Monday, April 30, 2012

Top 3 Digital Procrastination Ideas to Start the Week

Tilt-shifted Lourdes.
1. Unnecessarily Tilt Shift Old Photos.  Tilt shifting is when you blur the top and bottom of a perfectly good photo to create the illusion that you are looking at a miniature scene.  I found a good online site and iPad app for tilt-shifting photos.   Online, I've been playing with, where you upload a photo, tweak it, and then save it.  Its pretty easy and has a nice range of options.  For the iPad, I used TiltShiftFocus.  I think I prefer the iPad version, although I don't have as many photos to play with on the iPad.  Tiltshiftmaker is free and TiltShiftMaker cost $1.99.

Tilt-shifted Alberta badlands

Slightly tilt-shifted Esco, Spain

I don't know if this is really tilt-shifted, but the vignette blurring was done in TiltShiftFocus on the iPad

2. Learn about Caribou Fences.  Caribou fences were complex wooden features designed to funnel and trap herds of caribou by arctic and subarctic hunters.  Caribou Fence Interactive is a fantastic site out of the Yukon that illustrates the construction, use, and archaeology of caribou fence systems in northwestern Canada.

3. Make MagicPlans.  This is something that I plan to spend a lot more time procrastinating with, because I think it may have archaeology mapping applications.  MagicPlan is a free iPad/iPhone app that lets you construct accurate floorplans using a series of photos that you take in any room.   Its designed to help arrange furniture and create real estate floor plans.  But it seems so quick and easy and accurate that I think it could be used in archaeology to record features, especially on historic or industrial sites.  I've really only played around with this in my house and it mapped my bedroom accurately in a couple minutes.  An archaeologist friend used to to map his backyard.  I'd like to take it around to some of the historic buildings and foundations sprinkled around St. John's and see how it works to record features.  One weakness that I can foresee is that it assumes a horizontal floor surface, which may not always be the case in an archaeological feature - still, I think its worth exploring and experimenting with.

Photo Credits:
1-4: Tim Rast
5: Screen Grab from Caribou Fences Interactive
6: Screen Grab from MagicPlan Website

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tci-tho - an Athapaskan bifacial scraper

An un-ground bifacial slate scraper
So this is kind of cool - I learned about a new type of artifact this week.  One of the artifacts in the Cape Krusenstern collection is a tci-tho slate scraper.  I hadn't heard of them before, but I did a little digging and apparently the name comes from hide-working tools used by Athapaskan peoples, who are spread over the northwestern part of North America.

Rounded working edges
I really need to emphasize that I don't really know anything about these tools other than what I've stumbled across online in the past hour or so and the reference photos that I was sent from Cape Krusenstern.  My first impressions might be off, but I found a couple references to tci-tho and tci-tho-like bifaces in Matson and Magne's 2007 "Athapaskan Migrations: The Archaeology of Eagle Lake, British Columbia: Appendix I".   The reason I found that reference interesting was that it mentions that a couple of the tci-tho-like bifaces tested positively for blood and fat residue, indicating that they were used for "flesh or hide processing".

A loose leather grip? Maybe?
The circular slate disc that I was asked to reproduce from Cape Krusenstern doesn't have any obvious signs of hafting, although this image of a stone scraper from the Bata Shoe Museum's online exhibit called; Tradition and Innovation: Northern Athapaskan Footwear shows a nearly identical slate disc, partially wrapped in cloth to create a grip.  The scraper in the Bata image has a little more polish on the edge than the disc I'm working on, but otherwise its pretty much identical.

Photo Credis: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Set of Maritime Archaic Artifact Reproductions

Maritime Archaic Reproductions
Here's a look at the complete set of Maritime Archaic reproductions that includes the bird bone flute and hafted adze that I highlighted on Monday.  These reproductions will be used in conjunction with some original artifacts and interpretive materials in the Red Bay and Gros Morne areas.  The artifacts that we started with for references included stemmed points, an adze, and a plummet.  The remainder of the reproductions are primarily based on artifacts found in the Martime Archaic burials at Port au Choix.

This is an archaeology case used in a programme that I provided reproductions for a few years ago.  The pieces shown here will help build and expand on the programme.

Slate Lance for Sea Mammals
The Archaic period in Newfoundland and Labrador is a lot more complex than I usually give it credit for on this site.  Generally speaking, the Archaic period in North American archaeology is a time starting 7 or 8 thousand years ago when people seem to have settled down in different regions and developed specialized tool kits for those particular regions.  During the Archaic period in Newfoundland and Labrador people adapted to exploiting marine resources - so it was labelled the Maritime Archaic.  However, there are differences in artifact types and materials through time - the Archaic period spans at least 3 or 4 thousand years in the Province.  There are links and commonalities with Archaic sites in the Maritime Provinces and New England.

Plummets.  These are often made from Steatite (soapstone) and are carved with an incised groove at one end or around the middle. They seem like fishing gear - probably line sinkers.  They could have been used on nets, although I don't think they are found in big enough numbers and they are relatively small.  I believe there was an Honours thesis done at MUN a few years ago that looked at their distribution and form.

Toggling and barbed harpoon heads - like the this one - show up in the Maritime Archaic as part of the regional adaptation to the marine environment.  

People were buried with bird-head combs
There are differences between the Archaic sites found in the southern part of the Province, and more northerly parts of Labrador, so archaeologists have talked about a Southern Branch of Maritime Archaic and a Northern Branch or Labrador Archaic.  Dominic Lacroix is working on a Ph.D. at MUN that examines further regional differences or countries within the Maritime Archaic sites in Newfoundland.  The differences in preservation further complicate things.  We have unusually well preserved artifacts and mortuary remains for the Maritime Archaic in the southern part of the Province, but most of our information on dwellings comes from northern Labrador.  The Archaic sites are the earliest sites in the Province so they have been riding through thousands of years of sea level change which had submerged some sites and elevated others.

I guess its like anything else. The more closely you examine it the more complicated it becomes.

Throughout the Archaic timeline, triangular points were replaced with stemmed points.  The stems grew longer and then started expanding at the base until they became side notches.  That's a trend that happens during the Archaic more-or-less continent wide.

Hafted Adze, ground slate lance, barbed fish spear prong, unhafted adze, three projectile points, bird headed comb, barbed harpoon head, bird bone flute, plummets.  A person could probably have an ok start in the afterlife with a set like this.

Photo Credits:
1, 3-8: Tim Rast
2: Margaret McKeon

Monday, April 23, 2012

Maritime Archaic Flute and Adze

Hafted and unhafted adzes, flute, etc.
I'm packing up and shipping the Maritime Archaic Indian, Groswater Palaeoeskimo, and Recent Indian reproductions bound for Red Bay and Newfoundland's west coast later today.  We had nice sunny weather yesterday so I photographed the finished pieces in the backyard.  In this post, I'll talk a bit about the bird bone flute and the adzes in the set.

Goose humerus flute
For the flute, I used a goose humerus, because it was the biggest bird bone that I had on hand.  The Maritime Archaic Indians made a variety of flutes and whistles from the hollow bones of large birds including geese, gannets, swans, and eagles.  Ulnas seem to have been prefered, but other bones show up as well.  Most of the flutes and whistles that I'm aware of were found in the burials at Port au Choix.  I'm no musician, but I've talked to some people who are passionate about flutes and whistles - so hopefully they'll correct me if I get something wrong here.

blow across the top
This reproduction is a flute, meaning you blow across the opening to produce a sound.  A whistle is an instrument that you blow into the end to make noise.  The Maritime Archaic Indians made both.  In the case of a whistle, a slanted notch or hole is made somewhere midway down the shaft of the bone.  For a flute, you need to cut a small slanted notch in the end that you blow across.  You play it by blowing across the top, similar to how you make a noise blowing across a bottle mouth.  That little notch is important - it splits the air and creates the sound of the flute.  I wasn't aware of the mechanics of flutes the first time I made a Maritime Archaic bird bone flute and I though that little half hole was a crack in the bone where it broke through a finger hole.  That's not correct - it was intentionally made.  If you look carefully at the intact flutes from the province, you'll see a little notch on the end of every one.  If its missing that notch, look at the holes along the body of the instrument - one will probably have a slant edge to it, indicating that it was a whistle.

The end notch is important
I'm not a musician.  At all.  I was in a marching band in elementary school and they kicked me off the bugle and put me on baritone bugle because it had fewer parts in most songs and my errors were less shrill.  Then they took me off the baritone bugle and made me a flag bearer.  Still, if I blow on this flute and get the angles right I can get it to make a sound, especially if I keep my finger over the top hole and keep the bottom hole open.  The impression that I get is that smaller bones makes a more shrill noise, whereas those big wing bones from the bigger birds would create a lower, more pleasant sound.  I know that the baritone bugle was bigger than the regular bugle and it made a lower noise, so I'm guessing the same principle is at work here.

Adzes were woodworking tools
For the adze, I used a silicified slate or argillite for the bit, hardwood for the handle, sealskin for the lashing and ochre and oil, water, and egg for the pigment.  The complete adze will be there for the kids to pass around and handle, while the unhafted blade will be used in the mock dig.  For these sorts of stone tools, I like to leave traces of all the stages of manufacture in place.  Some axes, adzes, or gouges that we find in the province are perfectly finished and polished, but most have a nicely finished (and perhaps use damaged) bit end, but the rest of the body of the adze is more roughly shaped and usually show traces of chipping and pecking.  We don't find the wood handle or lashing, so that's a bit of guesswork based on other adzes from around the world.

The working bit on an Maritime Archaic Adze is usually the most heavily worked and finely finished part of the tool.  The rest of the stone would have been buried under lashings and wasn't as finely finished or polished.

Bit sits on a shelf, but doesn't butt against the back
The proximal ends of adzes are often irregular and I've sometimes wondered why they aren't more carefully finished.  It seems like they could be carefully shaped to butt up against the handle and create a more secure bond.  Robin Wood has been part of a team building a reconstruction of a Bronze Age boat and he made many of the woodworking tools used in the effort.  He noted in his bronze adzes that if the back of the bit made contact with the wood handle it would bounce loose during use. In Newfoundland, the Palaeoeskimos used antler sockets for their stone adzes to act as shock absorbers to prevent this problem, but I think that the Maritime Archaic probably just made sure that the back of their adze blades didn't make contact with the wood handle.  I've started leaving a gap between the distal end of adze blades and the wood handle in my Maritime Archaic reproductions now.

I have a lot of sealskin thong on hand, so I use it on reproductions like this.  Different sorts of leather or rawhide lacing could have been used as well as cordage made from plants or roots.  We don't get wood or leather preservation in Maritime Archaic sites in Newfoundland and Labrador, so we details of the handle and lashing are based on analogies with other adze using cultures.

A forked branch is used to make the handle.  I try not to get stuck in a rut when I make reproductions like this.  Since I 'm speculating on the style of handle, I like to change things up - maybe someday I'll accidentally make one that is correct.  For this particular adze, I left a longer knob opposite the bit end and covered the whole thing in red ochre.  I'm happy with it.  I think if I sent it back in a time machine and someone in a Maritime Archaic camp tripped over it they'd wonder who left that there and not "what the heck is that thing?"
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 20, 2012

Wrapping up the Week

Bird combs, ready to ochre
Today, I'm working on the last of the reproductions bound for teaching kits and a mock dig at Red Bay, Labrador.  Its primarily Groswater Palaeoeskimo and Maritime Archaic Indian reproductions, although there is one Recent Indian arrow in the mix.  The arrow is done and all of the Groswater reproductions are finished, except for the lashings and line on a harpoon.  

Grinding the ochre
The Maritime Archaic pieces are all finished, except for the ochre.  I think I'll ochre all the archaic artifacts reproductions this time. I still don't know if things like adzes or projectile points would have been covered in ochre when they were in day-to-day use, but it does help make the reproductions look cool.  It also creates a talking point for interpreters.  My pet theory is that ochre and grease on tools in this damp part of the world was a waterproofing agent that would help prolong the life of the objects that they coated.

Patty and Bjarne and whalebone
It would be simple enough to test a theory like that, I just need to get organized enough to come up with an experiment and do it.  Perhaps what I need to do is plan some purely experimental time into my yearly workshop schedule, rather than try to tack the experiments on to regular Elfshot work.  I alluded in Wednesday's post that I wanted to get a little more organized about the experimental archaeology side of the job. While Bjarne Grønnow was in town earlier this week for Patty Well's Ph.D. defense (passed with distinction - congratulations!) I had a chance to hang out while the two of them and Priscilla Renouf went through some of the organic Dorset artifacts from Port au Choix. There's a place for making reproductions and playing around with them to see how they work and what their limits are, but Bjarne encouraged a little more systematic and rigourous approach to experimenting with reproductions.  Hopefully, more on that later.

Groswater harpoon assembly
Anyhow, for now, I'm wrapping up one order in the workshop and moving full time into the Cape Krusenstern reproductions next week. I'll probably post a few more shots of the reproductions bound for Red Bay once everything is assembled, stained, and dried.  There are one or two pieces in there that I have never made before, so it was fun for me.

Burning blubber inside a Choris pot for Cape Krusenstern.  I want to stain the inside of the pot  with grease as much as possible before breaking it apart into sherds.  A big hole blew out in the side above the flame not long after this photo. Oh well, it has to come apart somehow.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

500th Post

500 pages in and counting
I started this blog in February 2009 and quickly settled on a routine of publishing posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I've stuck to that schedule ever since and this post is number 500. It seems like a milestone worth mentioning. According to the initial post, I planned to use the blog "to keep a record of the work I'm doing now and in the future."  The site has evolved a bit since then, but that is still more-or-less its purpose.  Maybe that goal should change or expand.

Monthly stats for Elfshot: Sticks and Stones since August 2009.  Currently, the site averages just over 10,000 Page Loads and just under 6,000 Unique Visits per month.  Over the course of a year, visitors seem to go up in the spring when I'm in the workshop and posting  about new projects.  Folks wander off during the summers while I'm in the field, and slowly rediscover the site in the fall.

Most people are here for wolfkillers
I'm nosy about other bloggers' stats, but I don't think I've ever shared mine here.  Blogger has built in statistics which came online a year or two ago - that's how the sidebar section called "Popular Posts" is generated.  There are different display options for Popular Posts, but the ones regularly displayed on this site are the most visited pages in the past month.  I like that option because it usually shows a mix of new and old posts and changes a few times a week.  But I can also see what the most popular posts are from the past day, week, or all time.

The Three Most Popular Posts of All Time are:
  1. Baleen Wolfkiller: Fact or Fiction?
  2. How does a Thule Harpoon Work?
  3. Patinating Copper Experiments
Locations of visitors to this page Before Blogger started tracking site stats, I began tracking statistics with ClustrMaps and StatCounter.  ClustrMaps says that the site has had 91,033 visitors since March 2009.  StatCounter says that there have been 194,093 page loads since August 2009 and 111,069 unique visitors since August 2009.  I'm not sure why StatCounter lists more visits in less time, but I suspect that ClustrMap may have more strict filters for weeding out revisits from the same user or IP address.

Puzzles like this foreshaft keep me going
So has it been worth it?  I think so.  I've learned a lot from the comments that people leave and the discussions that arise from the posts.  I use the site frequently as a notebook of past projects to check back and see what worked or didn't work.  I've been contacted by colleagues and strangers who let me know that some photo or discussion on the blog was useful to them or their students. I've reconnected with old friends and family because of the site.  New clients have contacted me because of work that they've seen on the blog.  I know that I'm pretty lousy when it comes to presenting or publishing my work in more conventional and scholarly forums, but at least some of the observations and ideas are being preserved and presented until I can work them into papers or publications that are a little easier to cite. In preparing this review post, I've realized the value of keeping this type of open notebook, but its starting to feel like a closet full of field notes that have never been properly written up or published.  I feel like I should do something more with it all.  I think that should be my new approach to the site during the next 500 posts.  I'll keep doing the work and recording it here, but I want to make more of an effort to get the ideas off the blog and into some more conventional formats that are a little easier for other archaeologists and experimenters to access and evaluate.

Photo Credits: 
1: Eric Walsh
2,4: Tim Rast
3: ClustrMaps

Monday, April 16, 2012

Groswater Palaeoeskimo Side-scraper

Chert, Wood, Sinew, Hide Glue
This is a reproduction of a Groswater Palaeoeskimo side-scraper hafted in a wood handle with sinew lashing and hide glue.  This reproduction is for the teaching kit that will be used in Red Bay and western Newfoundland.  The stone tool is based on artifacts found in Groswater sites throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.  Side-scrapers show up in Palaeoeskimo sites across the arctic and subarctic for thousands of years.  Their concave working edge appears well suited for working organic surfaces like wood, antler, or ivory.

These tools were ground flat
The Groswater version of this tool was usually made on a flat, rectangular blank that contracts slightly at the distal end.  Identical blanks were used for burin-like tools.  A burin-like tool might be converted into a side-scraper at almost any time during its life.  It would be more difficult to go the other way and transform a side-scraper into a burin-like tool, but anything is possible.

We found a good reduction sequence in the Groswater layer at the Peat Garden  site at Bird Cove, Newfoundland.  The large knapped blank on the left could have been turned into a side-scraper or a burin-like tool.  Looking at this photo makes me curious about why the patches of grinding weathered so differently on the two types of tools.  What makes the BLT grinding turn white like that?  The deposition was identical -- was it how they were used?

Good for removing bark
Groswater side-scrapers were often ground flat on both faces and they have a wide, stable base with side-notches or expanding stems for hafting.  They seem designed to fit into a slotted handle and to be tied in place with some sort of narrow lashing - most likely sinew.  The working edge of the side-scraper becomes more concave as it is used and resharpened.  The beak that forms through resharpening seems like it could function as an engraving edge like a burin-like tool, although I'm not aware of how frequently usewear shows up on these tips.

Groswater Side-scraper Reprorduction
I made a short flat wood handle for this side-scraper.  There are beautiful ergonomic side-scraper handles found in the slightly earlier Saqqaq site at Qeqertasassuk, Greenland, but those side-scrapers were stemmed for hafting.  I used those handles as a reference for the general size of the handle, but used wood handles from Newfoundland and Labador Palaeoeskimo sites to guide the shape.  I made a simple handle with a rectangular cross-section that would fit into a toolkit alongside the Groswater harpoon shaft found at L'Anse aux Meadows.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 13, 2012

MUN Archaeology Lecture: Bjarne Grønnow

Another very interesting public archaeology talk is coming to Memorial University this Monday.  Bjarne Grønnow, a Danish archaeologist working on Palaeoeskimo sites in Greenland, will be talking about some of the amazingly preserved Saqqaq sites in Disko Bay.  One of the sites,  Qeqertasussuk, is a site that I reference frequently in my work.  I've made reproductions of some of the baleen wrapped knives found there and human hair from the site allowed scientists to sequence a Palaeoeskimo genome.

Bjarne excavating
That's all cool, but really I'm excited because Bjarne is a super nice guy.  In 1994, he accompanied a University of Calgary archaeology project to Little Cornwallis Island that I worked on as a student.  I recall one horrible windy day where work was called off because of the terrible weather.  Four of us sat huddled in one tiny Logan tent that was snapping like a drum around us.  It was too loud to hear or think and we were several kilometres away from the main camp.  We were feeling pretty low, until we heard a rustling at the tent flap and Bjarne's beaming face, followed by a bottle of schnapps, poked inside.  He drove a quad from the main camp in weather that wasn't fit to be in just to pop in for a chat and to share a nip of schnapps.

Danish National Museum, Copenhagen

will give a talk

At Close Quarters with the Arctic Pioneers: News from the Frozen Saqqaq Sites in Disko Bay, West Greenland

Department of Archaeology
Queens College, MUN, St. John's
ROOM 2013
4:00 pm

Photo Credits: 
1: John Lee from Naturens Verden 1988
2: Photo cropped from the McDougall Sound Archaeological Research Project virtual slide show

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Firing the Thule Pots

Whole and exploded pots
I fired the Thule and Choris/Norton pots yesterday, with generally positive results.   Laurie let me use one of the fire pits on The Compound for this phase of the project.  Of the six pots that started the firing, one was reduced to a ziploc bag full of barely recognizable pottery sherds by the end of the day.  The remaining five stayed in more-or-less one piece, although two had sizeable heat spalls pop off in the second hour of the firing.

Looking good on the outside
I fired them for just under three hours, turning them every 10-15 minutes.  I'm not sure exactly what the firing accomplished.  I wouldn't say that the pots are fired like ceramics in a kiln.  I don't think there was a significant change in the chemistry of the clay, but it got hot and dry and hopefully a little harder and more durable.  They should be a little more stable now, although I didn't get all of the colour change that I was hoping for.  A couple of the pots have a good colour on the outside, but the clay inside is still very light coloured.  I need them to be almost black in cross-section so I'll have to antique them a bit more once I crack the sherds into shape.

The  six pots before the firing. 

The five survivors at the end.

This one lasted about a minute
I had originally planned to put two pots directly in the fire and heat the remaining four around the edge.  These are pretty fresh pots, with a lot of moisture in them.  I made half of them five days before the firing and the other half four days before the firing.  In pottery terms, I'm sure I would have had much safer results if I had waited another week or two for the pots to dry.  But, even stretching the drying time to four or five days was pretty generous for this style of pottery which would traditionally go from raw clay to firing all in one day.  The plan to put two pots in the fire ended pretty abruptly when the first pot that I put in started exploding almost immediately.  It kept popping like popcorn until it was rubble.  The two video clips below show the pot popping.  Based on that, I didn't bother putting a second pot into the fire.

At the end of the firing, I fished these and a dozen other fragements from the exploded pot out of the coals.

They hold water without reverting to mud
When I got the pots home I wanted to see if they would hold water.  They were still warm from the fire and I didn't want to risk thermal shock so I filled them to the brim with warm water.  They all held water, so I let them sit for about 15 minutes to see if the water would slowly seep through them or if they'd turn back into mud.  When I checked on them again, the two blood coated Thule pots had developed big cracks around the rim.  I'm guessing that they started to reabsorb the water and tried to expand, which led to the cracking.

Cracks formed in the two thicker pots with the best seal blood coating.  There was one thick pot that didn't crack, so I don't think it was thickness alone that caused the problem.

Surface heat spalls
So at the end of the day, I really only have one pot left intact.  Two survived the firing, but are now cracked from the water, two have surfaces pitted with heat spalls, but can hold water, and the sixth pot is in inch sized fragments.  As far as making pots go - this would have to fall into the "learning experience" rather than "howling success" category.  However, for making sherds, I think I'm still on track and can continue to work with these vessels.  Even the surface heat spalls might work out for me.  The sherd that I'm trying to match has a couple areas where the outer rind of the pot has flaked off in a similar size and shape to the heat spalls.

The interesting things that I want to remember for next time:

  • Don't put the pots in the fire - heat them around the edge of the flames.
  • Pots coated with seal blubber only were the ones to experience surface heat spalls after 2 hours of firing.
  • The seal blood adheres to the pots best if it goes on while they are still cool and barely dry.  Blood smeared on the pots on the hot sunny day flaked off in the firing.
  • The two thickest pots with seal blood coating were the two that cracked from the added water.  Thinner pots and those smeared with seal blubber only, did not crack.

The three pots in the foreground had seal blood on them at the start of the firing.  The two on the left had the blood applied on a cool day, while the pots were barely dry.  It stayed caked on and was cooked onto the surface - although they are also the two pots that cracked when I filled them with water.  The taller pot on the right had the blood coating applied on a hot sunny day and it never really adhered like the other two.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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