to size and make it symmetrical and sharp, I used a bench grinder for the coarse work and an hand file for the lighter work.  Again, a stone abrader worked fine, but I opted for something with a longer handle to actually do the work.  I did a small amount of hammering on the tang as well to narrow it.  This also added length to the arrowhead.  In the end, the hammered arrowhead was more or less the same length as the nail that it was made from, even with more than 3 cm removed from the head end.  The four arrowheads are all more or less correct, although as a set they feel large.  I have some 3 inch nails on the way and I think working them in the same way will give me some smaller points that will create a better collection.  I'd like the points to be in the 7cm to 11cm range when completed.

Its possible that some of the little nail heads were ground into scrapers.  It makes sense to reuse those little pieces somehow.

McLean, Laurie
2003 A Guide to Beothuk Iron. NAHOP Artifact Studies 1.Archaeology Unit, MUN, St. John's

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

1 comment:

  1. Keep up the excellent research. Your website is by far the most interesting, user-friendly and professionally presented of all websites on NL First Nations & Inuit Prehistory & Archaeology. I also think that your work on Beo tool kit reproductions is very important in revitalizing and/or preserving this ancient long-lost tradition. Your work is commended and will be remembered for future generations to come, and stands as an exemplar or template for university research presentation groups, museum gift shop and culural interpretation displays, and community outreach education programmes, such as teaching students this ancient craft in public educations schools. As a former academic with an eye and panache for aesthetics and professional presentation, your research articles with their in-depth analysis never ceases to amaze and wonder. Wow!


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