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

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