Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Area Man Lucky to Have Work Whines About It

Cape Krusenstern reproductions
I’m really starting to feel a time crunch on the Cape Krusenstern order. Just about everything is started, and I’m moving a couple pieces into the finished pile everyday, but there still seems like a lot to do. I haven’t been able to keep up with the all the photography and recording that I like to do.

Nephrite adze bits

Microblades and core
I spent most of yesterday working on microblades and made some small progress.  I tend to have problems keeping the core going after the first few microblades are removed and I find it hard to keep the blades in one piece as they pop off.  I was using indirect percussion to detach the flakes and supported the core in a slotted caribou long bone.  I wish I could have recorded what I'm talking about with photos, but I didn't feel that I could take the time to properly document it all.  In lieu of photos, I’ll just mention that I found preparing the platforms with a pressure flaker, rather than simply grinding it with a hammerstone made a big difference in keeping core going. 

Microblade with two ridges (arrises)
I had trouble keeping the microblades in one piece at first, but found that detaching one or two small flakes behind the platform on top of the core let me pop of slightly thicker blades that tended to stay in one piece. It was especially helpful in making blades with two arrises, which is what I needed for this particular order. Sorry, without photos that probably doesn’t make much sense, but I basically set up and isolated each microblade platform sort of like setting up and isolating a channel flake on a fluted point. Those one or two little flake removals behind the platform on top of the core made a big difference in the success rates of the microblades.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, May 28, 2012

Framed Beothuk Arrow Reproduction

Not long ago, Lori and I sent a Beothuk arrow reproduction to a friend as a wedding present.  This weekend he sent a photo of the arrow framed and hung over the mantle.

Photo Credit: Stephen Gale

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy Ten Years Lori!

Sometimes we can even work together, which I hear is rare.  This photo was taken last summer in Nunavut.

Photo Credit: Eric John Penny

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Middle Dorset Harpoon Reproduction (mostly..)

Dorset Harpoon
Its been kind of a hectic week.  I shipped this harpoon and the atlatl from last Friday's post off to Mount Royal University in Calgary today and I'm still plugging away on the Cape Krusenstern reproductions.  Mild panic is starting to set in from the rapidly approaching field season and somehow I got sucked into the middle of the controversy surrounding the Parks Canada Archaeology cuts.

Krusenstern, still working
Since I first posted my concerns about what is happening to archaeology at Parks Canada 10 days ago, I've had a couple thousand extra people visit the blog to read the posts on the topic and that interest turned into two local radio interviews, one national radio interview and a print interview with the Toronto Star.   I'll continue to make updates to the blog post called Updated: Summary of Archaeology Cuts to Parks Canada Agency, but that's enough of that for now - I don't want being an amateur curmudgeon to take over this blog.

chert tip-fluted endblade on harpoon
The harpoon that I sent to Calgary is a Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon based on artifacts from Newfoundland and Labrador.  The harpoon head and foreshaft are based on artifacts collected over the past several decades by Memorial University researchers working at the National Historic Site at Port au Choix.  I've mentioned Port au Choix pretty much weekly every since I started this blog - here's a link to a big order that I prepared for the site last spring for interpreters to use in hands-on programming.  Port au Choix is one of the National Historic Sites that is losing its interpretive staff as part of the Parks Canada cuts coming out of the current federal budget, so who knows if you'll actually see a person holding these things if you visit the site after Bill C-38 passes.  Sorry, I promised I would try to avoid that topic, but its all connected.

Middle Dorset Harpoon Reproduction; spruce main shaft, sealskin lashings and line, braided sinew lanyard, antler foreshaft and harpoon head, chert endblade.

Foreshaft & Harpoon Head
Ok.  The harpoon head is made from antler and I used antler for the short foreshaft as well.  This is a Dorset style harpoon and there are fragments of  harpoon shafts from Dorset sites in the Arctic, but based on the geographic, if not temporal proximity, I used the tamarack Groswater Palaeoeskimo harpoon shaft from L'Anse Aux Meadows as my primary reference for the main shaft.  The original artifact and the reproduction that I made of it are on display in the new exhibits dedicated to the aboriginal story of L'Anse aux Meadows - a National Historic Site excavated by independent researchers, Memorial University archaeologists, and Parks Canada archaeologists over the past 50 years.  The particular artifact that I based this main shaft on came out of the Parks Canada excavations at the site in the 1970s.  Up until this exhibit, it was stored in an archaeological laboratory in Dartmouth along with the other artifacts from the site not on display in the interpretation centre in Newfoundland.  Parks Canada is 3 years into a 20 year lease on this building and it is one of the service centres being shut down because of the budget cuts.  Everything that was stored in it is being relocated to Ottawa along with millions of other artifacts and historic objects from similar labs located in Calgary, Winnipeg, Cornwall, and Quebec.  Dammit, I did it again. Forget it. I need a beer.

Adam, I promise I'm still working on these.  These are Cape Krusenstern reproductions in progress - a knife handle, a nephrite adze fragment and a barbed point found in two pieces.  For scale, the barbed point is about the size of a ballpoint pen.  Its pretty much ready to break in half to match the original artifacts.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, May 21, 2012

Canadian Archaeological Association Public Communication Award Winners 2012

Archaeologists don't get to keep what we find.  The objects and the understanding that come from archaeological research belong to everyone.  Every year the Canadian Archaeological Association celebrates those people and institutions inside and outside the profession who do an exemplary job of communicating with the public about Canadian Archaeology by handing out Public Communication Awards.  Currently, the awards are in two categories; Writer/Producer and Professional/Institutional.  I'm on the awards committee and I've been chomping at the bit to mention the winners ever since we discussed the submissions at the end of April.  The winners have finally been announced, so I don't think that I'll spoil anything if I add my congratulations to all the winners.  Well done, everyone.  Two awards were handed out in each category at the Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Conference in Montreal last week.


Hydro Crew Hits Historical Bonanza: Rock Piles Mark Thompson Post  by Bill Redekop, Winnipeg Free Press. This article about an accidental discovery of an unusual pile of rocks that turned out to be the remains of a fort built and burned by David Thompson in 1792-93, weaves together the work of the archaeologists uncovering the site with the life and adventures of Thompson himself.

Field School Experience Par Excellence: Anthropology graduate oversees work on a significant archaeological site near Thunder Bay by Erin Collins and Frances Harding, Agora Online.  Co-authored by a student journalist, this article explores the work done by Lakehead University alumni, students, and staff at one of the richest PalaeoIndian sites ever excavated in Ontario.


The Yukon and Northwest Territories are leading the country in the quality and availability of their archaeology publications.

Inuvialuit artifacts from Kuukpak: a 500 year old village near the mouth of the Mackenzie River, Northwest Territories, Canada by Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Government of Northwest Territories.  I love this book.  It doesn't contain a lot of text, but the story that it tells through photographs and illustrations is a rich one with contributions from archaeologists and Inuvialuit elders and students.  Perhaps best of all, you can view the entire book online through the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre website.

The Frozen Past: The Yukon Ice Patches by Government of Yukon.  Another Fantastic book from the Canada's north.  Ice Patch archaeology is one of the biggest stories to break in Canadian Archaeology in the past 15 years.  Delicate organic objects are melting out of receding ice patches that have been frequented by caribou and caribou hunters for thousands of years.  Its a well-illustrated and detailed story that brings together archaeologists, climate researchers and First Nations peoples.  This book is also available free of charge, in its entirety online as a .pdf.   The link in the title takes you directly to the .pdf of the The Frozen Past, but you really should check out this link to the full list of publications by the Government of the Yukon, Department of Tourism and Culture - there are dozens of high quality publications available free in .pdf or html format.  

I hope everyone keeps these awards in mind over the upcoming year as they publish and promote their own work or see an outstanding example of public communication by a friend or colleague.  The deadline for next year's awards will be March 15, 2013.  Details for submission are on the CAA website.

Photo Credits: Screen captures from the linked websites, books and articles.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Plains Atlatl

Northern Plains Atlatl Reproduction
This is a reproduction of a Northern Plains atlatl for Mount Royal University in Calgary.  This atlatl and a Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon will be used as examples of artifacts by anthropology professors in the classroom.  The atlatl didn't have to be functional, but a functional reproduction is a more accurate reproduction, so I chose to make something robust enough to stand up to years of wear and tear.  Besides, I had a bit of steam to blow off this week, so I spent a couple hours flinging darts around a nearby park to make sure everything worked properly.

It extends the throwers arm
In the above video, I had all of the parts duct taped in place to check that the spur and weight were properly fit.  It should give you some idea of how an atlatl works to fire a dart.  The atlatl extends a persons arm, greatly increasing the force and distance that they can put behind launching a projectile.  This was a major technological innovation over throwing a spear by hand.  The technology was phased out with the introduction of the bow and arrow in most places, although it never really disappeared.  In was used into historic times in the arctic because it could be operated from a sitting position with one hand, which made it perfect for use in a kayak to launch bird darts or harpoons.  Similarly, it was used in Mesoamerica for hunting birds on the water and pinning Spaniards into their armour, when the need arose.

Moving my body weight forward onto my right foot
The throw is fast and overhand

Shoulder, elbow, and wrist all snap forward to launch the dart
The dart should detach smoothly from the spur

Follow-through.  On this particular day I was throwing darts about 45-50 metres., which is at least 2 or 3 times farther than I can throw the same darts without the atlatl.

Wedge-shaped antler spur
There are a few perfectly preserved atlatls from arid regions south and west of the Great Plains and from frozen areas to the north, but I'm not aware of any complete preserved atlatls from the Plains themselves.  Atlatls are usually composite tools and occasionally the bone or antler spur or the stone weights will be recovered from archaeological sites.  I used a fairly simple wedge shaped antler tine for the spur, slightly countersunk into the wood and lashed in place with gut.  I used gut for all the lashings because it has a slightly more robust look than sinew and I feel that it works well for archaic reproductions and darts.  I didn't have to make any darts for this particular piece, but an atlatl dart is often built like an oversized arrow and since gut has the look of oversized sinew when it dries, I though it would be an appropriate material to use.

The spur fits into a shallow socket or dimple on the base of the dart, which would often be fletched, just like a big arrow.

A stone weight tied to the shaft
The atlatl weight that I used is made from argillite and is an elongated "boat-shaped" form based on weights found in the central and northern plains, as illustrated in Neuman's 1967 American Antiquity article; Atlatl Weights from Certain Sites on the Northern and Central Great Plains.  These weights would be tied in place along the body of the atlatl and for a while their function perplexed archaeologists.  Some people thought that they might help create momentum, but they didn't seem to improve the range or power of the darts propelled by atlatls.  Now, it seems likely that they are there to help balance the system.  When the dart is loaded into the atlatl and the hunter holds the atlatl in the ready position, the added weight can help balance the atlatl and dart together.  Without a weight, a heavy dart will pull the front of the system down and it becomes very uncomfortable to hold in a short time.  Like trying to balance a tray of drinks over your shoulder with all the glasses on one side of the tray.  Add a  glass or two to the other side and it becomes much easier to hold.  There's a really good paper on the subject by Larry Kinsella here.  Check out the graphs at the bottom of the page to see the difference in muscle strain that adding a weight to an atlatl makes.

The added stone weight will help balance the system.  I'm holding a relatively short dart in this photo, but atlatl darts could be much longer and heavier.  Holding this ready position for several minutes while hunting would be much easier if the atlatl and dart were in balance.

Leather finger loops and gut binding
The rest of this particular reproduction is a little more speculative.  The length is of an atlatl is often described as the distance from your elbow to the tip of your finger.  For the shaft I used tamarack and I wanted a relatively simple stick shape, although I did taper it towards the spur and added slight finger notches.  I didn't want it to be too flat or to have a channel, like many southwestern atlatls.  For the finger loops I used an old leather knapping pad that was worn soft.  The function of the loops is to help grip the atlatl and prevent it from flying away when throwing.  I hope the client likes it.  This is one of those reproductions that I'm kicking myself for not making two and keeping one for myself.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Updated: Summary of Archaeology Cuts to Parks Canada Agency

I don't know if we'll get an official summary of the cuts to Archaeology in Parks Canada.  But these are the devastating numbers that I've collected from friends and colleagues so far. As the picture comes into focus,  its not getting any prettier.  I'm making updates and corrections to this post as I hear more. Leave a comment, or if you'd prefer;  The italicised Work Force Adjustment summary numbers come from a Parks Canada document that was summarized by the archaeologists at the University of Laval - their letters of concern are copied at the bottom of this post.

British Columbia:
  • Work Force Adjustment summary: 1 of 2 archaeologists lost. The remaining position will be lost in September, leaving 0 archaeologists on the Pacific Coast.

Calgary, Alberta:
  • Lab Closing, artifacts going to Ottawa
  • 10 of 14 cultural heritage positions affected or lost
  • 2 Archaeologists left in Western Region
  • Work Force Adjustment summary: 6 of  7 (CBC says 8) archaeologists lost, 1 assistant archaeologist remains

Winnipeg, Manitoba:
  • Lab Closing, artifacts going to Ottawa
  • Work Force Adjustment summary: 3 archaeology positions left in Western and Northern regions; down from 10

Cornwall, Ontario:
  • Lab Closing, artifacts going to Ottawa
  • 1 Archaeologist left (reduced to seasonal); down from 9 employed before April 1, 2012.
  • Material Culture Researchers; 3 retired, 3 'affected', 1 reduced to seasonal
  • Collections Managers; 1 fired, 2 retained
  • Work Force Adjustment summary: 6 of 7 archaeology positions lost, 1 junior part time archaeologist left

Ottawa, Ontario:
  • Archaeological Services Branch: 4 of 8 archaeology policy positions lost
    • Archaeology Policy no longer has a voice at management table 
  • Work Force Adjustment summary: 
    • Underwater Archaeology Section; untouched.
    • Material Culture Section; all 5 researchers gone.

Quebec City, Quebec:
  • Lab Closing, Quebec artifacts going to Ottawa
  • 1 Archaeologist left; down from 27 people who worked at Gare Maritime Champlain last year. (read Pierre Cloutier's letter about the cuts in Quebec)
  • 1 collections Manager; job relocated to Ottawa
  • 3 conservators; all relocated to Ottawa
  • Work Force Adjustment summary: 10 of 12 archaeology positions lost, 1 archaeologist and 1 curator of collections to remain

Halifax, Nova Scotia:
  • Lab Closing (Dartmouth), Atlantic artifacts going to Ottawa
  • 2 Archaeologists left; down from 3 Archaeologists, 3 Material Culture Researchers, and 1 admin assistant at its peak
  • 1 Collections Manager
  • Louisbourg has 1 Archaeologist and 1 Collections Manager (reduced to seasonal)
  • Work Force Adjustment summary: 8 of 12 archaeologists lost

Arctic Canada:
  • Work Force Adjustment summary: 1 archaeologist to cover all of the Arctic.
  • Update: The sole Arctic archaeology specialist position has been surplussed. 

National Programming Cuts:
  • Parks Canada conservators reduced from 33 to 8
  • Education Outreach Program has been scrapped
  • GIS staff eliminated from Service Centres and Field Units.
  • Interpretive staff being replaced by self-guided tours at 27 National Historic Sites across Canada. (Port au Choix, Castle Hill, and Ryan Premises on the list for Newfoundland and Labrador)
  • Historical Research Branch - 3 of the 3 positions related to First Nations' culture, history, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes eliminated (contrary to Parks Canada's Strategic Priority to commemorate Aboriginal History)
  • According to a Parks Canada organizational flowchart, the new Parks Canada Cultural Sciences Branch "will focus on historical research and terrestrial and underwater archaeological research at both the national and the field level." 45 management (n=7) and staff positions (n=38) will be divided into four sections:
    • Historical Research which will provide research in support of Agency priorities and projects, the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. 2 Research Managers, 13 Historians
    • A Field Research Program which will provide historical research services for field units. 1 Field Research Program Manager, 9 Historians
    • Underwater Archaeology will continue to undertake underwater archaeology projects in support of field units and other functional areas of the Agency. 1 Underwater Archaeology Manager, 7 Underwater Archaeologists/Diving Technicians
    • Terrestrial Archaeology which will provide terrestrial archaeological services to field units and other functional areas of the Agency. 1 Terrestrial Archaeology Manager, 10 Archaeologists

Letters, Interviews, and Articles:

Rob Ferguson, a retired Parks Canada Archaeologist, is interviewed on this Information Morning Nova Scotia clip (May 8, 2012).

Pierre Cloutier's letter about the cuts in Quebec.  Pierre is the last Parks Canada archaeologist left working in Quebec after these cuts. (May 10, 2012)

Archaeologists and conservators in Nova Scotia discuss the impact of closing the Parks Canada Lab in Dartmouth in the CBC story below. (May 11, 2012)

Parcs Canada abolit 45 postes à Québec. La Presse (May 16, 2012)

Here's an interview that I did with the Corner Brook Morning Show about this issue (May 16, 2012).

Here's an interview that I did with the Central Morning Show in Grand Falls-Windsor (May16,2012).  My section starts at 8:44 in and No, I'm not a Parks Canada archaeologist, although I frequently do reproduction work for them.  In the interview I refer to 19 archaeologists in Cornwall, Ontario being reduced to 1 - that was a bit of a fumble on my part - the 19 people I was referring to includes archaeologists, material culture researchers, and collections managers.  The detailed breakdown is listed above.

Job Cuts will Hurt the Preservation of Canada's Past, Say Experts. Toronto Star, May 17, 2012

Lettre de l'Association des archéologues du Québec au sujet des coupures à Parcs Canada.  May 17, 2012

Parks Canada mum on lease for building set to close. Chronicle Herald, May 19, 2012

Goodbye live interpreters, hello smart-phone apps. Globe and Mail, May 20, 2012

Bringing National Parks to People. Globe and Mail, May 20, 2012. Contains this quote about the cuts to Parks Canada: "The rest of the cuts, 70 per cent, will affect scientists and social scientists, as well as the people that curate and conserve artifacts and collections or who are involved in planning and public consultations, said Mr. Fisher. Programs to introduce people, including new Canadians, to camping in the parks will remain. "

Parks Canada staffing cuts spark worry: Federal agency also plans to move regional labs and artifact collections to Ottawa. CBC Calgary, May 22, 2012

Archaeology Cuts. Calgary Eyeopener, CBC, May 22, 2012

Archaeology Parks Cuts. As It Happens, CBC Radio, May 22, 2012. I've done contractual work for Parks Canada making reproductions and filming knapping demos, but I don't work at L'Anse aux Meadows or make reproductions exclusively for Parks as suggested in the interview.

L'archéologie canadienne sous les coupures. Agence Science-Presse, May 22, 2012

Parks Canada job cuts felt far and wide throughout Rockies. Calgary Herald, May 23, 2012. "King said in Alberta, for example, 80 per cent of the archeologists doing field work within national parks will no longer have jobs."

Society for American Archaeology Letter of concern to Prime Minister Harper. May 23, 2012

Is Parks Canada considering selling historic collections? Peter Pope's interview on the Central Morning Show, Newfoundland. May 24, 2012.

Parks Canada Cuts. Society for Historical Archaeology Blog. May 24, 2012. Contains the SHA letter of concern to Prime Minister Harper.

Permit glitch holds up cemetery work. The Chronicle Herald. May 26, 2012.  Without Parks Canada archaeologists, there is no one to issue permits for other researchers who want to work in Parks.

Draconian cuts to Parks Canada. Canadian Archaeological Association President William Ross responds to the cuts to Parks Canada Archaeology. May 30, 2012.

Budget Cuts to Parks Canada. Of Cemeteries and Cellars: The Archaeological Diary of Grand-Pré. June 1, 2012. First hand account of what these cuts mean for archaeology and Canadians.

Canadian Archaeology and the Age of Austerity. Heritage Business Journal. June 5, 2012. By Jim Finnigan.

The Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology. Letter of concern to Prime Minister Harper. June 5, 2012

Parks Canada urged to abandon artifact move.  CBC News Nova Scotia. June 6, 2012. "It's not a way to run a Federation - its a way to dismantle a Federation."

Parks Canada Archaeology Being Decimated. Anthropology News, American Anthropological Association. June 6, 2012. By Bob Muckle. "Parks Canada archaeology is unlikely to ever again be the excellent model for heritage research, management, conservation, education, and publication it once was; and that’s a shame."

Compressions fédérales - De l’utilité évidente de l’archéologie. Le Devoir. June 7, 2012. by Christian Gates St-Pierre

Closing archeology lab against UN spirit: SMU prof. CBC News Nova Scotia. June 8, 2012. Interview with Jonathan Fowler.

History sent packing by Cuts. Winnipeg Free Press. June 12, 2012. "They are literally closing down the vast majority of records and our heritage and our history"

Manitoba history shipped to Ottawa. CBC News Manitoba. June 12, 2012.

Pétition : Protection du patrimoine culturel et historique du Québec. Assemblée nationale du Québec. June 13, 2012.

Parks Canada Minister defends artifact move.  CBC News. June 13, 2012

Une employée «déloyale» de Parcs Canada doit rester chez elle. Le Soleil. June 14, 2012. Punitive measures against Parks Canada Quebec region head of archaeology for unloyal comportment (she supported redundant staff).

Hyperbole of Historic Proportions.  Winnipeg Free Press. June 14, 2012.

Moving historic artifacts to Quebec 'stupid, insensitive' . Vancouver Sun. June 15, 2012. "The Conservatives, who were once all about decentralization, are now, apparently, all for it, moving the cultural heritage of Canadians from the regions where it originated to a Central Canada warehouse where nobody will be able to get at it."

Canada's archaeologists angry over budget cuts. Global National. June 22, 2012. "Just like it's important for individuals to have memory, it's important for societies to have memory."

University of Laval Archaeologists Respond to the Cuts (English)


What Can You Do?

How can you help? Write, phone or e-mail your local MP and the following officials:
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada,
Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment,
James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages,
Alan Latourelle, Chief Executive Officer, Parks Canada

Photo Credits: Screen Capture from Parks Canada's Archaeology webpage

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What is Happening to Archaeology at Parks Canada?

Signal Hill National Historic Site
In 2011, Parks Canada celebrated archaeology, highlighting the contribution that archaeology had made to the organization's 100 year history.  What a difference a year makes.

In 2012, the Harper Government is in the process of reducing the Parks Canada archaeology program to ruins.

Gros Morne National Park
There are currently 42 National Parks and Park Reserves in Canada.  In addition to that, there are 950 National Historic Sites, of which 167 are administered by Parks Canada.  So when the Federal government announced at the end of April that 3872 Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) employees would have their jobs affected, it was devastating to learn that 1689, or 44% of those cuts, would be coming from within Parks Canada.  According to the Globe and Mail, "At Parks Canada, 1,689 PSAC members received affected notices and staff were told that 638 positions will be eliminated."  When you make cuts to Parks Canada, you not only make cuts to the protection and research of pristine places and unique ecosystems, but you make cuts to those sites that were most significant in shaping the history and culture of all Canadians.

L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site
According to a report called "The Economic Impact of Parks Canada", which was prepared for Parks Canada by The Outspan Group Inc. in April 2011, the total organizational and visitor spending at Parks Canada was $3.3 billion in 2008/2009.  Bear in mind that was the year that the global economy collapsed.  Of that $3.3 billion, Parks Canada spent $587 million of it and the Government of Canada got back $217 million in taxes.  The other $2.7 billion came from visitors, and $1.2 billion of that was spent by non-Canadian visitors.  This is not a money losing operation.  That's $1.2 billion entering the Canadian economy during the worst financial slump in decades.  For every $1 that Canada spends on Parks Canada, it is getting back $2 dollars in foreign spending and 40 cents back in taxes.  Why would you make cuts to a program that is not only a national and international source of pride, but a program that brings billions of dollars into the Canadian economy?

Archaeology at Signal Hill National Historic Site 2009
What is attracting these visitors to Parks Canada?  There are dozens of National Parks and Park Reserves, but there are also hundreds of National Historic Sites.  In Newfoundland and Labrador, the places that we send our visitors, like L'Anse aux Meadows, Gros Morne, Red Bay, and Port au Choix are all National Parks or National Historic Sites.  Has anyone ever visited St. John's without a trip to Signal Hill?  Signal Hill is a National Historic Site.  Every Province and every city across the country has sites like this and these are where the cuts are being made.

Lake Minnewanka, Banff  National Park 2001
So what do these cuts look like to archaeology at Parks Canada?  Its hard to get a handle on exactly what's happening because people are being told that their jobs are affected, but not always exactly how they are going to be affected.  Senior archaeologists across the country are taking retirement packages and their jobs are not being replaced.  Full time employees are becoming seasonal workers and, off course, there are outright layoffs.  Some areas, like Prince Edward Island, won't have a single archaeologist working in the region after this round of cuts.  One of the national trends seems to be eliminating regional laboratories and collection repositories across the country and consolidating all those jobs and facilities in Ottawa.  The artifacts from National sites in Newfoundland and Labrador are already stored out of province in the Atlantic Centre in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, but over the next 1-3 years that facility will be closed and everything will be shipped to Ottawa.

Lake Minnewanka artifact
Here are a couple CBC articles worth checking out that discuss some of the impacts of the cuts to Parks Canada, specifically the impact on Archaeology and other research in Atlantic Canada:

Rob Ferguson, a retired Parks Canada Archaeologist, is interviewed on this Information Morning Nova Scotia clip (May 8, 2012).

Ferguson and other archaeologists and conservators discuss the impact of closing the Parks Canada Lab in Dartmouth in the CBC story below.

Kiss our heritage good-bye?  (Red Bay N.H.S.)
In an ongoing thread discussing this disturbing new reality on the Canadian Archaeological Association facebook page, one Parks Canada Conservator observed "At this moment there are more people employed in a single Tim Hortons than are employed by Parks Canada nationally to preserve and care for millions of archaeological and historic objects in storage and on display."

Photo Credits:
1,2,4-7: Tim Rast
3: Lori White

Note: I edited PSAC numbers that I quoted from the Globe and Mail for accuracy. 2012-05-14

Friday, May 11, 2012

Antler, Seeds and Robots

Tea Bath to antique the antler
I'm still plugging away on the bone and antler reproductions.  Some are ready to be stained and distressed to match the original artifacts.  I can usually get the colours and textures pretty close to the originals.  Root etching and dried roots growing through the pores is something that I haven't quite figured out yet.  Maybe I'll try growing chia or grass seeds on the antler.  If I dry out the roots, they might look like the artifact has been buried with roots still clinging to them.  I doubt they'd be strong enough to etch the antler in just a few days, though.

Our new robot vacuum
Maybe I'll go seed shopping this evening.  I guess I'm feeling a little housebound.  I went out earlier today to buy our first house robot.  I've been watching TED talks on Netflix religiously for the last week.  There was an old one from 2003 by the guy who made the Roomba.  Robot vacuum technology has been around for a decade, so they must be doing something right.  They are on for $100 off at Canadian Tire right now. Anyone have a Roomba or Roomba story to share?

I like the idea of having a robot clean my house while I'm outside making tools out of rocks and antlers.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Working Antler Today

The original artifact has an impact fracture
There are a half dozen or so bone and antler pieces in the set of reproductions that I'm working on now.  Because its bound for the US, we're sticking with caribou bone and antler and avoiding all sea mammal parts.  I'm trying to get all of the pieces blanked out and started this week.  There are usually drying stages after the bone or antler is worked and again when its antiqued, so the earlier I can get those pieces finished the more likely it is that I can ship the completed set on schedule.

The pinkish versions of the artifacts in each set of 3 are the photo patterns that I made to work from.  I have many other reference photos from other angles to compare the reproductions to as the work goes on, but I find one or two paper cut outs help a lot in the workshop.  Printing these on the laser printer helps keep them legible even when I'm working wet materials.

I always hate cutting into a pristine antler for the first time, but I couldn't find any other caribou antler scraps in my work shop that would give me the shape and cross-section that I needed.  The lower beam had to come off to make a chopped section of antler.  You can probably make out the paper pattern lying on the deck and the pencil marks on the antler where I had to make the cuts.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, May 7, 2012

Counting Down

Ground stone reproductions for Alaska
I have three orders to wrap up in the workshop in the next month.  Right now, I'm a little under 6 weeks away from heading into the field again for the summer, so that prep work is on my mind as well.  Last Thursday and Friday I took a Wilderness First Aid Course with a couple other archaeologists and northern scientists.  It was a nice break from the workshop.  It had been a few years since I last took a First Aid/CPR class and its good to get the reminders and confidence boost again.

Ulu and slate point reproductions
In the workshop, I'm still focusing on the Cape Krusenstern reroductions.  These reproductions are an ulu broken through a drilled hole and the tip of a slate lance or knife.  As with the other pieces in this set, I'm working from photographs and making two copies of all the artifacts.  The position of the hole in the ulu makes it tempting to imagine that the missing piece would mirror the recovered section and the original ulu had a single hole in the middle.  However, I think its just as likely that this is one end of a longer ulu and that there may have been two or more holes drilled along the edge.  I'm satisfied with the form of the ulu, but I'm working at antiquing the surface a bit more.    In the photos here, they are kind of clean and I want to dirty them up and soften some of the mottled colouring in the stone.

One central hole?

Or maybe we're just seeing one of a series of holes along the upper edge of a longer blade.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, May 4, 2012

Jet Labret

Jet Labrets; a dirty job
I'm always happy when I get to work with a new artifact type or raw material.  The Cape Krustenstern collection I'm working on right now includes a broken jet labret.  Jet or Lignite, is a type of coal - a sedimentary rock composed of altered vegetable matter.  Its black or brownish in colour and has a hardness similar to soapstone or very dense hardwood.  A labret is a kind of body ornament worn through the lip.  While researching this particular reproduction I came across an interesting article on Alaskan labrets by "tattoo anthropologist" Lars Krutak.

Block of jet (Lignite)
I wasn't quite sure how to go about finding jet initially, but since it is relatively easy to carve, comes as a low-grade by-catch in coal mining, and the internet is enormous, I found lots of small samples on gemstone and New Age sites where they are sold as worry stones and beads with all kinds of alleged magical powers.  In the end, I went with a nice big block of the stuff that I found on eBay that was somewhat expensive for a block of coal, but which was guaranteed to give me more than enough jet to work with.  This block was about the size of a paperback novel and was quite light for its size - only 280g.

Photo pattern of artifact on jet block
The artifact that I'm reproducing is incomplete, but its not too hard to work out the missing piece, since the curve of the labret would have fit around a person's teeth.  I used my own mouth to reconstruct the missing portion.  My plan is to make several complete labrets and then break them.  Hopefully the first couple that I break will match the artifact and I can keep the remaining labrets in one piece.

Roughed out labrets
Working with jet is unlike any other material that I've used before.  Its similar to ivory, but a little softer - more like a very hard wood.  I cut the initial block with the scroll saw and have done most of the shaping with abrading stones on the Dremel tool.  Carving or cutting the stone produces a horrendous amount of black dust which sticks to everything.  The dust smells like burning coal or oil.  Water doesn't seem to affect it.  Cutting the jet with a metal saw or rotary tool will create streams of smoke, but when you dunk the stone in water to cool it comes out bone dry.  I really don't understand that. Its like the dust repels water.  It was impossible to wash the dust off without using soap.

If I was an Alaskan Wrestler, my name would be Jet Labret
This style of labret wraps around the front of the lower jaw and the thin tab at the top would protrude through a slit cut in your lip.  If you feel your gums below your lower incisors with your fingertips, you'll notice that there is a bit of a bulge where the roots are and then an indentation below that where your gums meet your lip.  These labrets would rest below that bulge, with the tab poking through a hole in your lip.  I'm sure there would be a fair amount of discomfort when they are first fit and wedged into place, but once they are set, they are designed to fit the contours of your mouth and the jet is so light weight that after a time you'd barely notice that they were there.

ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch
My labrets aren't finished - the edges are too sharp, they are a little too thick for my gumline and I have no intention of cutting my lip to accomodate the ridge, so they hurt like hell when I tried to fit them in my mouth.  Plus they tasted like the Industrial Revolution and, from what I've read, women usually wore a single centre lip plug like this anyhow, so I'll never know how it really feels to wear one.  After torturing myself trying to fit these sharp little half-done labrets in my mouth for these pictures, Lori told me that her whole head was still numb from a trip to the dentist earlier in the day.  She never even volunteered.

Photo Credits:
1, 4-6: Lori White
2,3: Tim Rast

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