Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trail Creek Cave Slotted Antler Point Reproductions

Slotted Antler Points with
inset Chert Microblades
I've completed a set of reproduction antler points with inset microblade side blades and am in the process of hafting two of them to arrow shafts.  I showed progress shots of these points in the previous blog post and I got lots of feedback and good questions.  One of the comments was regarding the width of the exposed microblade cutting edge, so I went back to my reference materials for guidance. The primary reference that I was supplied with is a recent paper by Craig Lee and Ted Goebel called "The Slotted Antler Points from Trail Creek Caves, Alaska: New Information on Their Age and Technology". The whole article is freely available online.  Although none of the points were found with microblades in situ in the side slots, the author's did measure the depth of the slots and the widths of the microblades found associated with the points and determined that if the microblades were set in the slots, then the exposed edge would be 2-5 mm wide.  I used that 2-5 mm width as my tolerance for the reproductions and wound up changing several of the designs that I had previously shared.

This point is about 16 cm long

Slotted antler points
 Since the previous blog post, I have glued all of the microblades in place.  The orginal artifacts did not contain traces of adhesives, so I had some freedom to experiment.  In the end, I used hide glue on five of the eight points and pine pitch on the remaining three.  There were pros and cons of both methods and by the end of the process, I think that I preferred the pine pitch option.

The piercing point of the projectiles is the sharpened end of
the antler, while the stone provides extra cutting surfaces
along the lateral edges.
When I made the antler points, I soaked the antler in water to make it more pliable and easier to cut and carve.  Wet antler makes a significant difference in how easily antler can be worked, especially with stone tools (not to imply that I used stone tools to carve these - I used a combination of metal tools and rotary sanders and saws for most of the shaping).  The antler was still wet when I began fitting the microblades and because it was still so soft, I could press the blades into the side-slot and they would stick in place.  This let me plan out the position of the microblades and I could roughly assemble the point with all of the microblade fragments stuck in sequence.  Hide glue is gelatin mixed with warm water, so it seemed like a natural adhesive to use to bind the stone blades to the wet antler.  It was very simple to remove the blades and glue them back in place and by working with the damp antler I could also press the sharp backs of the blades into the slot or used the microblades to cut and carve the slot to a perfect fit.  Then the glue and the antler could dry together.  The drying turned out to be the biggest downside to gluing the microblades in place while the antler was still wet.  Sometimes when antler dries it will take on a curve or bend that wasn't there initially.  That happened in a couple of the points.  The curve was slight, but noticeable and difficult to correct with the blades in place.  If I re-soak the antler to straighten it, then the hide glue will loosen as well and the blades will become loose.  I could also re-carve the antler while it is dry to remove the curve, but now the blades are in the way.  It's a small problem, and it's something that I probably could have avoided by clamping the points to a board or something while they dried.

On this one, the microblades form a leaf-shaped
cutting edge.
Using pine pitch as the adhesive meant that I was working with dry, solid antler that won't change shape after the microblades were glued in place.  When the antler is dry the slot is stronger than the microblade, so it's not really practical to cut and change the shape of the slot to fit the microblade.  The individual blades don't stick in the dry side-slot the same as they do in wet antler either, which meant I couldn't really plan out the whole sequence of blades.  Instead I started at the tip and glued the first two blades (one on the left and one on the right) into place, then moved on to the next two and so on.  I changed how I planned the project, but in the end I was just as happy with the results and it removed the possibility of unexpected warping from drying.  As an added bonus, the pitch is also waterproof, which makes the points less susceptible to damage from rain or snow and means that they could be used for different activities, like fishing.  For bigger game, the individual blades are also more likely to stay in place in the point inside the wound cavity.  There would be pros and cons to that.  Blades that fall out in the wound would cause more damage, but blades that remain in place would make it easier to re-use the point without repair.

An antler point and a matching wood arrow shaft

Using a pair of sandstone
shaft smoothers
The last step is to haft two of the points onto arrows.  The base of the points have a simple scarf joint, so I'm carving the wood arrow shafts with a matching wedge shaped scarf.  Working the arrow shafts also gives me an excuse to test out the shaft smoothers.  They do their job.  The sandstone acts as a sandpaper to smooth the arrow shafts and it also polishes and burnishes the shaft to a clean, shiny finish.  A couple of the reference artifacts have grooves cut in the ends or the sides.  They look like they may have been carved there so two stones could be tied to together.  That logic sounds good, but in practice, tying the two halves together seems pretty unnecessary.  The pair of stones work just fine when they are held together in your hand and adding extra lashing seems redundant.  The stones in these photos have the grooves on the sides (where the wheels of a car go) but the most complete reference shaft smoother that I saw had the grooves on the ends (where the headlights and tail lights go).

Some of the shaft smoothers have grooves on the edges of the ends that appear to be designed to accept some sort of cordage or lashing.

Here the microblades are arranged to create a barbed point.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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