Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Arctic Fox Digging for Lemmings

Fox Skull

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, June 27, 2011

We Are... Archaeologists

About a year ago I was contacted by someone assembling a marketing campaign to promote careers with the Newfoundland and Labrador Government.  They asked to use a photo of some of my harpoon reproductions to help illustrate a career in Archaeology.  The campaign is now online, you can check it out here:

Photo Credit: Screen grab from

Friday, June 24, 2011

Photo Patterns

When I start new job the first thing I do is gather as many reference photos as I can.  Ideally I take the photos myself, but sometimes I work from published or unpublished photos taken by the archaeologists who found the artifacts.  I then print them out at 1:1 scale and use them as patterns.  A lot of those photos also wind up on this blog.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Soapstone Polar Bears

I made all these little soapstone bears for The Rooms.  They are included in education kits sent to classrooms around the Province.

This is the original artifact that they are all based on.  Its  a Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifact  from northern Labrador. You can see it on display in the Connections Gallery in The Rooms in St. John's.

The 20 little bears were just the right size to be delivered in an egg carton.

All of the soapstone that I used for the bears came from highway roadcuts on Newfoundland's Baie Verte Peninsula.
Did they all catch the sent of something? I would not want to be downwind of this many curious bears.

I don't think I realized it when I carved them, but with his nose lifted and his mouth open, the posture of the little Dorset bear looks like a bear sniffing the air.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, June 20, 2011

Recent Indian Reproductions

I found these pictures on my hard drive from 2006.  They are a Recent Indian knife and scraper reproduction.  I can't recall who the client was, but I think it was either The Rooms or the Province.

In both tools, the stone blade is held in the wood handle with hide glue and rawhide.  Each piece is covered in Red Ochre.

The scraper is a thin, flake scraper and the style of the handle is loosely based on northern scrapers.  To the best of my knowledge there has never been a Recent Indian scraper handle found for a stone endscraper in an archaeological site in Newfoundland.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father's Day

My Dad as a boy
Its Father's Day this Sunday.  I'm not sure when the last time was that I was able to spend Father's Day with my dad, but again this year I'll be in Nunavut and he'll be in Alberta.  I especially enjoy hearing my dad tell stories about what it was like growing up in Saskatchewan during the "Dirty Thirties".

Dad, An Indian Motorcycle and Tiny Dog
My dad has always been an animal lover.  If you find a picture of him where he's not petting a dog or riding a horse, its because he's holding a guitar.  While I was growing up, Dad and I would drive from the farm to Innisfail to take in the Odd and Unusual Livestock Auction every Thanksgiving and Easter.  Late one night on the long drive home, with a half tonne truck full of goats, llamas and pot-bellied pigs he told me about a pair of pet coyotes that he raised from pups when he was a boy.

He raised them as pets, but had to keep them chained up in the yard because they couldn't be trusted around the chickens.  They didn't like sleeping above ground, instead they dug a hole in the yard and slept down there.  Judging from these photos they were very tame.  Unfortunately one of the pups got strangled up in the chain going down into its den and didn't get a chance to grow up.  The second pup grew up and was a loyal friend to my dad.  Eventually it earned a little bit of trust and was allowed to spend time off leash.

But the leash was for its own protection as much as the other farm animals.  There was a bounty on coyotes at the time, with the Province paying $2 for a pair of dead coyote ears.  It was a dangerous time to be a coyote in southern Saskatchewan.  In the dark, in the truck, my dad told me about the day his pet coyote was running and playing in the prairie just south of his parent's farm.  A car drove by the farm and past the coyote. Dad watched the car with some concern.  It slowed, stopped, and starting backing up when the driver spotted the coyote.  Without any fear of people, the coyote stood and watched the car approach. My dad knew about the bounty and ran to his bicycle and started peddling down the road, bawling and yelling at the driver to stop, but he was too late.  The driver shot his coyote.

My Dad with two of his 7 siblings
My dad got real quiet as he was telling the story and I knew he was sad at remembering his lost friend.  I could picture the whole tragic story in my mind's eye, and it felt like my Dad was that heart-broken little boy with his streaked, dusty cheeks running into the field and scooping up his limp friend all over again.  The cab of the truck stayed very quiet for a several moments.

But then Dad bounced back and said; "I got two bucks for the ears, though!"

Happy Father's Day!

(Lori said this story was too sad for a Father's day post, but I mailed a printed version of this post to my dad and we talked about it on the phone.  He couldn't remember the whole episode, but when I reminded him about it, he was still pretty impressed that the guy in the car gave him the ears.  I think he's had time to get over it.)

Photo Credits: Rast Family Photos

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cool Canadian Lithic Blogs

This is my first pre-scheduled blog post of the summer.  Here are a couple of fascinating blogs that I enjoy following and that you might like as well.

PaleoNick: Musings from a man behind the times. Way behind.  Nick Waber is an archaeology Grad student at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia who specializes in lithic technology and experimental archaeology.  In the first few posts on his new blog he documents some of his experiments with hafting microblades and testing their performance in ballistic's gel experiments.  Plus, he's into minimalist running.

Stoneflake: Paul Dolanjski posts stunning photographs of wildlife, flintknapping, and bushcraft on  The site describes itself this way: " is a mis-mash of information pertaining to Prehistory, Geology and skills of the past. It is an ongoing project with new material being added weekly."  Flip through some of the older posts - the posts won't weigh you down with text, but the photography leaves a lasting impression.

Photo Credits: Screen captures from the respective sites.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Another Summer, Another Pile of Gear on the Floor

I leave for the field tomorrow.  Of course, the day after my flight was booked, Air Canada employees served 72 hour strike notice to walk out 16 hours before I'm scheduled to fly out of St. John's.  Canada Post started rotating strikes across the country in the last weeks that I was trying to wrap up and ship the final Elfshot orders of the spring, so a strike from Air Canada seems like an appropriate way to kick-off the field season.  I wonder what the chances are that the mosquitoes won't show up for work in July?

Wednesday is my first pre-scheduled post of the summer.  I'll poke my head in from time to time and let you know how the summer is going.

Take care,

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rhyolite Jewelry and Changing Seasons

I finished off one last wholesale order this week.  These rhyolite necklaces, earrings, and reproduction Beothuk arrow will be available for purchase in the gift shop in the Burnside Archaeology Centre this summer.  These are the last pieces to come out of the workshop for several months.  I'm really going to miss the studio, but its time to head North and get re-invigourated by cool air and 24 hours of sunlight.

I'm leaving next Tuesday for archaeological fieldwork in Nunavut.  I will be back in St. John's for a week or two later in the summer, but I really won't be home again until September.  I'm closing up the Elfshot workshop for the season right now.  This summmer, I'm holding one of the permits on the project, which means a little more responsibility in the field and a lot more follow-up work and report writing in the fall.  I'm afraid I won't have much time to devote to Elfshot again until the winter.

I'll share what I can from the field throughout the summer and I've set up a bunch of pre-scheduled posts to try to keep the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posting schedule uninterupted for the days that I don't have internet access or when work gets too hectic.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Clovis Spear

Point and Foreshaft
This is the finished Clovis complex spear reproduction made from the white novaculite fluted point that I talked about last Friday.  To the best of my knowledge, there's never been a hafted Clovis point found in an archaeological context, although there have been some mammoth bone tools found that have been interpreted as foreshafts by some researchers.

Complete spear, with red ochre staining.  Over 7' 1" long

More robust than the Archaic
The foreshaft I used on this reproduction is made from tamarack and has a tongue shaped proximal end to fit into a slotted socket on the mainshaft.  Its a design based on Maritime Archaic foreshafts, although I had to scale it up to match the more robust Palaeoindian spear point.  Still, this foreshaft is interchangeable with the Maritime Archaic spear reproductions that I made for myself.  That way, if this client would like to order additional hafted points in the future, I can fit the foreshafts to the mainshaft that I have here and they will fit onto the Clovis mainshaft at its new home in Alberta.

38cm long foreshaft 
The foreshaft with the spearpoint measures 38cm long, the mainshaft is 183cm long and assembled together the whole spear measures 217cm (a little over 7 feet long).  The main shaft is pine to keep the weight down. When I make a Maritime Archaic spear, I have caribou in mind, but with a Palaeoindian Clovis complex spear I wanted to scale that up into something robust enough that it could be used against a mammoth.

The foreshaft could be used as a knife
One argument for using foreshafts on Clovis spears that I find appealing is the notion that the foreshaft and point could have been removed from the mainshaft and used as a knife.  I love that sort of multipurposing in tools and given how widespread Clovis spear points were across the North American continent it seems like the toolkit would have to have served a lot of different purposes in different situations.

Gut and glue drying
I used gut and hide glue to haft the point into the tamarack foreshaft.  Clovis points have ground edges on either side of the flute indicating that they had some sort of wrapping around the base to bind them, so I feel pretty confident that this part of the reproduction is faithful to the original artifacts.  Different lashing materials and adhesives could have been used, but I really like the look and weight of the gut hafting.  It feels right and makes a very aerodynamic transition between the flat point and the rounded foreshaft.

The flattened foreshaft fits into a rawhide reinforced socket on the mainshaft.

Staining the mainshaft
Gut would have worked as the lashing on the the mainshaft socket as well, but I used rawhide just to give the piece a bit of different texture.  I also like how rawhide holds its shape as it dries and it creates a little bit of provides a little bit of extra rigid strength to the open sides of the socket.  I wrapped a strip of soft leather around the balance point on the shaft, to prevent slippage and as a bit of decoration.  Finally, the whole spear was covered in a oil and red ochre stain to help protect and antique it.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, June 6, 2011

Whalebone Whatzit

What is this thing
At the end of May, I had a chance to work on an unusual whalebone artifact reproduction based on an original piece recovered from a Dorset Palaeoeskimo context at Port au Choix, Newfoundland and Labrador.  I really don't know what it is, but its pretty cool.  Its pointed on one end like a large foreshaft or ice pick, has some scoring on the underside similar to a sled runner, a hole along one lateral edge and a polar bear head carved at the opposite end.  It looks like there was a hole crossing from side to side through the underside of the bear head, that has since cracked open.

Reproduction Palaeoeskimo Whalebone object - 34.5 cm long

The underside is incised porous bone
This was a one-of-a-kind reproduction that was commissioned as a gift for the archaeologist who found the original artifact.  Of course, as archaeologist's we don't get to keep the things we find, because they belong to everyone.  That's one of the reasons that I got started in flintknapping and artifact reproductions in the first place - I wanted my own arrowheads and harpoons and whalebone whatzits.  

Rib and my printed patterns of the artifact
The first step in making this reproduction was viewing and photographing the original artifact, which required a little bit of skulking, because the person on the receiving end works in the lab where the artifact is stored and we didn't want to spoil the surprise.  For a Palaeoeskimo artifact, its quite large - about 34.5cm long.  The top of the artifact is compact cortical bone and the underside is spongy cancellous bone.  It has a very slight concave curve to it, but its more or less straight.  Ideally I would have liked to have made the reproduction from a section of mandible, but I didn't have one available.  Instead, I used the inside curve of a humpback whale rib, which wound up providing a very good match in both the dense and spongy bone layers.

Throat grooves
The original artifact has some breaks and damage through the holes and grooves on the underside of the carved bear head.  In order to make the reproduction look like the original artifact I had to make a complete object and then break it to match the existing damage.   Maybe seeing the unbroken version of the artifact will help someone figure out what the artifact might have been used for.
Originally it had a hole
I think the two deep grooves running lengthwise under the throat of the bear head were there to provide access points to the hole running across the width of the bear head.   They would have helped in gouging out the hole, but they are large enough and long enough that they might have served some other function as well.

When it was found the hole through the bear head was broke open (reproduction shown)
The pointy end is blunted
The rib bone that I started from had the right texture, but it was bleached white, so I had to antique it.  I started by soaking it in tea to give it a warm golden colour and then worked ochre, charcoal, soapstone dust and oil into different parts of the reproduction to match the aged look of the artifact.  There were a few nicks and dents, especially in the middle third of the object that I tried to match as well.  It seemed to me like most of the wear was concentrated in the middle, where the incise grooves running the length of the objects back were faded out and indistinct, compared to the head of the bear.

Bear head and lateral hole
I really appreciate the access to this unusual find that the archaeologists from Memorial University of Newfoundland gave me in order to make this reproduction.  I love working on these sorts of puzzles.  This artifact and thousands of other stone and organic artifacts are part of their ongoing research at Port au Choix.  What do you think? Have you seen anything like this artifact before?  Any idea what it might have been used for?

The underside showing the offset hole and the long incized grooves running back from the head.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, June 3, 2011

Clovis Point

Clovis Point made from Novaculite
I've been working on a Clovis complex Palaeoindian spear reproduction this week. Its been a great change of pace from all the jewellery that I've been working on lately. Its also something that is a little outside of my usual comfort zone, so its an opportunity to learn something new. There are a few Palaeoindian sites in southern Labrador, but for the most part the region of North America that I live and work in is much better known for its Palaeoeskimo sites, than its Palaeoindian sites.

It will be hafted and ochre stained
Earlier this year, after the flintknapping workshop in Calgary, one of the archaeologists in attendance ordered a reproduction Clovis spear. I'd brought out some of my red ochre stained Maritime Archaic foreshaft reproductions and we used these as the starting points for the Clovis reproduction. The finished reproduction will be a complete Clovis spear, with a detachable foreshaft and red ochre stain.

Looking up from the base
Clovis points are one of the most distinctive and wide spread of the Palaeoindian fluted projectile points. They are also one of the earliest artifacts found in North America, used for a few hundred years around 11,000 BP, although every year the case for pre-Clovis artifacts and cultures grows stronger. I doubt there is a stone tool anywhere in the world that has received the attention from archaeologists, both professional and avocational, and flintknappers that Clovis points have. They're a pretty cool artifact and kind of tricky to reproduce. There is very little room for error in driving those big channel flakes up from the base of the spear points.

The mostly complete channel flake in place
Working around the base of a projectile point requires a lot of care, as its very easy to snap a point across the middle from end shock. The flutes on a Clovis point are one of the last steps in making the tool, so by the time you get to the all-or-nothing stage of striking off the channel flakes you already have a lot of time invested in making the spear point. There are many different techniques used by modern knappers to detach the channel flutes, but they all require a carefully prepared nipple platform at the base of the spear point - first on one face and then the other. I used direct percussion with an antler billet to detach the channel flakes on the point shown here.

The 1st flute did not completely separate
This particular point is made from Novaculite and measures 4 1/2" long. The first channel flake was 1 1/2" inches long (right), although another 1/2" was fractured, but remained hanging on the spear point as a step fracture. The second channel flake was 2" long. Usually the second flute terminates at the same point as the first flute because it stops when it encounters the greater mass of the point above the channel. I think the reason that the second flute could be longer in this case was because the 1/2" of the fluting flake that didn't detach on the first face did not affect the mass of the point.

Great design for hafting
The flutes create a distinctive flat cross-section that thins the point a lot. Its a really nice design for hafting. Fitting a fluted point onto a shaft feels completely different from fitting any other type of stone tool. Most stone tools have a lens-shaped cross-section, but the flat, even channels on a fluted point fit into a slotted spear shaft like a machined part. Its strange - I haft stone tools all the time, but hafting a Clovis point feels like a completely different process. The slight ridges on either side of the channel flakes also help lock the point in place and prevent side to side rocking. It really was a nicely designed tool. I'll have some photos of the finished spear to share next week.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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