Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MUNArch Flintknapping, I want more...

Last night's pressure flaking group
We're halfway through the MUNArch flintknapping workshops and I can't say enough good things about the student society for taking the initiative to organize these sessions, order the rock and fill the seats.  They're doing the heavy lifting and all I have to do is show up a couple nights a week and hang out with a cool bunch of folks chipping rocks.  In a workshop, I can handle groups of 15 people at a time and this year MUNArch has rounded up enough people to fill two 15 person sessions each week, with more waiting to get in.

Liz's pressure kit and finished pieces
For today's post, I was originally going to put up pictures of owls and elk from my trip to Alberta a couple weeks ago, because recently it seems like every time I put archaeology or Elfshot related musing up on the blog it turns into actual work for me to do and birds and deer seemed pretty harmless in that regard.  I'll save those photos for another day and take a gamble with a few ideas to expand the MUNArch flintknapping workshops in the future.  Even if nobody else reads this stuff, I know that I refer back to these comments and idea posts the next time I'm asked to lead a workshop, so here goes...

Trial, error, luck and talent - in no particular order.
This year we are running two concurrent 15 person workshops on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for three weeks.  In week 1 we learn hard hammer and soft hammer percussion,  in week 2 we cover pressure flaking, and in week 3 we will be hafting our work from the first two sessions.  I think it works well as a three week series of workshops and one possibility is to switch up the third week activities every year that its offered.  We could easily substitute ground stone ulus for the third week or make the hafting session focused on a particular tool type (ie. everyone makes arrows or scrapers).  Since its an archaeology crowd, we could make week three a little more scientific and play around with usewear by cutting, chopping and scraping different materials with our tools and flakes and looking at them under the microscope to see the different polish and damage that forms.  We could also spend that week looking a little more specifically at reduction strategies for percussion or pressure flaking.   Knowing how to take a flake off is one thing, but being able to plan the sequence of flake removals so that they lead to something that you want to make is another thing.  I'd also like to try the Goat game that Jason Roe played with a group during the Calgary workshop, where everyone sits in a circle and takes turns working on a single biface, one flake at a time, until its finished or it breaks.

We're working primarily obsidian.  Pressure flaking gives you a lot of control over the final form.  I was taking lots of photos of finished pieces last night - I think these are Brittany's, but correct me if I'm wrong.

Bryn's first biface
Another alternative would be to find a way to combine all of these things into a course that runs for more than three weeks.   We could easily add an extra week or two next year to cover more ground.  It could even work as a semester long adult education course (if MUN still had adult education courses) or as the lab component of an archaeology lithic analysis course.  If it was a lithics class that students could enroll in for credits, then we could add a few bags of artifacts at the end for some practical experience in cataloguing and analyzing a small collection of lithics, to give the students a chance to put their understanding of stone tool manufacture to work.  I think that I could handle more than 15 students in the hands-on lab part of such a course, if some of the theory was explained ahead of time in a classroom setting.  Right now I spend a small amount of time explaining what we are doing at the start of the evening and then spend a lot of time going around the room helping people one-on-one, but if there was more time spent up front explaining the process, I think people could be a little more independent and require less one-on-one attention as they work and experiment on their own.

Ian's handaxe
I just wanted to jot down those ideas while they were on my mind.  There's plenty of time to forget them in the next twelve months if I don't make a note of them now.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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