Monday, January 30, 2012

Ground Slate Knives

Ground Slate Thule Men's Knife
This is a ground slate late Thule men's knife that I made in 2004.  One of the artifacts that we found this summer made me think of it.  Remember that roughed out ulu preform that I mentioned on the blog a couple weeks ago?   We found a broken and discarded knife at the site next to it, a few hundred metres away. It was made from the same slate, but this one had been completed before it was broken.  You can see how finely this slate takes an edge when it has been ground and polished sharp.   There was no sign of a handle, but you can imagine it hafted something like the reproduction in the photos.

Ground slate knife blade and two chert flakes found nearby.  Its more of an Inuit style knife, but the chert flakes were most likely Palaeoeskimo in origin.  Check out how nice the bevel is on the edge (inset).

Here's the tip of the knife in situ.  I think Lori found this piece.

It might have been hafted something like this.  I used wood for the handle and baleen for the haft.  There is a notch at the end of the handle, with a sealskin thong tied to it.  I can't recall the exact provenience of the original artifact that this is based on, but I believe it was the Western Arctic.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hafted Beothuk Arrowhead Necklaces

Hafted Beothuk Necklace
 I whipped up a fresh batch of reproduction Beothuk arrowhead necklaces over the past week or so for a customer from the US. I started making these a couple of years ago after stumbling across a good recipe for making the red ochre covering colourfast.  I'm counting the days to when I can spend some more time in the workshop.  Starting in February I'm going to be busy with knapping demos and workshops in St. John's and Calgary.  Watch this space for dates and times.

Hafted Beothuk Necklace. Chert arrowhead, wood shaft, faux sinew and epoxy binding. Red Ochre stain. $39.95 CDN tax inc.
Maybe I'll keep one.  They are kind of cool.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blogger's Choice Award Winner

Elfshot: Sticks and Stones won a 2011 Newfoundland and Labrador Blogger's Choice Award in the category of Science and Technology. I mentioned this on Facebook a little while ago, but I realize that I haven't actually acknowledged it on the blog.  The voting took place in October, but the winners weren't announced until January.  Thanks to everyone for voting!

Why not visit the Blogger's Choice page and check out some of the other winners?

Photo Credit: Blogger's Choice Badge, NL Blogroll.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What's a Trillo?

The dashed pattern is made up of flint blades
 A trillo is a threshing board that uses knapped flint blades embedded into a wooden sled to separate grain from straw.  Its an example of a knapped stone tool that continued to be used in agriculture into the 20th century in parts of Europe.  This is the first trillo that I saw in person.  It was hanging in a museum in Lourdes, France.  The wood takes on a incredible polish and I've seen photos of trillos transformed into beautiful rustic doors, cabinets, and tables. The polish comes from hundreds of hours of the sledge being pulled around and around in circles over harvested grain.
I didn't realize at the time that the painting showed a trillo in use.  Please excuse the fuzzy photo, but I think you can make out the farmer standing on the trillo as it is pulled across the cut grain by a pair of oxen.  The blades cut the grain from the stalk.

The front is slightly upturned to slide over the grain.

From what I understand, each flint was hammered into place by hand.  I can't find any reference to adhesives being used.

This reminds me of an craftsperson I read about on the Canadian Prairies who would make furniture from the grain polished wood that he collected from torn down grain elevators.
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 20, 2012

This Blog is having a Snow Day!

Here's a picture of some Microblades.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tip-Flute Spalls and Preforms

A tip-flute spall and preform
I took a few extra artifact photos yesterday that aren't for the report.  These are just reference photos for me to use the next time I need to make tip-fluted endblades.   In the Arctic, tip-fluting is a unique characteristic of Dorset Palaeoeskimo endblades.  The tip-flute spalls that are produced as a by product of the technique are just as diagnostic as a finished endblade.

The tip-flute spalls on the left were removed from the left side of this preform, or one just like it.  The one on the right of the preform is a right sided spall, but I don't think it came off of this preform.   Its from an endblade that was more finely worked to a later stage.
I couldn't quite get any of the spalls to refit the preform, but a couple of them are such close matches to the material and pattern in the rock, that I'm sure they're part of the same knapping episode.  There's a spall sitting on the preform in this picture, but its almost invisible.  The spall on the right is very interesting to me because it didn't quite come off correctly.  The knapper was intending to make a spall about half the width, but instead s/he accidently removed most of the face of the endblade, rather than just one edge.  It preserves the complete tip of the endblade and shows how the platform was set up for a flute removal.  

Viewed from the side you can see how the edge was prepared for fluting.   The preform is relatively thick and although its worked bifacially, it hasn't really been thinned - its more of as alternately flaked stitched edge.  The scale of this preform seems out of proportion to the finished product and there seem to have been multiple flutes removed very early in the process.  Multiple tip-flutes leading up to the final two that are usually visible on a finished endblade are normal, but this piece seems excessive in a number of regards.  It makes me wonder if its a practice or teaching piece.   As I write that, I realize there are a couple papers about novice Palaeo-eskimo flinknappers that I should go read.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, January 16, 2012

I love it when a plan map comes together...

It looks like I'm finally through the worst of the mapping.  I finished up the last of the 79 site and feature maps required for the report this afternoon.  I still need to print them out and see if they work on paper, but I'm almost done with building the pieces of the report and sticking them in place.  After that it should just be editing it all together and then booting it out the door.

The artifacts are all labelled, although I need to take a few more photos of them and make sure that everything is organized and ready to send off for curation at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.  Those few photographs should be about the last pieces that I need to build the report.  From then on, it will just be organizing and editing.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 13, 2012

Cataloguing Dorset Artifacts

A little side-blade, re-united
Another day in front of the computer, but at least this time I had bags of artifacts to keep me company.  Today, I was working through bags of artifacts from a Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo site on Baffin Island, Nunavut.  It was mostly bags and bags of flakes, but there are a couple dozen tools mixed in there as well.  Cataloguing is mostly tedious measuring and data entry, but it gives you an excuse to go through everything you have from a site and you often make new observations.

Bags and bags of flakes.  At one point in this post I was going to comment on how weird the Dorset were, but at least they had the sense to throw this stuff out.

Believe it or not, this got me through to the end of the day
By mid afternoon the highlight was fitting together a pair of biface fragments to make a complete side-blade.  Its the first side-blade from the site and its nice to add a new tool category to the inventory.   Side-blades are oval or bi-pointed little tools, often bifacially worked and extremely thin.  They would have been fit into slots on the sides of harpoon heads or bone lances.  An endblade or arrowhead on a projectile helps puncture through hide and flesh when hunting an animal, but a sideblade like this is designed to cut and do damage on the inside.

Typical endblade (L) monstrous preform (R)
The day's big surprise came when the base of this big preform popped out of a flake bag and refit with the tip-fluted distal end that was found a couple meters away.  There's nothing too unusual about the preform, except its made on a completely different scale compared to the endblades we are typically finding at these sites, which are tiny.  I'm pretty confident in calling it an endblade preform, as opposed to some other tool type, because its been tip-fluted and that's a feature that appears exclusively on endblades.  It would be less odd if we found a few endblades or preforms in between the two size ranges, but we haven't.  Were these folks so good at hanging on to their tools that they don't enter the archaeological record until they are good and used up or is this preform ridiculously large for no obvious reason?  For comparison, the preform weighs about 25 grams and the finished endblade beside it is less than 1 gram.  Flintknapping is a reductive process, but you really don't need to make your preforms 25 times the size of the finished product.  And when it broke - why throw it away? Every single tool found on the site could fit inside either half of the broken preform several times over.  It was good stone, so why not re-use it?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Flintknapping Demonstration Notes

Dorset knife on the tarp
I did the first Open Minds flintknapping demonstration of the season yesterday at The Rooms.  It was for grade five students who are spending the school week in a classroom in The Rooms, getting a behind the scenes look at the Provincial Art Gallery, Archives, and Museum.  For today, I'm going to pretend that no one reads this diary and make a few notes for myself for future demonstrations.

The toughest question that I got was; "Why do you knap on your lap instead of a table?"

I always work on my lap.
I don't think I've ever had that question before and the short answer is "Because that's how I was taught."  There are knappers who do amazing work using benches or tables as support.  It seems especially well suited for pressure and punch knapping.  I do want to practice more with punches, so maybe I should try working on benches from time to time.  I use small wooden anvils in the workshop that I do punch work on, so maybe I should bring one along to the next demo to show that there are different ways to work stone tools.  Just because I'm comfortable working one way doesn't mean that's the way everyone did it in the past.

I usually use obsidian in classroom demonstrations.  Its not local, but its more predictable than the Newfoundland chert that I use when making artifact reproductions.

The best new addition to the demo is the "Caribou hunt" detachable foreshaft demonstration.

Interchangeable foreshafts
I stumbled on this last spring and need to remember to make time for it in each demo because it really gets the kids on board.  I have one Maritime Archaic spear shaft and five matching foreshafts with stone points.  To demonstrate one reason why people would make composite tools with detachable foreshafts, I tell the kids that they are a caribou herd and I'm a hunter.  With one spear and a bag of five foreshafts I can take down many caribou at one time.  With the first foreshaft hafted in the spear, I pick a kid/caribou to "stab" - they hold on to the foreshaft and I pull away the main shaft, refit it with another foreshaft and pick another kid/caribou.  The most important thing is to slaughter the kids equally, I stabbed a row of boys the first time, and the girls complained it wasn't fair until I stabbed them as well.  Once the kids understand that people made complex, composite tools with interchangeable parts many new avenues of discussion open up.

Lots of reproductions on the tarp help generate discussion during the demonstration.  Passing them around keeps kids engaged.

The wobbliest point is talking about the rocks before the demo starts.  

Reproductions and raw materials
I need to talk about the rocks a bit to set things up, but kids don't really get drawn in until the first flake gets knocked off with the hammerstone.  Maybe I need to do that right away, right after "Hello, my name is..." crack off a big flake and then talk about rocks and what the demo is going to be about.  That would probably get their attention earlier and hold it longer.

The best advice I ever received on giving flintknapping demos was not to expect to do your best work.  Save that for your workshop and bring those examples along, but in a demonstration, its ok to lower your expectations.  You don't have the time to set-up every platform and plan every flake like you do at home, so don't expect the same results.   

Photo Credits:
1,2,4-7: Tim Rast
3: Michael Burzynski

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sleeping platforms and heat reflectors

Dolomite slabs used in a tent ring
A conversation on Facebook following Friday's post about the ulu preform, reminded me of one of the other interesting aspects of the site where the ulu pieces were found.  The site was located in a boulder field along a large river valley on northern Baffin Island, Nunavut.  I think one of the reasons that this specific site location was selected was the presence of large, splitting dolomite boulders.  The boulders were pulled apart and the flat slabs used as building materials on the temporary tent shelters erected on the site.

A boulder field like this could be turned into a comfortable campsite.  The round boulders are used to hold down the edges of tents and the flat slabs (like the splitting dolomite boulder in the foreground) could be peeled apart to make a level sleeping surface and propped up to make hearths and heat reflectors for soapstone lamps.
You're looking at the footprint of an old tent.  It might look random at first, but there is a flat pavement of light coloured dolomite slabs in the center of the photo that would have been inside the shelter.  Compared to the irregular surface of the boulder field, this creates a relatively flat and slightly elevated sleeping area.  Facing the sleeping platform towards the right of the photo is another light coloured boulder which has been propped at an angle, that I think was used as a heat reflector for a soapstone lamp. People would have slept with their head towards the edge of the platform nearest the heat source. There is a rough oval of round boulders around the sleeping platform that would have been used to hold town the edges of a skin tent.
The tent ring and sleeping platform in the photos here was relatively small and was probably a small temporary shelter used by a couple people.  Perhaps brothers out hunting caribou, or a young married couple travelling with their family.  The image on the left from  shows a comparable shelter with a pine bow covering. To see what a seal skin version of this shelter might have looked like, check out Rudy Brueggemann's photo of a "Seal-skin Tent" in Greenland (look for the tie down rocks sitting on the edges of the sealskin). Annie Pootoogook's drawing, In the Summer Camp Tent, shows the arrangement of people sleeping on the sleeping platform relative to the lamp or hearth, although in the modern setting the stone platform has been replaced by mattresses and the lamp is now a Coleman stove.

After we mapped and excavated the sites we tried refitting the slabs and the large stones in the sleeping platform refit with the slab used as a heat reflector.  If you wanted to, you could stack up the whole tent and put it away like a giant deck of cards.
Naturally fractured dolomite boulder
There were plenty of unused dolomite boulders scattered across the boulder field.  Dolomite's tendency to fracture into slabs made it a valuable building material in a treeless landscape dominated by glacially worn round boulders and cobbles.  They are kind of ready-to-assemble house kits, if you know what you are looking for.

Photo Credits: 
1-3: Tim Rast
4: BC Adventure Network
5,6: Tim Rast

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chipped Slate Ulu Preform

Ulu Preform, Baffin Island, Nunavut
We found this ulu preform broken in five pieces and hidden in plain sight on a boulder ridge overlooking a river valley this summer.  It looks like it was broken in manufacture and discarded where it broke.  Artifacts like this aren't as pretty as finished tools, but they have their own stories to tell.  The work done up to this point on the ulu blade would have been erased by the grinding process, so it gives us a glimpse of how these tools were made.

Reproduction and Artifact
The first thing that struck me about the blade was how large it is.  I'm used to seeing the worn down and resharpened blades in museum collections and sometimes forget how big they were when they started.  There are some little slate ulus in the collections from Labrador with blades that have be so worn down that they look like toys.  If this blade was finished and hafted like the reproduction in the photo it would have more than an extra inch of useable blade.

The Hot Side
The ulu preform is uniform 5-6 mm thick, with the thickest portion toward the blade edge.  Its more-or-less a quarter circle, with a squared edge at the top where the handle would attach and edges that are a little shy of 90 degrees from each other.  It would have been about 25 cm wide across the blade and about 15.5 cm tall from blade to stem.  The blade and both edges are worked by short, bifacially removed flakes.  The squared edge across the top wasn't chipped - it was already the right shape.

Chipped slate blades in manufacture
There's really only a few minutes worth of work done on the blade up to this point, although the stone isn't from the immediate area, so the person who broke it still probably regretted it.  Maybe they selected a couple nice flat slabs from the outcrop and had a back-up slab on hand to start working when this one broke, or maybe they had to walk all the way back to the stone source.  The reproductions on the left are from the ground stone workshop I taught in Calgary last winter.  The blanks were trimmed from slate slabs using hammerstones, and look pretty much identical to the archaeological example. Nice work folks!

The working edge was trimmed bifacially.  Which is interesting, because ulus are generally sharpened on only one face. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, I also find it easier to trim the stone bifacially and add the unifacially ground edge at the end.

The blade, in situ
 Despite the stone's best efforts to blend in with its surroundings, a couple of the sharp eyes on the crew were able to pick the pieces out.  The four pieces from the top of the preform were found within a few centimetres of each other and the blade section was spotted a couple metres away.  There were a few tent rings and a cache on the same ridge, but the preform wasn't found directly associated with any particular structure.

The lichen gives the impression of great age, but I've been told that this sort of jewel lichen can grow within a few years, given an adequate supply of bird poop.

Arctic Camo - two pieces in this photo
Its tough to date.  The style is certainly Inuit and slate tools were made from the time the Thule arrived in the Eastern Arctic by 800 years ago up until the 20th century.  There's nothing at the site to suggest that its recent or historic, so it probably falls somewhere between 100 and 800 years old.  My hunch is 100-200 years old, but I don't really have anything to support that.

It might have looked something like this in the mind of the maker.

Photo Credits:
1-3: Tim Rast
4: Michael Turney
5-9: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Back at my Desk

More maps...
I'm back to the maps again.  I've finished all the site maps and all the feature maps for sites where we didn't excavate or find artifacts.  Now I'm going through the bags of artifacts and finishing up the artifact catalogs.  Once all the artifacts are accounted for, labelled and measured I plot them on their respective feature maps.

The maps have deeper stratigraphy than the sites
Since October, the end has always seemed about 4-6 weeks away. Hopefully this is the final pass through the maps.  All the rocks are digitized at this point, its just a matter of layering the artifacts in, cleaning up the lines and adding the legends, scales, and other necessary labels.  I have about 50 site and feature maps completed and there are another couple dozen feature maps left to do.  Now it seems like the end is about 3-4 weeks away.

A friend sent me this picture of me in the field. Somehow the fieldwork makes all this report writing worthwhile.  I forgot how protective I get of my lunch during the summer.

Once its in the thermos, its my coffee.

Photo Credits: 
1,2: Tim Rast
3: Claire St-Germain
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