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

1 comment:

  1. CYA You cannot sell migratory birds or parts. Nice work, and cool article.


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