Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Aha Moment with the Pre-Dorset Awl

Now an awl, but once a foreshaft?
Earlier this week I was working on the reproduction of the Pre-Dorset awl from the Lagoon Site for the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project and realized that it might not have always been an awl.  I think it may have started out it's life as a foreshaft that later had one end reworked into an awl point.

I feel like I've finally bonded with this collection
I was having a problem with the antler reproduction that I'm making (it started to bend) and I got to thinking "If this awl can't be salvaged, then what is the quickest way to make a new one and get it to this stage again?"  Thinking about my workshop and the tools that I have on hand, it occurred to me that a Pre-Dorset foreshaft would be the ideal blank.  It even has one flattened end, just like the original artifact.  Exactly like the original artifact, in fact. What if the person who made the original artifact had the same idea?  What if they grabbed an old foreshaft and turned it into an awl?  One way to check would be to try to refit the awl/foreshaft with a harpoon head from the same site.
The flattened end of the awl is a perfect fit in to the open socket of the Pre-Dorset harpoon head or lance head found at the same site.

Too precise of a fit to be a coincidence.  These two
artifacts seem to have been carved to fit each other.
Fortunately, there is a harpoon head (or lance head) in the collection from the same site (The Lagoon Site) and same culture (Pre-Dorset) so I could see how the awl head would fit into a contemporary socket.   I couldn't wait to get into the archaeology lab at The Rooms today to see if the two artifacts would fit together.  As you can see in the pictures, they fit perfectly. The fit is so exact that they almost snap together.  I'm confident now that the awl was once a foreshaft.  What's more, it is such a precise fit with the lance head in the collection that I think it is quite likely that they were once used together.

Now it is possible that the flattened end on the Ikaahuk awl was intentionally made to serve another purpose, like creasing leather, and that it's resemblance to a foreshaft is purely coincidental, but I don't think so. A combination awl and boot creaser would be a handy and efficient dual-purpose tool and I think the only way to make it better would be if you could make it in a few minutes using an old foreshaft that you had lying around the tent.  Re-purposing an old tool is easier than making the same thing entirely from scratch.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. Nice work Tim! based on the number of cut/reworked pieces I've seen, I sometimes think people viewed larger tools (sled shoe especially) as reservoirs of raw material for smaller tools.

  2. Great insight! That fit is far beyond coincidence.
    There is so much work involved in obtaining and forming materials with pre metal tools that almost everything is worth to be reused.

  3. Ironically, I thought it looked like a foreshaft when you called it an awl in the first post, but I had it backwards. Kodiak foreshafts look the same but the pointed end goes into the base of the harpoon and the flattened square goes into the shaft or socket.

    Also I too have found that most objects have two lives. Sometimes it is difficult to decide what to put in the catalogue. I try to put down what an object ended up as so that I can get a handle on activity areas. Then put first use in the comments of the catalogue.

    But how about masks and such that ended their lives as cutting boards? Or beautiful adzes used as hammerstones? It's hard to put the mask in the cutting board drawer, and the adze in with the hammerstones.



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