Monday, June 29, 2009

Lost Crafts FOUND HERE.

I came across this book online last week, Lost Crafts: Rediscovering Traditional Skills by Una McGovern (Chambers, 2008, 376 p.). When scanning the table of contents I was surprised to see FLINTKNAPPING listed so I tracked down the only copy in the city to purchase as a present for Tim. It’s a pretty neat book and thought it would be worth sharing.

Lost Crafts highlights the everyday skills upon which we once heavily relied before the advent of the industrial revolution. What used to be commonplace skills, if not downright “chores”, are now rarely seen in our everyday. This good looking book lists almost 100 traditional and sustainable skills divided into six themes: farming, hunting and gathering, food and drink, home and garden, practical crafts, and decorative crafts. She covers everything from plucking a fowl to weaving to laying a dry-stone wall. McGovern describes each craft/skill with a brief history and explanation of the process, including some illustrations. But note, the entries are meant more as an overview and do not include the complete range of techniques or vernacular for each craft.

Like people the world over, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have witnessed the weakening (because I do not believe they are “lost”) of many of our traditional ways of life as impacted by technology and the world economy. What I like about his book is it doesn’t mourn the loss of any craft rather it encourages the reader to discover one of these crafts themselves, to take a class or join a group sharing in a traditional skill.

What it made me realize is Newfoundland and Labrador is doing a HUGE part in keeping these and other Lost Crafts alive. And, ELFSHOT is doing his part.


So, I was attacked by a dog yesterday on my long run. I also got pooped on by a caterpillar and gagged up burning bile and salsa, but the dog attack was the highlight.

I was running past a house on our street at the same time that a woman came out her front door with three big dogs on leashes. The German Shephard couldn't believe his luck, going out for a walk was exciting enough and then this big smelly chew toy comes running down the street towards him. He yanked away from his owner and ran straight at me, along with a second dog caught up in the excitement. You could tell that he wasn't being aggresive, but he was intent on catching me. I gave him my hand to smell and he bit me three times. Not hard, it didn't break the skin, but I had to go limp to calm him down, he was definitely ready to use more force if he needed to. He did break the skin on my leg with his dew claw when he grabbed me with his front paws. I have a 2 inch gash on the back of my thigh and a deep brow furrow whenever I think about his crappy owner.

It pissed me off. I'd love to have a big dog, but I don't feel we have the space, living in a row house. This person has 3 big dogs that she obviously can't handle. If you are walking 3 dogs and 2 of them get away the moment you step out the door, then you are walking at least 2 too many dogs. Its not fair to the dog and we've got toddlers and seniors living on the street that could have been really hurt by something like this. I don't blame the dog, he was just happy to be chasing something running. He probably doesn't get to do much running cooped up in an attached house with 2 other big dogs.

It was still a good weekend though. Lori and I got all the flintknapping kits finished for the Sunday workshop and the rest of this year's wholesale orders. The workshop went off without any hitches. There were 5 new knappers and everyone got their beer bottle points finished and had a chance to try some obsidian. Thanks to everyone who participated - you were a talented group! The GEO CENTRE has a good set up for this kind of workshop, so maybe I'll try again next winter. Hopefully today I can finish off my last 3 wholesale orders so that they will be ready to deliver tomorrow.

Photo Credits:
Top: Tim Rast
Bottom: Lori White

Photo Captions:
Top: My running shoes and Shuffle
Bottom: June 28th, 2009 Flintknapping workshop at the GEO CENTRE

Friday, June 26, 2009

Top Secret Project of Mystery - Unveiled!

It turns out there aren't going to be any problems discussing the Parks Canada contract that I mentioned in the the last post, so updates on that project will become fairly frequent features on this blog's regular Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posts.

I'll be working on reproducing Inuvialiut artifacts that were collected during Parks Canada research in 3 Western Arctic National Parks; Aulavik, Ivvavik, and Tuktut Nogait. I have 24 artifacts to reproduce, although I'll be making two copies of several of them, so there will be 32 reproductions in total. The materials are predominantly whalebone, antler, and wood, although there are also copper, iron, tin, and ivory artifacts in the mix. The idea with these reproductions is to make exact copies of the artifacts that can be used in hands-on teaching situations to protect the fragile original artifacts. Several of these pieces are familiar to me because I made reproductions of the Ivvavik artifacts last spring, but the majority are new. There are a couple of adze sockets and a bow in two parts. There is a fragment of a Fort Garry Tobacco tin and a tiny copper awl.

On Wednesday I had a first view of the artifacts at The Rooms, were they are being securely stored in the climate controlled Archaeology and Ethnology Collections lab. Its very exciting and I'm trying not to get ahead of myself. I have 3 wholesale orders to finish and Sunday's flintknapping workshop to prepare for before I can dive into this work. Today I'll be making pressure flakers and finishing up the last of the chert points that I need for necklaces.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Barbed Point to be reproduced. Composite, bone and antler, with iron rivets. I'll also need to weather and antique the reproduction and match the pattern of lichen growth.
Bottom: Laying out the whalebone artifacts to see if I can get the appropriate sizes and shapes form the material that I have on hand.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Glimpse

A week or two ago I signed a contract with Parks Canada for a number of artifact reproductions. The artifacts have been shipped to St. John's and today I get my first peak at them. The work is scheduled to take 13 full time weeks, which makes it the single largest reproduction job that Elfshot has ever received. It's also one that I know I'm going to enjoy. The contract went through a public tendering process and the reproductions are intended for public programming, but its still government, and they can be weird about how information is distributed, so for the time being I'm going to refrain from going into too much detail. Until I know what I can and can't blog about, I'll just refer to it as my Top Secret Project of Mystery, so you won't be curious and leave it at that.

In the meantime, I'll just remind you about the Beer Bottle to Arrowhead - Introductory Flintknapping Workshop that I'll be offering this weekend at the GEO CENTRE. $40/person - you get a flintknapping kit to keep plus your first beer bottle point arrowhead. June 28th, 1-4PM. Click here for more details. YOU MUST REGISTER IN ADVANCE.

The photos in this post are the two pieces that I made in the flintknapping demo on Father's Day at the GEO CENTRE, using antler and stone knapping tools. The big one still hasn't broke, but it has a couple flaws in the material that had me thinking it would break on any strike. That made the knapping tricky and I've set it aside to finish it another day. As I was working I assumed that the tip would break off and I wouldn't have to worry about finishing that end of it. But it hung in there and as a consequence of planning for one thing and having another thing happen the tip isn't in very good shape to finish and I started running into step and hinge fractures. I'll solve the problem on another day, probably by making a shorter biface out of it. Ramah Chert has an annoying habit of leaving very visible step fractures and being surprisingly resilient. This isn't the first piece that I've had that should have broke along an internal flaw, but that held together for much longer than I was expecting.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top, Ramah Chert Biface in Progress - made on June 21st, 2009
Bottom, Ramah Chert projectile point reproduction based on Maritime Archaic points found in Labrador.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Its been a crazy busy weekend since last Friday's post. I've delivered two wholesale orders, including the big Korea order to the Craft Council, spent Friday afternoon to Sunday morning on the Eastport Peninsula, and Sunday afternoon demonstrating flintknapping at the Geocentre in St. John's. I couldn't manage a long run on Sunday, but I did a few minutes on the treadmill in the evening. Its going to be a slow Monday morning, but I still have a hectic week ahead, so I can't slow down too much.

The trip to Burnside was great. Its been too long since I was last out there - the rhyolite quarry is such a striking site. Its just so huge - Laurie McLean's estimates for the numbers of worked flakes and cores in the main location is in the millions. Its overwhelming. There's 5 thousand years of flintknapping piled up a meter deep covering a talus slop that is tens of metres long and dozens of metre's wide. The exposed bedrock is battered and bashed from quarrying and there are large granite hammerstones scattered throughout the mix. Its mind-boggling.

There are smaller sites and knapping episodes strewn all over the mountain, from the summit to shoreline. Each of those spots are amazing, and the density of material begins to approach manageable levels. You can see discrete knapping events. One particularily interesting site is a small rock overhang or cave. Laurie's crew found part of a biface inside the cave and associated flakes. They excavated a small pocket in the boulders on the floor of the cave and found 800 flakes and the other half of the biface. The flakes were piled up below a natural stone seat and you can imagine the knapper sitting there, perhaps in out of the rain, working a rough block of rhyolite from higher up on the mountain into a portable bifacial core. Unfortunately for him or her, but fortunately for the archaeologist, one of those big bifacial cores broke and was left behind with the flakes to tell the story.

We put a tarp down inside that pocket in the cave and I sat on that same stone seat and demonstrated for the camera how someone using local hammerstones and antler would test a raw rhyolite core, discarding waste flakes and creating a portable bifacial core that would yield useful sharp flakes for the months to come. It was an absolutely unique opportunity. The site had been excavated, and we were careful to keep my modern flakes from contaminating the archaeological record. To sit inside that cave and knap rhyolite from that mountain, in exactly the same spot that a knapper sat and used thousand's of years ago is a pretty memorable experience. I'm really looking forward to seeing the finished documentary now.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Flakes, hammerstones and a view from the summit at the Bloody Bay Rhyolite Quarry.
Middle, Left: Laurie Mclean with Matt and Greg filming at the Beaches Site.
Middle, Right: A section of a very large Rhyolite biface that we found on the surface at a site near the quarry. Its broken and this section is perhaps a 1/3 or a 1/4 of the original biface. Likely, an expended bifacial core.
Bottom: Flakes in situ. Everytime you tilt your head down at Bloody Bay cove you'll see flakes like this. Its amazing!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Timmy, Kimmy, Annie, and Danny

This Sunday is father's day, but more importantly it marks the end of a 6 month bet that Lori and I have with her Dad. On December 21st, 2008, he wagered $50 that Premier Danny Williams would leave office within 6 months. If Danny hangs in there for the rest of the weekend, then Lori and I can collect.

These photos are a couple years old now, from when members of the Craft Council Executive and the Executive Director met the Premier to sign a declaration naming "Craft Year 2007" in the Province.

This carving was displayed in the Premier's office and was a gift from Paul McCartney, following their war of words over the seal hunt. To me, the carving looks like someone hunting a seal, but maybe McCartney imagines he is the walrus, protecting the seal. Coo coo cachoo. I'm sorry, I can't remember who the carver was - perhaps someone reading can recall.

I don't really want to turn this into a political post and I haven't forgotten that one of Danny's first acts as premier was to delay the opening of The Rooms by one year to save $1 Million. However, since then he bought a bright yellow fibre optic necklace from me at the Folk Festival for his grand-daughter. He hung out in the craft booth watching the Accordion Revolution while his grand-daughter tried her hand at turning clay on the CCNL wheel. Which was much more support than certain other politicians I've seen at Craft Fairs, like the one who joked about how happy he was that he didn't bring his wallet. I made $50 from Danny on that necklace, and he deserves at least partial credit for the $50 we are going to collect from Lori's Dad.

Happy Father's Day!

Photo Credits: Jay Kimball

Photo Captions:
Top: Left side, Tim Rast and Kim Marshall, Right side Anne Manuel and Danny Williams. (or as Christine LeGrow captioned the photo - Timmy, Kimmy, Annie, and Danny)
Bottom: Carving in the Premier's Office.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

To the North there lies a Cove...

I'm going to the Bloody Bay Cove Rhyolite quarry for a couple days on Friday.

There is a short documentary being shot on some of the archaeology that is being done by Parks Canada and the Burnside Heritage Foundation. Archaeologists Jenneth Curtis and Laurie McLean are the stars, but I've been cast in the role of "Tim the Flintknapper". Tim lurks on jagged mountain tops, and demonstrates lithic reduction techniques at all who venture too near.

I'm looking forward to it, I haven't been to the quarry since 1997. There's no other site like it on the Island. There's no other chipped stone quarry that covers as great an area or has such deep deposits - everything you see is a flake, core, or hammerstone. Nearly every precontact culture that lived in Newfoundland used stone from this quarry to make cutting and scraping tools, especially those looking for large, durable tools.

I've known about the filming for a while, but the dates for the trip just got firmed up on Monday. I've juggled my schedule a bit so that I'll have the Korea order delivered to DevonHouse before I leave town as well as an order for the Burnside Archaeology Centre's gift shop ready to take with me. I'll be back in town by lunch on Sunday.

Drop by the Johnson GEO CENTRE for the flintknapping demo on Sunday afternoon. I'm still planning to work Ramah chert, but who kows, maybe I'll have some Bloody Bay Cove rhyolite to try as well.

Photo Credits:
Top: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Middle, Bottom: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Tim
Middle: Laurie McLean at the Charlie Site (Bloody Bay Cove Quarry), 1997
Bottom: A hammerstone sitting on large rhyolite flakes and core fragments at the quarry

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Morning

I'm in the workshop this week. I need to finish the Korea order for the Craft Council as soon as possible. Its a very big order and I'm very close to finishing, but I had a tough time staying on task last week. The weather was very grey and cold and gloomy - it didn't make me want to go out to the shed in the morning. I left some of the outside flintknapping work unfinished and moved inside to wire and card the jewelry. The sun is out today, and I'm looking forward to the workshop, so hopefully the work will go quickly.

I had a good weekend away from work, which helps to feel re-invigourated for the start of this week. On Friday night Lori and I went out to The Rooms opening reception for the new exhibit, Encountering Grenfell: A Life and Legacy. I need to go back again for a proper look, I was chatting with friends, but it looks interesting - Wilfred Grenfell lead a pretty fascinating life. Then we went to The Big "R" for a quick supper, home with friends to drink wine and watch the hockey game and then down to George Street to watch The Novaks. They had their CD release party at the Rockhouse and it was a fantastic show - I can't wait to see them again!

Its the mid-point on the Tely10 training schedule - 6 weeks done and 6 weeks to go until the run on July 26th. Following a prepared running plan has worked out really well. I have a couple of routes that I've been running since we moved into this house 5 years ago and I've kept track of my run times. My current run times are the best they've been since 2004. I think that if I keep to the schedule for the rest of the summer I'll pass those times and have some new personal bests. The two big differences this year are the treadmill and following the training schedule. The treadmill was great over the winter and I can stick to the training schedule even on bad weather days by running inside. Having a preset run schedule, that includes scheduled days off, easy run days, and cross training days has also made a huge difference. I used to run whenever it was sunny for as long as I could and rest when it was cold and wet. There was no routine, and after seeing how effective short runs and rest days are I think I was overdoing it in the past. I was probably constantly fatigued. The program has shaved 10 minutes from my 10km run times in just 4 weeks, and I only had to run 10km once a week, with lots of short easy runs in between.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Photo Caption: My workshop on a sunny June morning.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Flintknapping at the GEO CENTRE

June 21st, 2009 - Father's Day Flintknapping Demonstration

I'll be demonstrating how stone tools were made using traditional stone and antler knapping tools. I'll be using Ramah Chert for this demo! Drop in anytime.

Free with Admission to the GEO CENTRE -- Dad's get in free!

June 28th, 2009 - Flintknapping Workshop

Johnson GEO CENTRE, St. John's, NL
1-4 PM

This is a Beer Bottle to Arrowhead workshop - learn the fundementals of flintknapping and take home a flintknapping kit and any arrowheads you make during the afternoon. The workshop starts with a demonstration of the complete flintknapping process, from obsidian core to finished point. Then you'll have the opportunity to make your own beer bottle point!

Band-aids supplied.

Workshop Fee: $40/person

Contact the Keith Moore at the Johnson GEO CENTRE to register ((709) 737-7886) - the workshop is limited to 15 people, so please register early. Ages 12 and up.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How long have rocks been around?

I got some really tough questions from the Beavers and Cubs on Monday night. First we had to establish that a flintknapper wasn't a kidnapper who takes flint. Most of the kids were Beavers, so they were between 5 and 7 and they needed some help understanding that things used to be different in the past. Usually I start a demo explaining what makes a good rock for making stone tools, but for this age they needed a little more background and had questions like "why did people make tools out of stone?" or "why didn't they just buy them with money?". The next time I work with kids this age, I'll need to remember to start at the beginning.

One of the tough questions I got at the end was "How long have rocks been around?". I think the question was asking what people made their tools from before rocks were around, so the answer was that rocks were always here. They were here before people came to Newfoundland and they were even around before the dinosaurs - which is about as old as you can imagine. I was grasping for a better answer - something that would acknowledge that rocks are as old as the earth or some kind of absolute number. Eventually I remembered that I had seen the oldest rock in the world recently. It was in the airport in Yellowknife and it was at least 3.9 Billion years old. I couldn't recall the name - "Acasta Gneiss" - but it came from the Northwest Territories and it dates between 3.9 and 4.1 Billion years old.

Unfortunately for the Yellowknife airport display (and the Smithsonian who hauled a 4 tonne boulder of this stuff down to Washington in 2003) researchers in Northern Quebec have apparently trumped the Acasta Gneiss with some 4.28Billion year old rock from the Quebec shore of Hudson's Bay.

I still like the Yellowknife airport though - they saved my darts for me while Canadian North lost the rest of my luggage.

Last summer, Lori and I were working in Nunavut and during our week off we flew to Calgary instead of St. John's. We didn't go through security at the start of our flight in Iqaluit, because the plane made a couple stops in the north. Before we could fly into an airport in the south we had to deplane and go through security in Yellowknife. I wasn't thinking and so I had my darts in my pocket. The security guard did everything he could to keep from taking them away from me, but he couldn't let me get back on the plane with them and I didn't know anyone in Yellowknife to hold them for me. I'd be flying back through Yellowknife in a week and he offered to hang onto them for me, so he gave me his info and put my darts in an envelope and put them in his pocket.

A week later we were flying back through Yellowknife and I tried to find the guard, but he wasn't working that shift, so I lost my darts. By that point, the darts weren't a big deal, because Canadian North had lost my checked luggage which had all my field gear and Lori's camera in it. I had to repurchase all my gear on my week off so that I could go back to work, so losing a set of darts on top of that was a pretty minor loss. It turned out that we couldn't fly into Iqaluit that day because of fog, so our Calgary-Edmonton-Yellowknife-Rankin Inlet-Iqaluit flight paused at Rankin Inlet and took us back to Yellowknife, for the night. Which meant I had another shot at getting my darts back - this time the guard was in the airport and he still had my darts in his glove box. So he ran out to his car and got them for me. The irony is that if I would have packed them correctly on the trip south they would have been lost with all my other gear, so my minor loss turned into a major victory!

The rest of the trip was a blur - we wound up going back to Edmonton and Calgary and then flying to Ottawa, overnight there, and then back to Iqaluit the next day.

Photo Credits:
Top, Bottom: Lori White
Middle: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Scenes from the Yellowknife airport, summer 2008.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Obsidian Notes

Today is partly a workshop day - I have 120 small fibre optic points to notch for the three outstanding wholesale orders I have left to fill. I spent all week last week getting the blanks to this stage, so I'll be happy when they are finally finished.

This afternoon I need to do a little prep work for a flintknapping demonstration in Portugal Cove this evening. Its for 31 Beavers and Cubs who are learning about archaeology. That's a fun age and there are always lots of questions which keeps the demo interesting for me.

In a demonstration like this with a beginning, middle, and end I use obsidian. I know that I can go from a rough core to a finished point without any bad surprises along the way. The obsidian that I use comes from Oregon, so its not exactly local. I've been told by geologists that there would have been obsidian in Newfoundland in the past, but that it devitrified long ago. Over tens of millions of years quartz crystals grow in the obsidian and eventually the stone loses all of its glassy properties, that's what is meant by devitrification. One popular kind of obsidian that you can often find in pet stores for fish tanks is called "snowflake" obsidian. The white snowflake crystals (called cristobalite) growing in the rocks are devitrification in action. Flintknappers avoid this kind of obsidian because those crystals are tough and unpredictable to knap through. In Newfoundland, the closest relatives we have to obsidian are rhyolite and granite - which have the same mineral make-up, but which cooled from molten rock more slowly and under different temperatures and pressures. I'm sure I'll talk more about rhyolite in the near future.

Obsidian is natural volcanic glass that forms when lava cools so quickly that it doesn't develop a crystal structure. Which is why its so good for knapping -- it has no grain and is completely homogeneous throughout. Its primarily silica, and different minerals in the lava flow will produce different colours; magnesium and iron give us black and red. Theoretically, when you chip obsidian the edge of the flake will feather out to one molecule thick. This creates an extremely sharp edge, but also an extremely fragile edge. Don Crabtree, the flintknapper who taught my flintknapping teacher, had heart problems and insisted that his heart surgeons use obsidian scalpels of his own making during his surgeries. They were very sharp and Don's scars healed quickly, although the scars were itchy and occasionally tiny glass shards would pop out when he scratched. Obsidian scalpels are still kept on hand at many hospitals - I've been told that they are used at the Health Science's Centre in St. John's for people who have metal allergies.

Photo Credits:
Top, Lori White
Middle, Rockhound Blog
Bottom, Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top, Tim about to remove a large flake from an obsidian core using a hammerstone
Middle, Snowflake Obsidian
Bottom, Two obsidian knives ready to be hafted. The obsidian in the top, red knife may be a little older than the black one, because it is peppered with tiny cristobalite snowflakes.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Prehistory of Craft

Today, when someone asks "what is Craft" they often mean, "what is the difference between Craft and Art"? I probably have opinions on that, but it isn't really how I think about craft. My background is in archaeology, not art, so I tend to think about craft as the way people made objects out of necessity before the industrial revolution and by choice afterward. The aspect of the Arts and Crafts movement of a century ago that appeals to me is the call to return to handmade objects, in response to mass produced, factory made items.

From an archaeologist's perspective, just about every object at every archaeological site that predates the industrial revolution was made by a craftsperson. That's how I became involved with craft. The majority of artifacts that we find at precontact sites in North America are stone tools and in an attempt to better understand crafts people working in the past, I inadvertantly became a craftsperson working in the present.

Sometimes it bugs me that flintknapping had vanished as a craft by the time folks like William Morris and other pioneers in the Arts and Crafts movement set the ball rolling for the modern craft resurgence. We started making stone tools 2.5 million years ago and for the next 2,499,000 years humans and all our ancestors used them daily, but flintknapping never gets a mention on any Arts and Crafts role calls. Wallpaper does though. Right place, right time -- congratulations wallpaper. Sorry you weren't around for the discovery of fire and the whole populating the globe thing, but congratulations just the same.

Bit of a tangent there, apologies to any printmakers working in wallpaper. Anyhow, here's a couple items I've come across recently that have some craft and archaeology overlap.

Earliest Pottery: Recently reported finds in China push back the origins of pottery by 1,000 years. The Oldest Pottery dates to 18,000 BP (before present). This is a bit of coup for China -- up until now Japan has had the oldest pottery in the world.

Earliest Venus: A very old, perhaps the oldest, venus figurine was discovered in a cave in Germany recently. The Venus of Hohle Fels is a particularily naughty bit of art carved in mammoth ivory and dates to at least 35,000 BP. Carved with stone tools in a wallpaperless cave, but I digress...

This last one might be of interest to the local textile artists. Here are a couple of images from Park's Canada's report on the underwater excavations of the 16th century Basque whaling ship at Red Bay, Labrador. They found fragments of a heddle, which is a kind of rigid loom for weaving. The Parks publication goes into much more detail on how these things were used. Its a five volume set, and the second volume is dedicated to the artifacts found in the excavation. Its very well illustrated and does a good job of explaining what the artifacts were used for and how they were made. There are lots of good photos and drawings of wood, metal, ceramic, and leather artifacts that could probably provide craftspeople with some interesting inspiration for cultural products.

Photo Credits:
Top, David Cohen
Middle Left, H. Jensen, Uni of Tubingen
Middle Right, The Mary Rose Trust/Parks Canada
Bottom, The Mary Rose Trust/D. Kappler, Parks Canada

Photo Captions:
Top, Early Chinese Pottery from Yuchanyan Cave, China
Middle Left, The Venus of Hohle Fels
Middle Right, A Heddle in use. This illustration appears in The Underwater Archaeology of Red Bay, Vol 2, Edited by Robert Grenier, Marc-Andre Bernier and Willis Stevens. Parks Canada 2007.
Bottom, The heddle fragments from Red Bay, compared to a complete heddle found on the Mary Rose. Also found in The Underwater Archaeology of Red Bay

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy Little Accidents

Today is recycling day in our house! I just heard the van come and pick up our bags of paper, cans, and plastic. Lori definitely takes the lead on the recycling front, but here's something I kept from ending up in a landfill yesterday.

One of Lori's favourite kind of dishes are Jadeite glass, which she's been collecting for years. They are a creamy green colour and yesterday one of them finally broke! It turns out they knap very nicely. Look for this glass to start showing up in Elfshot necklaces and earrings around the Province over the coming months.

Glass is one of the easiest materials to learn to flintknap with. Its also easier to find and identify when you are just starting out. Beer bottle bottoms give you a nice amber coloured arrowhead. I'll be teaching a flintknapping workshop in St. John's on Father's Day this year. We'll be working on beer bottle bottoms, but if you have any jadeite catastrophes in your house you'll be prepared to make the "green" choice and keep that glass out of the trash!

I'll post details of the cost and location here as they come available, but if you or someone you know are curious about learning to knap, keep the afternoon of June 21st clear for a flintknapping workshop.

Edit: The workshop has been postponed one week to June 28th. I'll be doing a demo on the 21st instead. More details to follow.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions: Jadeite glass point and raw material

Monday, June 1, 2009

Groswater Palaeoeskimo Harpoon Heads

One of the more unusual artifacts found in Newfoundland and Labrador are Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblades and harpoon heads. The endblades are unusual because they are flat on one side and the harpoon heads are odd because they have little shelves built into them that the endblades sit on.

Groswater Palaeoeskimo artifacts are found throughout the Province and date from 2800 - 1750 years ago. The people who made them lived in the region during a period of climate instability and have been described as "generalists". They kept their options open and tended to live in small, mobile groups that could exploit a variety of marine and land resources, without narrowly focusing on a single species. They were an Arctic adapted people whose ancestors moved south into the area from the Eastern Arctic.

Projectile points are almost universally lens-shaped in cross section, with thin bases designed to be hafted into a split shaft, usually of wood. The Groswater endblades break both those rules. They are not lens-shaped in cross section, they are plano-convex -- they are flat on one side and have a "D" shaped cross section. They have square, box-bases that are deliberately thick to sit on a shelf, rather than thinned to fit in a slot. The endblades are often made from colourful, fine grained chert and are sometimes ground, which is another unusual characteristic for chipped stone tools. The grinding would have helped thin the pieces and would have removed surface irregularities that helped the knappers produce very regular and fine pressure flaking patterns. They all have at least one set of side notches, sometimes more, to secure them to the harpoon head. The Palaeoeskimo would have most likely used sinew thread to tie the endblades in place.

Its an odd design, that makes sense when you see the elaborate harpoon heads that they were designed to fit. One of these harpoon heads was found at Port au Choix in 1986. I'm not sure how many other harpoon heads of this style have been found, the Port au Choix one is the only one that I'm familiar with. It has a shelf cut on its tip to accept the endblade and hole gouged through its nose to tie the endblade on. (We did find a Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblade at Bird Cove, but it was self-bladed - it didn't need a separate stone endblade.) The original Port au Choix artifact is missing much of its base, but from other specimens we know that the Groswater harpoon heads had open sockets. The slot for the harpoon foreshaft was carved into the harpoon head through the side rather than up from the base. Several of their harpoon heads have an incised line around the socket, suggesting that they may have partially tried to close the socket by wrapping sinew across the gap.
Groswater Palaeoeskimo Endbladed Harpoon Heads (Chert, antler, sinew, hide glue) The white one is natural and the brown one has been tea stained.
$124.30 (CDN, tax inc.)

Photo Credits:
Top, Tim Rast
Middle, Parks Canada
Bottom, Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top and Bottom, Recently made reproductions of Groswater Palaeoeskimo Harpoon Heads.
Middle, Archaeological illustration showing the Port au Choix harpoon head and associated endblade.
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