Monday, June 30, 2014

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Shaman's Mask is Sad

Back in May, when I visited the Canadian Museum of History, I had the privilege to view a pair of life size wooden Dorset shaman's masks from Button Point on Bylot Island, off the north end of Baffin Island, Nunavut.  This is the same site that the small Dorset drums were found at and its very possible that the shaman or shamans who played those drums wore these masks.  The masks are incredibly expressive.  This one looks sad to me.

Photo Credits:  Tim Rast
Courtesy of the Canadian Museum of History

Friday, June 27, 2014

2AM on the Tundra

Two in the morning is the time when the sun is at its lowest on the horizon and the shadows are the longest. The birds have gone to nest and the air is very still.  For us, it's an hour after lunch and an hour before the next coffee break.  One of the realities of summer above the arctic circle is that the sun is always up. For various logistical reasons, we have switched to the night shift for a few days.  The long shadows and harsh light make digging, screening, and photography more challenging, but its better than not being able to get to the sites at all. All of these photos were taken a two in the morning.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wooly Lousewort

Wooly lousewort.  One of the first splashes of colour on the tundra in the spring.  These monsters tower over the willow in a lot of places.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Monday, June 23, 2014

Baffin Island Raven


Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, June 20, 2014

Newfoundland Icebergs

It was a suspiciously good iceberg season around Newfoundland this spring.  Here's a shot of a conveniently placed berg just outside the narrows from earlier in June.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Archaeology at Kamestastin

The Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society and the Labrador Institute Speaker Series present a free public lecture on the Archaeology at Kamestastin by Chelsee Arbour.  The talk takes place at the Labrador Institute Research Station in North West River, Labrador on June 25, 2014 at 7PM Labrador time.  Admission is free.  

Photo Credit: NLAS & LI poster with a photo taken by Stephen Loring.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Elfshot at The Rooms Gift Shop

The Rooms Gift Shop in St. John's currently has the largest inventory of Elfshot jewellery in the Province.  I dropped off a large order of Recent Indian (Beothuk), Dorset Palaeoekimo, and Groswater Palaeoeskimo necklaces, earrings, lapel pins, and tie-tacs late last week.  They should be on the shelves now or very shortly.  I've closed up my studio for the summer as I head into the field today, so I won't be able to restock the shop over the summer, which means that for the best selection, you should visit the shop early.

 Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Friday, June 13, 2014

Too Cool for School? Not this school...

Reproductions spanning 5000 years
 of history and multiple cultures
Believe it or not, this is a set of artifact reproductions that is on it's way to a local elementary school.  Teachers at Beachy Cove Elementary School in Portugal Cove-St. Philips put together an order this spring for a set of museum quality artifact reproductions to use in programming with their students.  Although I don't have kids, I've got to know a few teachers and students in the St. John's area through classroom visits and the Open Minds program at The Rooms.  The parents, students, and teachers from Beachy Cove are consistently remarkable.  This K-6 school now has a collection of Newfoundland and Labrador artifact reproductions on par with this Province's national and provincial historic sites and museums.  I was very proud to receive this order and I hope the students enjoy working with these pieces as much as I enjoyed making them.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Chert Arrowheads and Endblades

Local Newfoundland Chert
After three days of knapping, there are nearly 90 points in the workshop ready to be turned into necklaces, earrings, lapel pins, and tie-tacs.  Most of these Beothuk arrowheads and Dorset and Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblades will end up as jewellery for sale through the gift shop at The Rooms here in St. John's.  It's been a while since I've restocked a store with this quantity of Elfshot jewellery, so if you have been waiting for the right moment to pick something up, your chance is coming up.

The large biface in the middle is a Groswater Palaeoeskimo assymetric knife, but the rest are arrowheads and endblades.  The upper right corner is full of triangular Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo endblades, the lower right corner is Groswater Palaeoeskimo box-based, side notched endblades and the left side contains corner notched Beothuk arrowheads.  The larger ones will be turned into necklaces and the smaller ones will be paired up into earrings.  The lonely ones left behind will become tie tacs and lapel pins.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Groswater knife blade

This is the last week that I have to finish up Elfshot projects before the start of the summer field season.  I'm trying to wrap up a wholesale jewelry order for The Rooms and a teaching set of reproductions for a local elementary school.  I think I can get the jewellery done before I go, but I'm not certain about the order for the school.  This little chert asymmetric Groswater Palaeoeskimo knife blade belongs to the school set.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, June 6, 2014

Beothuk and Dorset Palaeoeskimo Reproductions

Beothuk and Dorset
Palaeoeskimo Reproductions
Here's a final look at the Dorset Palaeoeskimo and Beothuk artifact reproductions that I completed earlier this week for an updated display that is being developed to interpret the archaeology of Dildo Island.  These reproductions represent the types of tools found at the site(s), although they aren't exact copies of individual pieces.  I used other archaeological sites and historic references from Newfoundland and Labrador to fill in the gaps.  There is one more large Beothuk piece to complete and deliver at a later date, but I need to harvest a sheet of birchbark sometime over the next couple of months to make that happen.  

In the last photo that I showed of this little soapstone lamp, it was shiny and green because I had a fresh coat of oil on it.  Here it is a few days later, after the oil has soaked in and dried to a nice matte grey colour.  The soot staining around the base remains dark.

Clockwise from 12 o'clock: Dorset Harpoon (wood, antler, bone, chert, sinew, sealskin, hide glue), Dorset pot (soapstone), Dorset unhafted scraper (chert), Dorset hafted scraper (chert, wood, sinew, hide glue), Dorset hafted knife (chert, antler, sinew, hide glue), Dorset unhafted knife blade (chert), awl (bone - this tool is generic enough that it could belong to either culture), three Beothuk Arrows (chert, pine, goose feathers, sinew, hide glue, red ochre)

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

CCI Archaeological Conservation Workshop

Cliff Cook and the underbelly of a plaster of
paris block lift in chloroplast form
Cliff Cook, from the Canadian Conservation Institute is in St. John's delivering a two day workshop on archaeological conservation field techniques.  The first day was excellent.  We spent the morning in the classroom and the afternoon in the lab practicing block lifts.  Block lifts are used to carefully remove artifacts from a site along with their surrounding soil matrix so that they can be carefully excavated uncovered in controlled conditions in the lab.  It's rare that artifacts will need to be treated this way, so by practicing in the lab we can gain experience with a lot of different techniques that might work in different situations in the field.  We used all sorts of materials to secure the blocks, including plaster of paris, gauze, wax, resin, foam, and dry ice.  We learned a range of techniques for protecting the artifacts and transporting the blocks.  Its an excellent course - a lot like learning first aid for your fragile artifacts.  Big thanks to MUN's Department of Archaeology Conservator, Donna Teasdale, for organizing this event. 

Using dry ice to freeze an artifact and the surrounding soil into a solid block that can then be transported off the site in a solid block.

Dry ice and soil

Using a freeze spray to quickly freeze a small textile fragment

Cellophane is used to keep the artifact from sticking to the block material.  Damp paper towels are used to lock in moisture, and tin foil is used to create a barrier to pour plaster or resin against.

Jason and Miki are planning a block lift using a resin gauze designed for making casts around broken bones.

Assorted blocks.  Different types of blocks will last different lengths of time.  The frozen blocks might thaw out in a few minutes or hours, while the plaster, foam, or resin blocks are stable for months or years.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, June 2, 2014

Assembled Beothuk Arrow Reproductions

Chert and iron arrowheads and Beothuk arrow reproductions
The Beothuk arrow reproductions that I talked about on Friday are assembled now and stained with red ochre and oil.  I've made plenty of these arrows with stone points over the years, but this set includes the first arrow that I've made with a hammered iron arrowhead made from a modified nail.  I have made look-alike arrows for film props in this style, but they weren't hammered out of nails and lashed on in the correct fashion. I left off Friday's post wondering about the change in Beothuk arrows that came with the adoption of arrowheads hammered out of nails.

Pine shafts, goose feathers, chert or iron arrowheads, sinew and hide glue binding, red ochre and oil stain

Stone and iron points. The pointy part
of the arrowhead doesn't change a
great deal, but the hafting area of
the arrowheads are very different.
The iron arrowheads were hafted differently because the body of the nail was used as a long skinny tang that would have been lashed into a channel gouged in the side of the arrow shaft.  In contrast, the chert arrowheads that the Beothuk and their ancestors made were designed to be tied into a slot cut into the end of the arrow shaft.  The process of chipping the corner notches into the stone arrowhead created backward facing barbs, so that when the arrow went in, it wouldn't come back out again.  These barbs disappear on the iron nail arrowheads.  The general size and shape of the cutting and piercing part of the arrowhead isn't much different, but the barbs, which had been part of Beothuk arrowhead design for centuries suddenly vanish on the iron arrowheads.  It would have required a little extra effort, but it would have been possible to cut or grind barbs into the iron arrowheads, however the Beothuk chose not to.

Modified nail arrowhead (left)
Knapped chert arrowhead (right)
One difference between iron and stone would be the durability of the arrowheads.  A stone point is very likely to break if it encounters a bone or hits a stone or root on a missed shot, whereas an iron point is much more durable.  Perhaps the barbless design of the iron points is evidence that iron-tipped arrows were designed to be re-used.  Without the barbs, arrows could easily be withdrawn from the killed animal.  With stone points the chance of the point being re-usable was much lower, so there's no reason to make the design easy to remove from the wound.  The iron would also probably have a little more value associated with it, both because its durable, but also because its new and rare, compared to stone.  Again, this would create more incentive to retrieve and reuse the arrows.

Arrowhead and two feather fletching based on historic descriptions and drawings of Beothuk arrows
The same arrowhead and feathers shown in profile.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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