Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Flintknapping in Medicine Hat and Calgary

I'm in Alberta this week attending several flintknapping events sponsored by the Archaeological Society of Alberta.  The Southeastern chapter has invited me to demonstrate stone tool making and talk about some of my artifact reproduction work in Medicine Hat hat and I'll be helping Jason Roe out with the flintknapping workshops at the University of Calgary this weekend.

Medicine Hat:
Flintknapping Demonstration by Tim Rast
Police Point Park Nature Centre, Medicine Hat
Thursday, March 1st, 2012
7 PM

Flintknapping Workshop by Jason Roe and Tim Rast
University of Calgary, Earth Science Building, Room ES 859
March 3rd, 2012

Advanced Stone Tool Workshop
Flintknapping Workshop by Jason Roe and Tim Rast
University of Calgary, Earth Science Building, Room ES 859
March 4th, 2012

Photo Credits: 
1: Screen Capture from the Archaeological Society of Alberta's homepage
2,3: Tim Rast

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Sharp Learning Curve

Translucent knapped stone tool
An Elder in Pond Inlet shared a story with me about a man who had a disastrous time making the move from knapped flint tools to ground stone blades.  The man had made many flint tools in his life and he always checked their sharpness by holding them up to the light and looking through the edge.  When the flint was sharp, the edge was so thin that he could see through it.  One day, he tried a new material that was softer than flint and decided to try grinding it sharp into a saw blade.  This was his first time seeing this type of material.

Sharp slate knives are not translucent
He started grinding the soft stone and every once in a while, he'd stop and hold the edge up to the sun to see if it was translucent and sharp as flint yet.  He worked and worked for hours, but he could never see the sun through the edge of the saw and he considered it not sharp enough to satisfy his ego.  Eventually he became so frustrated that he swiped the blade against his hand to show how useless it was - and cut through the tendons on four of his fingers!

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pond Inlet, Nunavut

Snow covered komatik
I spent a few days in Pond Inlet earlier this week attending some meetings.  Here are a few shots from around town.  The sun is up for 7 or 8 hours a day now, and the temperatures hovered below minus 30 while I was there.  The sky was pretty hazy most of the time, but on the way to the airport it cleared enough that I could see the mountains surrounding the town and across the water on Bylot Island.

Pond Inlet, Nunavut

Skins and sleds around town.

Most of the community residents are Inuit and the first language is Inuktitut.

On a clear day, there would be mountains in the background.  The land edge disappears under the snow into Eclipse Sound.

Sled dogs are kept on the ice during the winter.

A shed on the sea ice and an iceberg frozen in place in Eclipse Sound.

A narwhal inside the Library.  Narwhal hunting is very important to the community.

The hotel in town.  Great rooms.

The mountains on Bylot Island, with the town in the foreground. 

I hope to return soon.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Express Pipeline, SE Alberta 1996

A meeting over the screen
I took these photos in the summer of 1996, while I was working on an archaeology project that was excavating sites along a pipeline right of way running through southeastern Alberta and into Montana.  I posted a photo from this project a couple weeks ago and some friends who I worked with that summer got in touch with me asking for a few more.  Here are some of my favourites.

Southeastern Alberta still has miles and miles of unbroken prairie.  

The pipeline was a 30 m right of way, running for several hundred kilometres from Hardisty in the north to the Montana border.  We were responsible for mapping, photographing and excavating all of the archaeological sites along that right of way.

Most of the sites were tipi rings.  We'd put a 2 x 1 m unit in the middle of the ring in the hope of hitting a hearth and maybe finding something diagnostic.  George is taking a photo of a hearth in the wall of the unit.  This was in the days when everyone had two cameras - one loaded with colour slide film and one with black and white print film.

We used a "Tipi-Quick" to map the rings.  You set it  up in the middle of the ring and stretch out the tape to each rock.  The mapper reads the degrees off the board and the person holding the tape gives you the distance and dimensions of each ring rock.  We could map and dig a couple rings a day.  I've tried using the Tipi-Quick in the arctic and it doesn't work as well.  I think its partly the lack of soil to pin it to the ground easily, and the tents in the north are a lot smaller than Plains' tipis, so there are easier ways to map them.

Pronghorn Antelope

Me; younger and more gullible.  My boss on this project knew I was moving to Newfoundland to go to school at the end of the summer.  She told me that she had family there and the most unusual thing about Newfoundland was that they don't have any KFC restaurants.  I was so worried that I found one of those full page  Newfoundland Tourism Ads on the back of a Canadian Geographic Magazine and called the 1-800 number.   I asked the operator if it was true about the KFCs and she laughed and said they have lots - she could see one from her office.  She asked if I wanted her to mail me a brochure about the province and I said "No, I was just worried about the KFCs."  

My crew.  There were two crews working on different parts of the project.  There was  a big crew of 10 or so people who were excavating the bigger sites at the river crossings and the crew that I was on with George, Barb, Rob, Jay, and my boss, Allison.  In this photo we'd stopped into Fort Walsh just over the border in Saskatchewan to get in out of the rain.
A little bird.

We found some kind of feature.  Occasionally we'd have small rock cairns to excavate, instead of tipi rings.  I think that may be what's going on here.

Most of the sites were big stone circles, like this one.  Before we'd map them, we'd pry out all the surface rocks and probe below the surface for buried ones.  In this part of the country, almost every hilltop that the pipeline right of way crossed had tipi rings on top of it.

There were six of us on my crew, but we split up into pairs.  Each pair had a truck and power screen.   Most mornings would start with Allison handing out maps of the sites we'd be heading to that day.  I seem to have wandered away from the meeting here to take a picture.  I still do that.

This was one of the more interesting finds from the summer.  Its an Iniskim, or Buffalo Stone.  These are fossils (Ammonites, if I recall correctly) that naturally resemble buffalo.  This one was about the size of a golf ball and I think we found it buried under a rock cairn.  Again, if my memory serves, there were a couple deer teeth in this same cairn, which had us worried for a while, because they can look a lot like human incisors.  No one wants to find human remains on a project like this.

The wide open prairie was something to see.  It continued all the way to the US border.  The difference between the US and Canada was like night and day, the prairie stopped at the 49th parallel and Montana was all plowed fields.

For a few days at the end of the season, the two crews came together to tackle some big sites.   I think this is the site that was just across the road from the Canadian Forces Base Suffield.

In the four rolls of film I found from the summer, this quartzite flake and the iniskim are the only artifact  photos that I have.  We really didn't find much and what we did find was not very photogenic.  It was mostly quartzite cobbles and flakes.  There really wasn't any good fine grained material available to knap anywhere close by.  I left directly from this project to drive to Newfoundland and when I had the first meeting with my MA supervisor at MUN, she pulled open a drawer of Palaeoeskimo artifacts from Port au Choix and I knew then that I wouldn't be leaving here anytime soon.

You can make out two rings in this photo, one with all the activity in it and a finished one behind the truck.

This is Jay - my roommate for the summer.  I don't remember him being camera shy so I'm not sure what the face is about.
I think this might have been my last day on the job.  It was a dark photo and the harder I worked at cleaning it up the weirder it got. I'm the one sitting on the ground and for some reason I have a goldfish in a bowl.  I think it might have been a fish that I had in Calgary and I brought it to give to Jay when I left for Newfoundland?  I have no idea.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Pressure Flaker

Walrus bone pressure flakers
I finally made myself a proper Dorset Palaeoeskimo walrus bone pressure flaker/punch.  Its been on the "to-do" list for years and although I've had a walrus baculum around the house for a long time, I haven't been eager to cut it up.  When a friend showed me a drawer full of Palaeoeskimo pressure flakers from Port au Choix, she mentioned that they were probably made from walrus mandibles.  Eventually I managed to get a hold of a walrus jaw bone that was in good enough shape to work with, but not so pristine that it would be a shame to carve it up.

Walrus Mandible
Walrus bones, like walrus ivory tusks, are legal to own in Canada, although they do require a Marine Mammal Transportation License to move them across provincial/territorial boundaries.  The mandible that I have was missing  half of the left side and all of the teeth, but there was still enough good dense bone on the left side to make two pressure flaker blanks from.

The underside of the jaw bone was quite dense, although it still had some of those cat's whisker type pores that I've seen on other walrus bones.

The top of jawbone is more porous
I cut the mandible in half along the midline, so that I still have a fairly complete right side of the jawbone for reference.   The bone was most porous toward the top, where the teeth were and became quite dense along the bottom.  I used the densest part of the bone.   The texture seemed perfect for pressure flaker tips.  Its dense, but doesn't seem as brittle as ivory or dense terrestrial mammal bone.  It seems dense like a solid piece of moose antler.

This is a bone or ivory artifact from an Early Dorset site on Baffin Island.  These things don't come with instructions, but I interpret it as a scarfed pressure flaker tip.  The working end of the flaker on the right is weathered white, while the scarfed end on the left is still fresh and brown from being partially buried.

This is a top view of the artifact and you can see that it tapers slightly towards the base of the scarfed end.  It seems designed to be wedged firmly into place when pressure is applied to the tip, which is consistent with the idea that it is a pressure flaker tip.  Alternatively, it might be a very small ice pick or similar tool.
 For the handle, I used this illustration from Moreau Maxwell's Prehistory of the Eastern Arctic. There is no scale, which on this particular day I was happy with, because it gave me some room to improvise.  I scaled my flakers around the scarf joint.  I wanted that to be 4-5 cm long, as in the artifact.  The tip of the bone flakers that usually show up in the archaeological record are quite short, but I think that's because they are used up and discarded.  I made the tip of my flakers 2-3 times longer than the artifact in the photo above, with the idea that after a few years of heavy use and resharpening, they will wear down and be identical to the archaeological example.  On the wood handle in Maxwell's illustration, the channel gouged to fit the bone flaker is about 2/3 to 3/4 of the entire length.  So, if that channel is 4-5 cm long, then the whole handle must only be 6 to 8 cm long.

I made the flakers longer than the archaeological example so that I would have enough bone to sharpen and reuse the flakers multiple times after they get dull.

Sinew and hide glue hold the flakers together
I'm used to having a little longer handles on my pressure flakers, so I made one handle slightly longer, while keeping one fairly short as in Maxwell's drawing.  The short handled flaker will work as a palm punch.  I also tried to keep the end of the flaker in line with the tip so that the flaker could function as an indirect percussion punch as well as a pressure flaker.  I expected the longer handled flaker to be more comfortable and familiar, but as it turns out, I actually like the feel of the short flaker better.  I'll leave the long one as is for a while, but I expect I'll probably trim a few centimetres off the end at some point.

This style of pressure flaker fits into the palm of the knapper.  You line the flaker up with your radius and ulna to create the force and support that you need to press off flakes.
The finished flakers
I tied the bone tip into the wood handle using sinew and hide glue.  I might try baleen or gut hafting later to create a firmer socket, but for now I'll give sinew a go.  It seems pretty solid, but I'll know better in a few weeks as I work with the tools a bit more.

Patty Wells (the friend who showed me the Port au Choix flakers) sent me this image of flaking tools from the Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo site at Phillips Garden, Port au Choix.  It looks like the top row artifacts are pressure flakers and the bottom row something else - indirect punches perhaps?
Phillip's Garden bone flaking tools.   I love the one in the middle of the top row. - there's only half a centimetre of working   point left on the thing.  They all look well used.

Photo Credits: 
1-6, 8-11: Tim Rast
7: From Moreau Maxwell, Prehistory of the Eastern Arctic
12: Patty Wells

Friday, February 17, 2012

MUNArch Percussion Flintknapping, Part 2

Awesome first biface
Last night was the second MUNArch Percussion Flintknapping workshop.  With the 11 participants from last night, we had a total of 24 people turn out this week.  This is the most interest that I've seen in knapping here for years.  The MUNArch executive did a great job of organizing and pulling this all together.  We'll all be back at it next month for the Pressure Flaking workshops.

Emotions ran high

A few of the pieces turned out.  A pretty impressive toolkit, with bifaces, unifaces, points and blades.

grinding is essential
My throat was feeling pretty ragged by the end of the evening.  I've been fighting a sore throat for the past couple of days and a dry coating of silica dust really didn't help any.  But everyone did a great job.  7:30 slid by again without anyone noticing and its was well after 8 before we though about wrapping things up.  I don't think we went through as many bandaids as we did on Tuesday, but I saw a lot of red fingers.

Another good session - thanks again to MUNArch for sponsoring these workshops.

leather upholstery samples make good knee pads

We'll see these flakes again for pressure flaking.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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