Monday, January 31, 2011

Tim Rast's Knob

Charles: Tim?

Me: Yes, Charles?

Charles: What would you call that over there?

Me: That thing on the horizon?

Charles: Yes.

Me: I dunno, a mountain?  Probably not a mountain though, its not quite big enough. Maybe a hill?  But its made out of rock.  A knob probably.  Yeah, I guess I'd call it a knob.

Charles: A knob?

Me: Yeah.

Charles: I'm going to call it Tim Rast's Knob.

Me: :o

Tim Rast's Knob
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Day at The Rooms

Hands-on learning
I spent yesterday at The Rooms.  In the morning I did a flintknapping demonstration and worked with the grade 8 and 10 students attending the Open Minds program this week.  After the demo, the students selected one or more artifacts and described them at their desk.  They recorded how it was made, what materials it was made from, how it would have been used, and what culture and time period it belonged to.

Teacher's notes from the demo - wow!
They really seemed into the experience and they asked a steady stream of questions.  It was a great dialog and all the questions helped make the time fly.  With all the other interesting discussion that the class was generating, it was a challenge to get back to the knapping and finish the demonstration piece.

And once again, as soon as my part of the program was over, their school closed for an impending storm.  The students got to go home again right after their flintknapping and archaeology morning.  That's two for two.  The same thing happened two weeks ago when I was in for the Open Minds program.

Maritime Archaic Projectile Point from Bird Cove
At noon, I took my flintknapping boxes out to the car and came back in with my camera, books, and laptop to work down in the archaeology lab for the afternoon. I was going through the Maritime Archaic collections from Bird Cove again.  We're still plugging away on that paper and I had a few more questions about some of the artifacts.  It also gave me a chance to see some of the other Martime Archaic collections from other sites around the Province.  Sometime before the end of this fiscal year, I'll be doing a a set of Maritime Archaic reproductions for education kits at Port au Choix.  A few of the pieces are familiar, but others will be new for me, so I snapped a few reference photos that will help in their construction.  More on that later.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Puzzling Organic Artifacts from Nain

Laying out the organic artifacts
By far, the most interesting meeting so far this week was with Amelia Fay, an archaeologist at MUN who is doing her Ph.D. research in Nain, Labrador.  She is focusing on Mikak, a remarkable woman who helped shape Inuit-European relations along the Labrador coast during the 18th century.  This past summer, Amelia dug a portion of Mikak's house on Black Island and I had an opportunity yesterday to take a peak at some of the wood, whalebone and ivory artifacts that she found.

The function of some of the organic artifacts isn't clear and Amelia gave me permission to post a few photos in case anyone has any suggestions of what they might be.  They appear damp in the photos because up until now they have been stored in damp moss, to keep them from cracking and drying out and to prevent bacteria from growing, until they can be conserved and permanently stabilized.

base of a harpoon foreshaft
The first artifact is a modified whalebone harpoon foreshaft.   The bottom two-thirds of this artifact are familiar. You can see a reproduction of a similar foreshaft in the post: How Does a Thule Harpoon Work. The distal end (on the right in the photo below ) has been re-worked. It should end in a point that fits into the drilled out base of a harpoon head, but the one from Mikak's house is blunt and a length of iron was found embedded in the end.  You can see the gouged out channel on the narrow end of the foreshaft and the bit of iron that fits it is in the plastic bag below it.  The iron has a spot on the end that looks like something else was attached to it, like it was the base of something metal that extended out from the end of the modified foreshaft.  The question is: was the spike meant to repair the broken foreshaft so that it could be re-used on a harpoon or did the iron change the function of the object into something else?

Whalebone foreshaft, notice the gouged out socket to accept the iron object in the baggy below.
Probably my favourite artifact is this toggling harpoon head made from walrus ivory.  It was a surface find, which is why one side of the object is desicated, weather-bleached and white and the the other is a warm brown colour.  Its interesting because its so unusual.  It was found in situ with fragments of the iron endblade and rivet that held it in place.  The socket at the base for the foreshaft, is perfectly round and the holes for the harpoon line are also round and appear to have been made with a drill.  All of those features and its context clearly indicate that it was an historic Inuit harpoon head, but the general shape, especially the symetrical barbed base are not typical of Inuit harpoon heads.  At least none that I'm familiar with.  The general outline of the artifact looks more Palaeoeskimo.  Amelia told me that there are Palaeoeskimo sites nearby, and I wonder if this isn't a Palaeoeskimo harpoon head that was modified later to fit an Inuit harpoon.  Has anyone else seen a harpoon head quite like this one?
At first glance it looks more Palaeoeskimo than Inuit

But the holes are round, the Palaeoeskimo didn't drill holes and made their harpoon heads with flat, rectangular sockets.

Its well made, following the midline of a walrus tusk.  That coarse stripe running up the middle is the pulpy inside of the tooth, although on a well worn tusk, it can be exposed at the surface. 

Amelia's crew even found the rivet that held the metal endblade in place!

The object below is one that has me stumped, although its so carefully and specifically made, I think someone will recognize it.  Its a tapered piece of whalebone.  There are a couple cut marks across the body of it, but I think the biggest clue to its function is the little knob at one end.  It has a couple rivet holes going through that knob and is offset to one side, so that whatever it fit onto would wrap around it on three sides.  Its seems like a weak join if it was an icepick and I don't really see any wear on the tip of the artifact.  There are metal scrapers that wrap around handles on three sides, but this doesn't seem quite right for that.  The closest thing that I've come across are scoop or ladle handles, but I haven't seen anything that exactly matches this piece.

You can see the cut marks in the middle of the thing
You can see one of the rivet holes just where the projection meets the widest part of the object

The knob, is carefully cut away so that something will fit around 3 sides of it
Perhaps you see something familiar in the rest of these pieces? If you have any ideas, please leave a comment or get in touch with me ( and I can pass on your ideas to Amelia.

This is a wood knot with a series of drilled holes in it.  The holes seem to mark a roughly cross-shaped pattern.  Its broken on the other side and its tough to say how much more wood was originally attached to it.  It reminds me a bit of the target piece in a pin and cup game, although the holes may be too small for that.

This is a large whalebone button.  Its a good size for the spinning disc in a buzzer game, but there is a  channel between the two holes in the middle that make it look like it was attached to something the same way that a button is sewn on.  But its a very big button.  Amelia said that they found other bone discs like this, but I think this was the only one with holes in it.

This wood object looks like it was probably a handle.

The same object as in the photo above. There is a hole in the end where a metal spike or the tang of a knife could have been wedged in place.

Whalebone with 3 holes drilled in it - a sled runner?  

These are two large sheets of whalebone.  Not baleen, actual bone.  The porous interior of the bone has been scraped away leaving a thin sheet of hard dense bone.  I've never seen whalebone worked like this.  Its as if its been turned into plywood.  These are very large - you can see a stool sitting under the desk for scale.  Amelia found them in the entrance passage of the house.  They're so big, I wonder if they were used like plywood to help defined the floor, walls, or roof of an entrance tunnel?
Edit: Listen to Amelia discuss her research on CBC Radio's Labrador Morning Show: 
Black Island archeological dig leaves researchers puzzled...

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Thanks to Amelia Fay for permission to post photos of her research here!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Area Man Has Bad Attitude

Ulu starting to take shape
Another week of meetings.  It looks like Wednesday and Friday are my best bets for getting anything done in the workshop.  I spent most of the weekend editing a paper. It's not finished yet, but at least its off my desk for a few days.  I'm trying not to feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to get done, but I don't think I'm doing a very good job.  Its the writing and meetings that are doing my head in - I just want to go into my workshop and lock the door.

Copper arrowheads and antler foreshafts

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 21, 2011

Copper Needle and Fox Bone Necklace

Antiqued copper needle and bone necklace
Here's a look at the latest reproductions - the copper needle and the fox bone necklace are finished.  That's five pieces down and 12 to go in the Central Arctic set.  Again, if you'd like to see the original artifacts that these are based on, you can view them in the Canadian Museum of Civilization's online artifact catalog:

Needle: IV-D-330
Necklace: IV-D-371

Copper Needle, approx 7.3 x 0.3 x 0.1cm
Copper Needle:  I explained in an earlier post how I hammered and aged this copper needle reproduction.  Its been a while since I worked with the red wine vinegar and miracle gro patinating solution.  I re-learned that less is more when using it.  The patina doesn't form until the vinegar evaporates, so a light dab on the surface works much quicker than submersing the whole thing and waiting for the surrounding liquid to evaporate.  A light dab in a sunny room will start a patina in less than an hour.

Fox bone necklace on twisted sinew cord
Fox Bone Necklace:  This necklace is made up of 58 fox metacarpals and metatarsals, antiqued in tea and strung on a twisted sinew cord.  It makes a nice tinkling sound when it moves.  Other than the holes drilled through the top of the bones, there doesn't appear to be much modification done.  From the scale in the artifact photo, it looked like the bones on the necklace ranged from about 3.5 cm to 6 cm, so I selected bones to match those lengths.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bone Thimble and Antler Netting Shuttle

Finished shuttle and thimble
I finished a bone thimble and an antler netting shuttle today.  Both pieces are based on artifacts from the Central Arctic.  The original artifacts that I'm working off of for this set are in the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and you can view them in the CMC's online archaeology catalog:

Shuttle: IV-D-2958
Thimble: IV-D-467

Antler Shuttle: 10.5cm x 1.3cm
Netting Shuttle:  The shuttle is made from caribou antler.  I used a piece of the flat palm of the antler.  I cut out the rough shape and then split the antler down the middle along the spongy interior, so that I had two solid blanks.  I kept on in reserve and thinned the other mainly on the inside surface to remove as much of the spongy antler as possible.

Wound with thread, ready to use
The thread shown wrapped around the shuttle in the photo isn't part of the reproduction - I just loaded it up with a bit of string to show how it was used.  Shuttles like these are used in net making to hold the string while the net maker strings and knots the net.  It combines the function of a bobbin of thread with the performance of a needle.

It fits Lori's little finger
Bone Thimble:  1.6cm x 1.6cm.  This tiny bone thimble is made on dense bone.  I suspect that the original may have been made from a portion of long bone, to take advantage of the natural cylinder shape of such elements.  I couldn't find a suitable sized long bone in my collection; they were either much to large or much too small, so I carved, drilled, ground and polished it out of a bit of dense skull bone.

A dimple goes at each intersection
The dimples on the original piece are arranged in columns of 7 or 8 dots running all the way around the piece. I laid out that pattern on my thimble in pencil and then used the dremel tool to hand drill each dimple.  There's 46 columns of dimples, which works out to about 350 dimples covering the entire surface.  I soaked the dimpled thimble in tea to antique it a bit.  I used beeswax stained with charcoal to plug some of the holes and match the dirt/grease stains on the original artifact.  I need to remember the beeswax and charcoal trick - I'm really happy with the way it grimed up the surface.

Antiqued bone thimble: 1.6cm wide x 1.6cm tall

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bone and Antler Day

Antler cut for a composite ulu handle
Its a dusty day in the workshop today - I'm starting on a bunch of bone and antler reproductions.  There's a netting shuttle made from antler and small bone thimble.  Other pieces will be part of composite tools.  I'll finally be making a couple arrows that would work with the Tuktut Nogait bow and they will have antler foreshafts with copper arrowheads.  This order also includes a long handled copper scraper and a steel ulu, both with caribou antler handles.  I've been trying to get all those pieces started today.

Antler handle for a copper scraper
Some of them are relatively simple, like the thimble and the netting shuttle and I should be able to have them complete within a day or two.  Others are more complex and I may need to soak the antler in vinegar for a few days to bend it into the shapes that I need.  The sooner I can get them cut to size the sooner I can move on to the next steps.

Bone thimble (in progress) and needle
Antler blank for a netting shuttle
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 14, 2011

A hectic week that's not quite over

Post Demo Tarp
The last half of this week has been a hodge podge of meetings and writing.  Yesterday, I had a fun morning at The Rooms doing a flintknapping demo for the grade 8 class who are doing the Open Minds program this week.  Every week throughout the school year, a different classroom full of kids in the St. John's area get to go to school in The Rooms and learn all about the Museum, Art Gallery, and Archive.  They delve behind the scenes and meet and work with different staff and guest presenters for 5 days.

Winter! I love it!
The demo went well and the kids were great, although I'm sure the flintknapping was eclipsed by the snowstorm that gave them the rest of the day off after lunch.  I'm happy to see winter finally arrive as well - its been way to warm and wet here lately.  It'll be nice to have some snow on the ground for a while.

Ulu reproductions and artifact
With the kids gone and a storm raging outside, I took my time packing up.  I had a few reproductions with me based on artifacts on permanent exhibit in the Connections Gallery in the museum, so I popped in and took a few pictures of some of the reproductions next to the original artifacts that inspired them.

Reproductions used at The Rooms
On the work front, I've been doing a bit of writing.  I wrote a note on Andrew Qappik's November trip to Newfoundland for the Craft Council Newsletter and I'm working on a summary of the hooded seal skin experiments from last spring for the Provincial Archaeology Newsletter.  Three of the four authors for the Bird Cove Maritime Archaic Indian paper met this morning and we hashed out what needs to go into the next edit of the paper.  Hopefully we can get that wrapped up and out to review in the next few weeks.

Verdigris encrusted copper needle
I haven't done much in the workshop over the past few days, although the needle has been patinating away in its evaporating dish of red wine vinegar and Miracle Gro.  It has a good colour.  I'll give it another 24 hours or so to make sure its done reacting and then I'll scrape the crystals off and scorch it with the blowtorch.  Everything looks more antiqued after a healthy blast from the blowtorch.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Needles and bones

Copper needle in patinating solution
I had a full day in the workshop yesterday - probably the only one I'll get this week, so I was relieved to make some progress on the big Central Arctic order.  The fox bone necklace is pretty much finished, I just need to size the sinew cord and let the bones dry out a bit more.  They are damp from tea staining.  I also made a couple needles for the order - one from copper (right) and one from bird bone.  The bird bone needle is completely finished and the copper needle is sitting in a Miracle Gro and red wine vinegar solution so that it will grow a nice warm green patina.

The tea stained the cartilage rich areas most
I don't have the actual artifacts to work from for this project and the only reference photos that I are from the Canadian Museum of Civilization's artifact catalog.  I don't have permission to reproduce those images on this blog, so if you'd like to see the original artifacts, you can check them out here:

hammered needle blank and copper wire
To make the copper needle, I started with a short section of heavy copper ground wire - the same stuff that I use when I make copper tipped pressure flakers.  The finished needle needed to be 7.2 cm long, 3 mm wide and 1 mm thick.  I started cold hammering a section of wire about 1 inch long (slightly shorter than the one in the photo) and that gave me a blank the correct length, but about twice as thick and wide as I needed it to be.  I used the wet grinding wheel to slowly grind it down to the correct size.  I tapped it with the hammer from time to time, partly to help thin out thick spots, but also to keep it from becoming too smooth and regular.  I used a rotary tool to drill the hole while the needle was still a little thicker than it needed to be, so that I'd have room to correct any errors in the eye's shape or placement. 

Antiquing bones in tea and copper in miracle gro and vinegar
Eventually I ground the needle down to the final dimensions.  The hammering hardens the copper and despite its small dimensions, it is surprisingly stiff.  You could certainly bend it if you tried, but its much stronger than it looks.  Its all done, except for the antiquing, which I apply by letting it sit in an evaporating bowl of red wine vinegar saturated with Miracle Gro.  The recipe I use is outlined in this blog post: Patinating Copper Experiments

bone needle and sinew
The client also requested a bone needle of similar dimensions.  I made it much the same as the copper needle, except I cracked it out of a hollow bird bone, rather than hammer it out of a copper wire.  This gave me a 1mm thick needle blank, which I ground into its final shape on the wet wheel and a bit of sandpaper.  I left a little more bone above the eye of the needle, because the bird bone is not as strong as the copper and the extra material will help keep the needle from splitting.  I finished it with a quick dip in a cup of hot tea to give it a bit of a warmer antiqued look than stark white bone.
Bird Bone needle with sinew thread, 7.2cm x 0.3cm x 0.1cm

Needles; copper (L), Bone (R)
The copper needle is much heavier than the bone needle, although they have nearly identical dimensions.  In the past, the bone needle would have been much quicker and easier to make, while the copper needle would be a more durable and valuable tool.

Copper shows up frequently in ethnographic and archaeological collections from the Central Arctic and this set of reproductions will have several copper endblades, arrowheads, rivets, and scrapers to show off in the upcoming weeks.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fox Bones and CCNL Membership

removing the gristle
I'm still working on cleaning the fox bones and sketching the blueprints that I started on Friday.  I spent the morning at the Craft Council, signing cheques and delivering the flintknapping kits to the shop. If you are a member of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, its time to pay your annual membership fee.  The dues are automatically deducted if you supply the shop on consignment, if not, you should get a reminder in the mail shortly.

If you're not a member, why not join?- there are lots of opportunities to help you develop your craft business in the Province.  When I was starting out, I got funding to purchase equipment and supplies, attend craft fairs and conferences, develop marketing materials, and deliver workshops and demonstrations across the Province.

Drying fox bones and claws
I promise, I washed my hands before I signed the CCNL shop cheques.  Besides, the fox bones are getting much cleaner.  After I pulled the bones out of the boiling pot, I soaked them in water saturated with dish liquid for about 24 hours, which helped drive off a lot of the grease.  I manually picked through them to remove the bigger chunks of meat and gristle.  After that I rinsed off the remaining soapy water and put them in a water and borax solution overnight.  This time the water stayed clear, so I think a lot of the grease is out of them now.  I'll dry them out and see if some of the remaining gristle will flake off.  There's not much on the bones any more and the gristle expands many times when it is wet, so I want to see what they look like dry before I decide how to proceed with them.  Most likely I'll put them back in a borax solution for a few days.

Photo Credits:
1: Lori White
2: CCNL Website
3: Tim Rast
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