Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Scenes from the Farm

Here's some photos from my November trip back to Alberta..

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions: Looking around Little Profit Ranch, Ensign, Alberta.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Beothuk Gaming Pieces

I'm off playing boardgames with my friends today, so here's a look at some games I made in 2005 for the Province. The game pieces are based on originals that were recovered over 100 years ago. Howley, in his book The Beothuks or Red Indians, illustrates two groups of these game pieces from two different sites and in each group he shows 3 diamond shaped pieces, 3 rectangular pieces and one irregular piece (here and here), implying that they were found and used in sets of seven. The bone tiles are decorated on one side, blank on the other and covered in red ochre.

The string of beads are pipestem fragments, with two large bone discs tied on either end. The orginal artifacts these are based on were found alongside Beothuk gaming pieces in a burial on Swan Island. Ingeborg Marshall suggests in a History and Ethnography of the Beothuk that the beads were used as counters with the bone dice.

Similar dice games were played throughout northeastern North America and they often involved tossing the bone tiles or dice in a bowl and using some kind of counters to track the player's scores or wagers, based on whether they landed marked side up or down. I based the design of the bowl on an unfinished birch bowl that was found with Mary March when she was captured. The original is on display in The Rooms.

We don't know what the rules were - but if you found these under the tree on Christmas day and the dog ate the instructions - what sort of game would you make up?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions: Elfshot Reproductions of Beothuk gaming pieces, bowls, and pipestem beaded strings, all covered in red ochre.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I'm off enjoying the holidays. Here's how I'm planning to spend the next week -- mostly sleeping, scratching, and hanging out with friends.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions: Walrus off the coast of Devon Island and Baffin Island, Fall 2008

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A First Peek at the Finished Thule Harpoons

I got the harpoons done after all. I'm so happy to have them done and off my mind during the holidays. We have dinner today with Lori's parents and then I'm taking a week or two break from the computer. I set up a few scheduled posts, so there will still be new content on the blog over the Holidays, but I won't be back writing again until January. I'll do a longer post then explaining the Thule Harpoons. They're pretty amazing machines and there are so many little stories to tell that I need to do a bunch of good photos and explain how the parts all work.

But maybe you can tell from the photos what's going on. Can you figure out why the foreshaft is laced on that way? What's the function of that little sharks fin halfway down the mainshaft and is that black plastic holding them on? Why is the line stretched tight -- isn't the harpoon head supposed to slip off in the prey? Why are there two holes on the tension piece attached to the line?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
First: The finished Thule harpoon heads, foreshafts, sockets, lashings and lines
Second: Two Thule Harpoon reproductions
Third: The line running from the harpoon heads to the middle of the shaft is kept taught.
Fourth: There are whalebone tension pieces sewn to the lines with sinew to keep the line tight.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I'm not sure if I can get the Thule harpoons done before the holidays. I still have a bunch of shopping to do for Christmas and the festivities start on Wednesday. I don't have a whole lot to do on the harpoons, but the next few steps involve a bit of drying time and a lot of sanding. The harpoon work is dirty work - the whalebone smells like sour fish when you grind it and the ivory like burning teeth. It gets in your clothes and your hair. I don't mind it, but it means that I like to have a big block of time dedicated to the workshop on the days when I need to be covered in mess like that. Ok, I just decided, here's the plan - I'm going shopping this morning and then I'll have the rest of the afternoon and evening to work on the harpoons.

Most of the bits and pieces are ready to assemble. I've been using The Ruin Islanders by Karen McCullough as a reference on this project, so one of the harpoons has a bit of an Ellesmere Island flavour to it. The little duck shaped tension peg in the photo on the left is based on Ruin Island artifacts, as is the smaller, single barbed harpoon head. The other harpoon will have little more of a Labrador feel to it. Compared to the Palaeoeskimo harpoons, the Thule seem to have had a lot more room for personal style in their toolkit. There is a lot more variability in the Thule harpoon technology than the preceding Palaeoeskimo.

I still have some holes to drill and an ivory piece to make for the butt end of each harpoon. The foreshafts are laced on to the mainshafts with a single long leather thong that threads through a series of four holes on the mainshaft and two holes through the foreshaft. The holes aren't there yet, but in the photo below, I'm ready to copy the hole locations from my brown paper pattern to the harpoons.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Harpoons, almost finished
Second: Whalebone and ivory tension pieces and finger rests. Some of these pieces will fit into the mainshaft and be secured with baleen lashings, while others will be tied to the harpoon line using sinew
Third: Harpoon heads, done, except for some polishing and missing lines
Fourth: Laying out the harpoons to mark the foreshaft/mainshaft lacing holes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bark Tanned Seal Skin

I use bark tanned seal skin when I need lines or lashings for a reproduction. I spent last evening starting to cut the leather that I need for the Thule harpoons. One of the lines will be braided and the other will be twisted.

I get my bark tanned skins from Great Northern Peninsula Craft Producers in Shoal Cove East. They're the folks that make and sell sealskin boots. I had this pair made almost 10 years ago when I was working on the Northern Peninsula. They're the only tailored piece of footwear I own and my favourite pair of winter boots. Mine are in need of repair, but I like them best in the spring when the snow and streets start to get slushy. When I ordered my boots, I went into the shop at the start of the summer, while the skins were still in the ponds on the side of the road, and they traced around my foot to make the pattern. By the end of the summer I had my boots!

That same summer, I was fortunate enough to get to tour the tannery. There are several stages to bark tanning a hide. The skins are laced into frames with the hair and fat on to dry and the fat is scraped off. The stretched hides are then placed into freshwater ponds for about 3 weeks to naturally de-hair. When they come out they are cleaned again and then go into a big vat of bark solution for tanning. The bark solution is made from spruce and fir rinds soaking in saltwater. The hides spend about a week in the solution and come out a warm brown to chocolate colour, depending on the variety of bark used. From start to finish the process takes about 10 weeks.

There's a warm smell to the leather that I love as well. Cats love it too. Its like catnip to them. At the end of the evening, its not at all unusual to find someone's cat flat on their back, shoulders-deep inside your boot sucking in the smell of the leather.

Interestingly, archaeologists and geographers working at Port au Choix on the Northern Peninsula have found increased salinity in a pond in that community during the time that the Dorset Palaeoeskimo seal hunters lived there. They suggest that the salinity increase comes from soaking seal pelts in the ponds, just like people still do in the area today. You can read their case here and here.

Like a lot of traditional crafts, skin boot making relies on a small number of aging craftspeople who are trying to pass the skills on to a new generation who have a difficult time fitting it into their lives. Annual fluctuations in the availability and price of harp seal pelts has also been a major challenge for the industry. I haven't been to visit the GNP shop in several years and I hope they are able to keep producing. The last I'd heard was that after several years of virtual shut down, they were back at barking tanning again. The stages of the tanning process described in this post comes from the GNP produced book, Out of Necessity: The Story of Sealskin Boots in the Strait of Belle Isle.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
First: Bark tanned sealskin harpoon lines and lashings
Second: My sealskin boots, made by GNP Craft Producers
Third: A harp seal skin stretched on a frame, with the hair still on
Fourth: Checking the bark tanning vat
Fifth: Finished hides hanging in the tannery, Shoal Cove East
Sixth: Out of Necessity book cover.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Innovation, Trade and Thule Harpoons

Today is another workshop day for the Thule harpoons. I decided to make two after all. Not only is it faster to work on two harpoons side by side, but it frees me up to experiment a little. There is a lot of variability in Thule harpoons, so there are a couple of different things that I'd like to try out.

Earlier in the week, I dropped off some product at the Confederation Building to be photographed. Its not easy being a craft producer anywhere, but in Newfoundland and Labrador we are fortunate to have the support of both the member driven Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador (CCNL) as well as the Provincial Craft Sector in the Department for Innovation Trade and Rural Development (INTRD). The two organizations work together continually, but there are things that a government body can do that a not-for-profit organization can do and vice-versa. For example, helping craft producers with wholesaling their product is primarily an INTRD enterprise. They are the folks behind the Crafts of Character branding program and organize the Provincial Craft Wholesale Show every spring.

The photos are being done for craft producers in anticipation of the spring wholesale show Buyer's Guide. I've also signed up for help from Gloria Hickey in writing an artist statement and product description. Both the photography and writing are being provided to me, and dozens of other craft producers, at no charge through INTRD. I'm looking forward to getting an injection of professional photography and writing into Elfshot's promotional material.

If you are interested in promoting or expanding your craft business in Newfoundland and Labrador, the first step should be to become a member of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador and register as a craft producer with INTRD. Both organizations are invaluable to craft in the province and not everyone realizes that they are two separate entities. If you are a member of one and not the other, you are only getting half the package.

Photo Credits:
First: Tim Rast
Second: Erick Walsh
Third: Crafts of Character and Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Logos

Photo Captions:
First: Some of the bits and pieces that go into making Thule harpoons
Second: Photography done by Erick Walsh for a .pdf portfolio, several years ago. Partially funded by INTRD.
Third: Two different logos, two different entities.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Canadian Blog Award Voting

Thanks to everyone who voted for this blog in the first round of the Canadian Blog Awards! Elfshot: Sticks and Stones made it into the final 5 in the Science and Technology category, and needs your vote one more time. (or actually, one more time every day until December 19th, would be great!)

Top 10 Reasons to Vote for Elfshot: Sticks and Stones

10) Its been handcrafted to your exact specifications and tested on ballistic gel seals.

9) Available in both Imperial and Metric.

8) Get in on the ground floor. If we have another three years of Stephen Harper funding Science in Canada, then we'll all be using stone tools.

7) If you don't vote the terrorists win.

6) Archaeologists are the Cowboys of Science.

5) If I win I'll be morally obligated to display a cartoon of a flag waving patriotic beaver on my site. Forever. You can view that as a reward or a punishment - whichever gets your vote.

4) Its all I really want for Christmas.

3) If your vote helps Elfshot win, then you haven't wasted two minutes reading a random archaeologist's blog about stone tools - you've been reading The Canadian Blog Award's Top Science and Technology blog, which will totally impress your boss and practically guarantees* a big raise and a corner office. (*not a guarantee)

2) Baculums!

1) 2.5 million years of lithic technology and no Canadian Blog Awards.

Photo Credits:
First: Canadian Blog Awards Website
Second & Third: Cafepress Archaeology and CRM gear store
Fourth: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
First: Canadian Blog Awards Nominee Badge
Second: Bumper sticker
Third: Bumper sticker for girls
Fourth: Martime Archaic Indian harpoon foreshaft (top) and walrus baculum (bottom).

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Walrus and the Bushman

Elfshot is now available from Newfoundland Bushman. I had a good meeting on Wednesday with Kendall Flood, the owner and wilderness guide who is very enthusiastic about Newfoundland's outdoors. It seems like Elfshot reproductions and jewelery will be a good fit with Kendall's clients. If it happens outdoors - these guys do it!

Other than that, I've been working on the Thule harpoon. Its going well and I have the harpoon head, foreshaft, mainshaft and finger rest roughed out. I'm starting to wonder why I'm only making one. These things usually go a lot faster and easier if I make a couple at a time. I suspect the reason that I didn't start out making two is that I'd probably need to cut into a new walrus tusk and whale rib. They are my last of each and I'll miss them when they are gone. Especially the tusk.

Walrus ivory is legal to own in Canada. There is a subsistence hunt carried out in Nunavut concentrated on Foxe Basin. Fermented walrus meat is considered a delicacy. From what I've been told the walrus is buried on a beach for several months until it starts to ferment. I've never tried it, so I'm not sure how you can tell when its done, but the folks who like it, like it very much. The tusks and baculum are secondary products that are sold within the hunter's communities. If you purchase ivory in the North, you'll need to show it to a wildlife officer and get a permit before you are able to bring them south. The tusks that I have were purchased in Cape Dorset for me several years back. I tried to get some more while I was on Baffin Island in 2008, but I didn't have any luck. I guess I need to try again harder.

Photo Credits:
First: Screen Grab from Newfoundland Bushman website
Second-Fourth: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
First: Homepage for Newfoundland Bushman
Second: Laying out the Thule Harpoon
Third: The ivory harpoon head and nephrite endblade roughed out
Fourth: Humpback whale rib and Walrus Tusk
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