Friday, February 27, 2015

Open Minds

Student ulus
I'm putting the blog on auto-pilot for the next couple of weeks with pre-scheduled posts.  I've been wrapping up a few small Elfshot jobs this week, including one last Open Minds workshop at The Rooms.  I'll be back in later in March to work with another class of students making ground stone ulus.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ikaahuk awl in progress

At this point, I'm shaving off millimetres from the Ikaahuk artifact reproductions to match the originals. I have a few other projects and contracts on the go and I'm also preparing to head somewhere warm for a few days, so Ikaahuk progress will come to a standstill until I'm able to return to the workshop a little later in March.   I'm going to set up a few pre-scheduled blog posts to keep the Monday, Wednesday, Friday publishing cycle going on while I'm away.  I suspect that a portion of the scheduled posts will be photos of the Ikaahuk artifacts and reproductions that I took today.   This is the awl handle.  I've been splashing the metal part of the offset awl with muriatic acid for the past few days so that it will rust to match the original. 
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Monday, February 23, 2015

MUNArch Flintknapping 2015

Obsidian and
chert arrowheads
MUNArch, the archaeology student association at Memorial University of Newfoundland, is once again sponsoring a flintknapping workshop this March.  The event will be held over 3 evenings, March 16, 19, and 23rd in the Great Hall at Queen's College on the MUN campus in St. John's.

March 16: Introduction to Percussion Knapping

In this class, students will learn the basics of using hammerstones and antler billets to strike flakes from cores. By the end of the evening, you will have produced your own hard hammer and soft hammer flakes, a uniface and a biface.

Percussion knapping using hammerstones and antler billets

March 19: Introduction to Pressure Flaking

Learn how to use copper and antler tools to turn flakes into arrowheads and other stone tools by pushing off small, precise flakes.

A copper-tipped pressure flaker, obsidian arrowheads, and a hammerstone

March 23: Special Projects 

Put your new skills to use to make a complete stone tool.  Work with sinew, wood, and natural glues to haft your knapped work.

Hafted stone tools

Start time is 6:30 PM on each evening.

The workshops are open to anyone over age 16 - you do not need to be a MUN student to attend:

Prices: $50 for all three nights, $40 for two, or $25 for one.
Space is limited, so please register early to reserve your spot.  Please contact MUNArch: to register.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, February 20, 2015

And then there are those days...

Yesterday, the quartzite scraper was finished, I just needed to compare it with the original Pre-Dorset artifact one last time before I declared it "done".  I was walking across the parking lot at The Rooms on the way to visit the Ikaahuk collection, when I dropped the box containing the reproductions. The scraper I was making snapped in two when it hit the asphalt.  Usually when I break stuff, its in the workshop as I'm building it.  This is just humiliating.  
Other pieces are slowly taking shape.  On this Thule harpoon head, I need to intentionally break off three of the four barbs in order to match the original.  Hopefully those breaks can happen with a little bit more control than the scraper break.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Did I mention the progress was slow?

I'm visiting the Ikaahuk artifacts in The Rooms every other day and using the days in between to make progress on the reproductions in the workshop.  On reproductions like this the first step is to build the replica and match it to the dimensions of the original artifact.  Then I antique the reproduction to match the look of the original.  In a couple cases I'm nearly ready to move on to the antiquing phase, like the offset awl above.  The handle still needs a bit of carving, but once I confirm that the awl is the right size by comparing it to the original artifact tomorrow, then I can begin rusting it with a muriatic acid wash.

The little bola ball made from antler was cut from a caribou antler beam and then further ground and polished down.  I'm in the process of doing the same with the reproduction on the left.  From talking to Charles Arnold, the archaeologist who found the artifacts shown here on Banks Island, the bolas would have been made several at a time by scoring and then snapping off segments of an antler.  Once the tough cortical exterior of the antler is cut or chopped through, then the spongey interior is relatively easy to snap off.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, February 16, 2015

Old Stone Bridge, Bowring Park

A good weekend to get out and snowshoe.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Friday, February 13, 2015

Slow Progress

The Pre-Dorset awl
We had a lot of snow in St. John's yesterday - somewhere around 45 cm - so everything is taking a little bit longer than normal to get done today.  I was able to make it out to my workshop yesterday and then in to The Rooms this afternoon to view the Ikaahuk artifacts again.  My day is still not quite over, so I'll just share a few photos from this afternoon's side-by-side comparisons.  The measurements that I took today will give me work to do in the workshop on Monday.  

Ivory lure

Antler bola weight

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Selecting the Antler and Ivory for Ikaahuk

Finding the perfect pieces to carve
I took a box of antler, ivory, and the in-progress Ikaahuk artifact reproductions in to The Rooms this afternoon to compare side-by-side with the originals.  Most pieces are on track.  After getting more familiar with the artifacts, I decided to restart the Thule harpoon head with a fresh piece of antler.  I'd started it with a solid piece of antler, but upon review, that's not the most appropriate option.  Both the Thule harpoon head and the Pre-Dorset harpoon head (or lance head) were made on split caribou antler beams.  The hard, outer cortical layers of the antler formed the dorsal surface of both artifacts, while the porous inner trabecular layer was used to carve out the open sockets and other details on the ventral surface.  

Some reproductions, like this awl, are on track and the visit gave me a chance to plan out the next sequence of cuts to get it closer to the final shape.

All of these artifacts were found on Banks Island, NWT on archaeology projects led by Charles Arnold (Adjunct Professor with the University of Calgary and former director of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre).  I called this artifact a harpoon head in a previous blog post, but Dr. Arnold suggested that it may actually be a lance, because it lacks a line hole even though it appears to be complete.  That seems plausible to me.  In this photo, the artifact is lying on a caribou antler beam that I'll work into the reproduction.  I selected this piece of antler because it gives me a good layer of hard antler to carve to match the contours of the original artifact and a tight core of porous antler that will match the ventral surface of the lance.

Here you can see the porous underside of the Pre-Dorset lance/harpoon head.  Aside from some smoothing and the incised decoration on the dorsal surface, I don't think there was a lot of work done to that side.  The belly was cut and ground flat and then sockets for the endblade and foreshaft were carved out of the spongey interior of the antler.  If you work the antler while it is wet, these sockets would be relatively easy to carve out with stone tools.
The same strategy was employed by the Thule people to make this harpoon head a couple thousand years later.  The dorsal surface of the harpoon head follows the contours of the outer cortical layer of antler and the porous interior was used to carve out a similar open socket.  The barbs are placed entirely within the cortical antler for strength.

A side view, again, the upper surface of the reproduction will follow the natural contours of the antler, which will be split in the middle so that the porous interior forms the belly.  
I didn't recognize the importance of the porous underside of this artifact during my first visit, but I believe the split antler is a crucial part of how this artifact is made.  I should mention that whalebone looks and works the same way.  I'm using antler because I can get a good match with the original artifacts, but it is possible that these artifacts are made from whalebone.  A beluga rib would give the right combination of hard and porous bone and would look virtually identical to antler.  The holes in whalebone can be larger and more open, but I work with both materials routinely and have a very difficult time telling them apart.

So far, so good on the broken slate ulu.  I have most of the flaked surface matching the original artifact (lower left) and will now add the ground ulu edge.

The fishing lure has a large crack in one surface. I want to suggest that crack in the reproduction without actually recreating it, so I found a small walrus tusk that has a very similar stain.  It's possible that the crack in the original artifact began as an identical streak in the tusk or tooth that it was carved from.  These streaks are common in walrus tusks, especially near the tip.  They don't usually extend very deep into the ivory so if I want to maintain the dark streak in the reproduction I'll have to do most of the carving from the other side.  
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, February 9, 2015

Roughing out an offset awl

Wood handle and iron awl in progress
I've started working on the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project reproductions.  I brought my notes and photos into the workshop to start searching for the best raw materials to begin shaping into the reproductions.  The set includes ivory, antler, wood, stone, and iron components.  I made the most progress on the historic awl.  These sorts of offset awls were introduced into the north by European traders and there is a good chance that the metal awl was made in Europe and fit with a handmade driftwood handle in the Arctic.  You can buy offset awls today (Ray Mears sells them for £24.00, without a handle), but I decided to try making my own out of an old nail.  When it is ground and hammered to the same size as the original, I'll chemically rust it with acid and the copy should be indistinguishable from the original.

By the way, I asked Dr. Lisa Hodgetts what Ikaahuk means, and she told me:
Ikaahuk is the Inuvialuktun name for Banks Island. It means "the place people go across to" or "where you go across to". Some people also use it to refer to the community of Sachs Harbour.

The awl blank is hammered and ground out of a square cut nail, identical to the one shown below it.  The wood handle and awl are 10-20% larger than the original artifact at this point, but I want to compare them side-by-side with the original piece before I continue shaping them.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, February 6, 2015

Reproducing Artifacts for the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project

Pre-Dorset Harpoon Head
I'm starting work on an exciting new commission for the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project.  The artifacts are permanently stored at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife and are being housed at The Rooms while they are on loan here in Newfoundland.  I love working on reproductions when I can work from the actual artifacts.  The eight pieces in the collection are remarkable examples of the 4500 year long history of Banks Island in the Western Arctic from Pre-Dorset right up to historic Inuvialuit. Over the coming weeks I'll be working on and blogging about these eight artifacts in more detail, but here is a first peek from my initial visit with the artifacts this morning.
Historic awl, with iron point
Lisa Hodgetts, the project lead with the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project, sent me photos of all of the artifacts, which I used to prepare the quote.  Once the quote was accepted, Lisa went to work helping set up the loan agreement between the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and The Rooms.  The artifacts were shipped to the Province this week and arrived at The Rooms yesterday.  I printed these photos at 1:1 scale and took them with me to the Archaeology and Ethnology Lab at The Rooms to compare to the actual artifacts.  I took notes and measurements and added them to the printouts of the photos.  I also started taking my own photos of all the odd angles and details that I will need as I work on the reproductions.  These printouts and photos will be my templates when I'm in the workshop.  Most of the artifacts are more-or-less complete, with only minor damage, so I'll make complete versions of the artifacts, then break them and antique them to match the originals.  The plan is to take the works-in-progress in to The Rooms to compare against the originals two or three times a week until the work is all done.

Pre-Dorset Awl

Thule Harpoon Head 

Thule Slate Ulu

Pre-Dorset Scraper

Thule Bola Weight 

Historic Fishing Lure
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bone and chert pins

Bone hair pins and chert figurines
Rounding out the jewellery order that I've been working on are two pairs of pins; one pair made from bone and the other made from chert.  The bone pins are reproductions of Maritime Archaic hair pins found at Port au Choix.  They are carved with bird heads.  I include sealskin barrettes with the ones that I make, but there is no direct evidence that this is how they would have been used.  The little chert human figures are based on an artifact from a Dorset Palaeoeskimo context at Port au Choix.  There are a few human and animal representations knapped from chert that have been found at Dorset sites.  Sometimes they are made on old endblades and other times (like those reproduced here) they are made on flakes.  These pieces have metal pin backs glued on to them to turn them into small brooches.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, February 2, 2015

Assembling Jewellery

Pairs of Recent Indian Arrowheads
I've moved on to assembling the knapped points that I showed on Friday into necklaces and earrings.  I needed to make a few more small points in order to make enough pairs of similar sized points for earrings.  The larger arrowheads and endblades are wired individually for necklaces.  I needed to order some more leather cord and accidentally bought it from China, so it may be a few weeks before the necklaces are assembled.  The customer doesn't need the order until the summer tourist season, so the timing shouldn't be an issue.

Not quite as chaotic as it first appears;  most of the points are partnered up to make earring pairs.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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