Friday, May 31, 2013

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

Its a colourful collection 
Here is one last look at the completed artifact reproductions that are on their way to Laval.  It includes a set of Dorset Palaeoeskimo reproductions, a set of Maritime Archaic Indian reproductions and a PalaeoIndian fluted point.  I've posted all of these pieces in various stages of completion over the past few weeks, so this is just a final record of the work in its entirety.  

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Reproductions
The photo on the left shows the Dorset Palaeoeskimo pieces in the collection.  These have a Newfoundland and Labrador flavour to them, although the selfbladed harpoon head is more of an Early Dorset style with a sliced base that I don't think show up in collections from this province very often.  Most of the materials and stone is local, although I did use some exotic jasper for the microblades.  Jasper certainly shows up in Dorset collections, but this particular jasper comes from Australia and is called Mook Jasper or Mookaite.  Its a nice, fine grained material that gives a bit of colour to the collection.

A) Dorset harpoon (complete): chert endblade, antler harpoon head, whalebone foreshaft, softwood mainshaft, sealskin lashings and line, sinew lanyard, hide glue, B) Dorset tip-fluted endblade: chert, C) Dorset side-notched triangular knife: chert, D) Dorset unifacial side-scraper: chert, E) Dorset self-bladed harpoon head: antler, F) Dorset lance: slate, G) Dorset microblade Core: Jasper, H) Dorset microblades: Jasper, I) PalaeoIndian fluted point: chert, J) Maritime Archaic fish spear: whalebone, red ochre, K) Maritime Archaic lance: slate, red ochre L) Maritime Archaic projectile point: chert, red ochre, M) Maritime Archaic barbed harpoon head, antler, red ochre

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why a Blade Core is not like an Artichoke

Microblades and core
Recently a friend who was teaching an introductory archaeology class commented on a  testbank question for the course textbook that described blade making as "similar to peeling long leaves off an artichoke".  Blades are long linear stone flakes with parallel edges that have been systematically removed from a prepared core.  Artichokes are an edible thistle.  Making blades and peeling leaves are really quite different, although in an effort to find common ground, I will acknowledge that when viewed top down, the pattern of blades in a completely reconstructed blade core and the overlapping leaves in an unprocessed artichoke (with its top cut off) do resemble each other.

Artichokes have overlapping leaves
My friend pointed out that the average undergraduate student has probably never processed a whole artichoke and therefore are not going to be intimately familiar with their internal structure and leaf pattern.  Which is probably enough of a reason to discard the question on its own.  An analogy works better if one of the things being compared is familiar.

Looking down onto the platforms of a core with six refit
microblades.  The numbers are the sequence in which the
blades were removed.  I would probably take the next blade
 off in the lighter coloured corner behind blade number 4.  
As a flintknapper, my biggest problem with the comparison, especially in an archaeology class, is that it completely removes the input of human beings from the blade making process.  Our brains and hands are a crucial part of the process.  Pulling the leaves off an artichoke is easy.  The leaves are already clearly separated and all it takes to remove them are fingers, lips, teeth or a beak with enough clamping power to grab one and pull it off.  Striking long, parallel sided blades from a homogeneous core of stone is a completely different story.  The blades are not neatly stacked within a piece of flint or chert.  There are no internal seams or natural fractures that create the blades.  The entire process from beginning to end is controlled by the knapper, who must first visualize the blades and then carefully and systematically set-up the stone core to begin removing them.  Every blade removal is individually planned and prepared and its success or failure depends on the preparation and skill of the knapper and will, in turn, influence the progress of the whole operation.  The knapper must continually adapt, plan, chip and grind the core for each successive blade removal.  An ostrich could peel an artichoke and end up with the same pile of leaves that a monkey or Sous-chef could make, but it takes years of training and practice to make a consistent series of blades from a lump of stone.

Here are the same six microblades laid out in the sequence in which they came off.  Numbers 1 and 2 have pronounced curves and lots of scarring on their dorsal surface from when I pressure flaked the first ridge for the blades to follow.  Number 3 and 4 continue to clean up the core and established new ridges for the next blades to follow.  Microblades 5 and 6 are long linear flakes with well defined arrises (the central ridges that the blades follow along).  You can see the scar left on the core from removing blade number 6 - the last in the sequence.  There is still lots of rock left, probably enough for another 15 or 20 blades if everything went well.

Obviously it looks more like a
 tulip than an artichoke OR a
If I was forced to make a vegetable analogy for blade making, I think I might go with cutting french fries from a potato one fry at a time, if you tried to make all your fries with triangular or trapezoidal cross-sections and you used a knife that produced a slice that was 130 degrees off the angle that you applied pressure to it and the potato was as brittle as if it had been frozen in nitrogen and the french fries were 2 mm thick and razor sharp and once you started slicing a fry the whole cut was finished in a fraction of a second and you had no opportunity to re-adjust whether the cut was going in the direction you wanted or not and if a lifetime of exposure to french fries caused irreversible lung damage and no one really ate french fries anymore because something better came along a few thousand years ago.

Or maybe, preparing vegetables isn't very much like knapping at all.

Photo Credits:
1,3-5: Tim Rast
2: Wikipedia:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Maritime Archaic and PalaeoIndian Reproductions

Slate lance and a barbed harpoon head
I think the last time I showed photos of these reproductions they were being stained with red ochre.  These Archaic and PalaeoIndian reproductions are done and ready to ship now.  They are part of a larger order for an archaeologist at the University of Laval in Quebec City.  He works in the Arctic and Northern Labrador, so the remainder of the collection is made up of Palaeoeskimo reproductions.

The fluted point in the foreground
represents a time period several
thousand years earlier than the other
reproductions in these photos.
Everything is done now, except for a few microblades.  I worked on the microblades today, but I didn't get many made that I was happy with.  I'll try again tomorrow.  Fluting points and making microblades never seem to work out for me on the first day after a long hiatus.  I always need to wreck a few before I remember to be patient and really prepare my platforms.  Systematically producing a series of microblades on a core is one of the trickiest maneuvers that I can manage in flintknapping.  I'm sure there are even harder things that I can't do, but of the things that I work at time and again, microblades are one of the toughest.  Most of the time I'm very fond of Palaeoeskimo culture and their peculiar artifacts, but not on the days when I'm trying to make microblades. On those days, they make me feel ham-fisted and cranky, which I'm sure is just the jealousy kicking in.
The ochre helps age the pieces and also distinguish the Maritime Archaic reproductions from the other artifact reproductions in the order.

The fish spear, knapped point, and harpoon head are covered with ochre that has been sealed in with an oil based coating.    The slate lance has a dry dusting of ochre on it.  One of the challenges of making artifact reproductions is trying to come up with ways to make the pieces unique.  I don't want them to all look like they were made by a single person in one sitting.   By staining all of the Maritime Archaic Indian reproductions with ochre, they start to look like a coherent set, even though they are each made from different materials using different techniques.    I'll put up photos of the Palaeoeskimo reproductions once I get the microblades done.  They are made using the same basic chert, slate, antler and whalebone as these reproductions, but by using different manufacturing and finishing techniques, they should look like a different collection, made by  someone else from a different culture and time period.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, May 24, 2013

Plans and Profiles: Latonia Hartery Researching Plant Remains at Palaeoeskimo Sites

Latonia Hartery, in a snowstorm,
 80 degrees north at Fort Conger,
 Ellesmere Island.
Latonia Hartery is an archaeologist from Newfoundland, who completed an MA and PhD at the University of Calgary, before returning to Memorial University of Newfoundland to work on a Post-Doc.  I've known Latonia and had the opportunity to work with her off and on for the past fifteen years.  She keeps an exhausting schedule and when she's not researching microscopic plant residues on Palaeoeskimo artifacts, she's leading tours of archaeological sites in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, travelling, writing, and producing documentaries.  Her research into plant stones and starches was just beginning as our time working together on Newfoundland's northern peninsula drew to a close, so I asked her about where that line of inquiry has taken her...

Plans and Profiles #17: Latonia Hartery, Microscopic Plant Remains from Palaeoeskimo Sites and Artifacts 

1) Tell me a little bit about your project.

Well, let’s see. Generally speaking, and since 1998, I have been working in Bird Cove-Plum Point, on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula. There are 36 archaeological sites in the area that date from about 5000 years ago to the historic period. I have worked with a number of wonderful scholars namely David Reader, Stephen Hull, Miki Lee and of course, you. It’s one of the biggest joys of my life, working with that community. It’s also the place where I collected my PhD data, at a Dorset Paleoeskimo site called Peat Garden North. Recently, I have taken a break from research there to edit/work on a book which summarizes the results from the main sites excavated so far. I’m nearing the end now. Thank heavens!

More specifically, I am SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellow at Memorial University, searching for microscopic phytoliths and starch on Paleoeskimo stone tools and in soil samples. Mike Deal is my supervisor. Both phytoliths and starch have unique shapes and features, particular to species, that help us identify which plant they belong to.
Town of Bird Cove looking west. (Photo: Dennis Minty)

2) How did you become interested in this particular problem?

Corn starch grain (photo: Brian Kooyman)
I first began investigating phytoliths and starch at Peat Garden North (PGN). It’s a special site, in the sense that it has multiple lines of evidence indicating it was occupied in the late spring and summer. It has two lightly constructed houses, a shellfish midden (scallops and mussels), and more migratory bird remains than seal (about 63% birds). We don’t have a lot of data here in Newfoundland for this time of year. After testing PGN soil for macrobotanical plant remains, the results were nil, except for a couple of raspberry seeds, and spruce needles. It didn’t make sense, however, that there were no plant remains, given the warm season of occupation. I was doing my PhD at the University of Calgary, where people were working on phytoliths and starch research for sites associated with agricultural/complex societies. I thought it might be a long shot to use this mode of inquiry for Arctic hunter-gatherers, but it worked out in the end. By testing soils, and residues on the edges of stone tools, I was able to determine that the people who lived there used at least 26 species of plants. That’s a big jump from two.

3) Has your project changed since you originally began working on it? How?

Potato Starch Grain (Photo: Brian Kooyman)
It’s changed quite a bit - it is no longer site specific. I am now testing other Paleoeskimo sites in Bird Cove. I’m also attempting to make cross-cultural and geographic comparisons/observations about plant use. For example, I recently went to Copenhagen to work with Bjarne Grønnow and Jens Fog Jensen on two Greenland collections. I’m also working with Priscilla Renouf and her team to test artifacts and soils from Phillip’s Garden, and will experiment with Paleoeskimo sites from the Arctic Archipelago. I am currently working with Mike and Vaughan Grimes to extract calculus from teeth of a British Naval Cemetery population dated to 1725-1825. Because hygiene was different in the past, phytoliths and starch were often trapped in calculus deposits. We have found lots of starch, much of which seems to be potato, and I am sure this surprises no one. But, the important thing is we know our method works because in a month, we will sample calculus from Dorset Paleoeskimo teeth as well. We’re also working together to test the interior of Woodland Period ceramic pots from Nova Scotia. So as you can see, phytolith and starch studies have a wide application. My favourite studies have been about a) phytoliths from dinosaur coprolites in India, which help determine their habitat and diet, b) starch grains from the calculus on Neanderthal teeth to show they were consuming wheat, barley, legumes, and date palm fruit, and c) phytoliths from 4000 year old noodles in Laijia, China which showed they were made from millet. Unbelievable!

4) If you could ask the people who lived at your site(s) one question what would it be?

The chert bear from Peat Garden North
(Photo: Latonia Hartery)
I’d probably ask so much at once, it would come out as a garbled mess. I think that while there is much to learn, we’ve made some pretty good in-roads on things like settlement, subsistence and site locations. So, I’d likely ask something related to ideology and art. At Peat Garden North, we once found a polar bear in an outstretched-flying shape, flintknapped in chert. I’d love to ask the maker why it was made, and what does it mean, or perhaps a question about why art is created in general. These are simple questions, but the answers I am sure, much more complicated.

5) Was there something that you believed or expected to be true at the start of this research that you’ve since disproven?

I guess it’s that plants were more important to Paleoeskimo people, and Arctic people in general, than we realize. While they may not make up as much of the diet as sea mammals, they were still consumed, provided much-needed nutrients, and had many uses such as for baskets, floor coverings (they used grass at Peat Garden North for this purpose), clothing, fuel, tools - the list goes on. In many early ethnographies, and 5th Thule monographs for example, observations on plant use were rarely reported. So, I suppose we haven’t been as inclined to study it archaeologically. But when you dig deeper, develop ways to research it, and pose the questions, a new world of information opens up.

6) If you had to pick one artifact or feature that encapsulates your research what would it be? Can you describe it?

Great question. It’s a little soapstone pot you and I found at Peat Garden North. Not more than the size of the palm of your hand, it was located in the middle of a house, on an axial passage. It was stained on the inside, from what we assumed must simply be oil, since the vessel was likely a lamp or pot. However, once I tested the interior of the pot for starch and phytoliths, a number of different, extremely large starch grains belonging to the roots of several plant species, were recovered. It’s not moss, certainly, because moss doesn’t contain starch. It was eye-opening in terms of understanding its function, and I have recently sampled residues from a pot at Phillip’s Garden to see if it contains multiple plant species also. So at the end of the day, the vessel and its contents are metaphorical for the research I’m doing in general, because I first thought something that was a standard way of thinking, which was eventually disproven.

Soapstone pot from Peat Garden North, and an example of some of the starch grains found inside. Top Right is starch grain, Left is cross polarized image of the starch showing birefringence. (Photo: Latonia Hartery)

7) How do you unwind when you need to get away from your research?

When I’m not doing research, I’m usually making documentaries or fictional films. In the past few years, I’ve made a few short films, as well as written and directed a couple of documentaries for the CBC called The Last Sardine Outpost and Rum Running. I’ve also production managed 8 documentaries for that broadcaster. It’s not exactly resting, but it’s pretty incredible what a change in activities can do. I like watching movies as well, especially foreign films, The Lives of Others – A German film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I don’t watch lots of TV but I did watch Vikings on HBO. It wasn’t bad! The opening credit sequence and music is quite good, that’s reason enough to watch it.

8) There’s a lot of travelling and writing in archaeology. Any tips in either category?

Latonia and Aaju Peter (Inuit Lawyer, Designer, Singer, 
Sealing Activist) singing “Return of the Sun” song on 
top of a fjord (Photo: Dennis Minty)
I’ll take the travelling one. In the past two years alone, for Arctic research and for filmmaking, I travelled almost 450 000km. Don’t rely on these to save your life, but just to up the joy factor of your trip. 1) Only take what you need. Nothing worse than lugging around a bunch of things you never end up using. Sometimes I pack, then force myself to get rid of 30-40% of it. 2) Where ever you go, take a few minutes to learn words in that language such as hello, thank you, I am XYZ, you’re country is nice, the beer here is tasty - anything really. Once people realize you have made this effort, a bond is automatically formed. 3) Lots of places I go are cold, so I try to find out how local people keep warm, and then I do the same. While, I have some ‘high tech’ gear, I have hand-made parkas, seal-skin boots and mitts, and even made myself an amauti. It’s a bit of work to get/make but I don’t remember the last time I was cold in the north. But do remember having to share my clothes with people dressed in gortex, etc 4) Bring small gifts for people. Bring them for people you know, and for people you haven’t even met yet. Chances are, someone, somewhere, will do something nice for you along the way 5) Here’s my fave, learn a song from your home, something with a fast tune. Music is universal and makes everyone’s life better. It’s side-splitting to be in a place where you can’t speak the same language, but can sing a song with gusto while people laugh/listen and try to join in. I taught a few Greenlanders in Sisimiut how to sing I’se the B’y once -then promptly found myself in their house eating halibut and drinking tea.

9) What books or websites would you recommend if people want to learn more about your area of interest in general? Or your project in particular? 

Yes, well Elfshot and Steve Hull’s are among the best, but I suspect your readers know those already. Here’s the site for my non-profit org (, and the Bird Cove area ( Superstar phytolith and starch researcher Delores Piperno has a home page and a link to all her stellar publications here:

For books, try Ancient Starch Research, edited by Torrence and Barton, and Phytoliths: A Comprehensive Guide for Archaeologists and Paleoecologists by Piperno. Some of my early results are in the Bar Series 2006 with Rankin and Ramsden as editors, and there is my PhD, but a shortened form of those results will appear in our book soon.


Would you like to see your work profiled here? Or perhaps that of a student or colleague?  Send me a note, I'd love to hear from you:

Photo Credits: 
As indicated in the photo captions.
Plans and Profiles Banner, Tim Rast based on a linocut by Lori White

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Groswater Palaeoeskimo Artifacts from Peat Garden, Bird Cove, Newfoundland

Groswater Palaeoeskimo Harpoon heads from
Peat Garden at Bird Cove, Newfoundland
More than a decade ago, I co-directed an archaeology project for a couple seasons with Latonia Hartery at Bird Cove on Newfoundland's northern peninsula.  Today, I'm working on some artifact plates for a paper on one of the Groswater Palaeoeskimo sites from that project.  The publication is going to be black and white, but I like the look of the colour plates before converting them to greyscale as well, so I figured I'd pop a few up on the blog.

A) Sandstone abrader - the sort of thing used to grind the edge and faces of burin-like tools and side scrapers at the site. B) Knapped blank, ready for grinding.  What happened here?  Its perfect and big and the left it behind. C,D) Chipped and ground burin-like tools.  E,F) Chipped and ground side-scrapers.  Why are the ground facets white on the burin-like tools, but not on the side-scrapers?

Asymmetric Knives.  They start out asymmetical and that asymmetry grows as they are used and resharpened.  At Peat Garden, the Groswater Palaeoeskimo people like to finish their bifaces with stems and shallow notches for hafting.

This is the greyscale version of the colour photo at the top of the post.  The larger harpoon head (A) is nearly complete.  Its made on some sort of marine mammal bone, is self-bladed and has an open socket.  There is some damage around the base, but it appears to have terminated in a single, central spur, which is a little unusual for the Groswater harpoon heads found in the province. The smaller barbed harpoon tip (B) is made from ivory and its broken above the line hole.  The outside edge has a partial slot for a small side-blade.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, May 20, 2013

A little pink fluted point

I finished this little fluted point today.  The flutes are good and the overall shape is fine, but I'll probably try a few more times to see if I can get something a little bigger.  Its just shy of 2 1/2" long, so its within the 2 to 3 inch range that I was aiming for, but if I can get something bigger, I'd be happier.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Friday, May 17, 2013

Knapping and Ochre Staining

I finished out the week with a couple more pieces for the Dorset and Maritime Archaic order.  The knife blade on the right is a Dorset style and would have been the kind of blade hafted into the short antler handle that you can see lying on the table behind it.  Other than that, I finished a knapped stone Maritime Archaic stemmed projectile point based on one found at Port au Choix.  While I finish up the other pieces in the order, I've started layering on the red ochre for the Maritime Archaic pieces.  More layers gives the pieces extra depth and the illusion of age.

The point, barbed fish spear and barbed harpoon head are getting a dry ochre bath here.   A dry dusting of ochre can help age a knapped point, but its not usually enough to cover a polished bone or antler surface.

Here are the same pieces with an oil based coat added to lock in the pigment and bring out the colour in the ochre.  I'll do a few alternating layers of ochre and oil, removing the thicker buildup and particles of ochre between applications until I arrive at the final look that I'm going for.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A few Palaeoeskimo and Maritime Archaic reproductions in progress

Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifact
reproductions in progress 
 I'm still working on a selection of Dorset Palaeoeskimo (left) and Maritime Archaic Indian artifact reproductions for a university teaching collection.  The Dorset pieces are primarily based on artifacts from Newfoundland and Labrador, although the self-bladed harpoon head is a Tyara sliced form that is an earlier style that would be a little more at home in Early Dorset collections from farther north in Nunavut.  Chronologically, the Tyara sliced harpoon heads overlap with the Groswater time period in Newfoundland and Labrador, before the Dorset moved down to these parts.

The assembled endblade, harpoon head and foreshaft will be hafted onto a complete harpoon, while the other endblade, side-blade, slate lance and a knife blade and microblades that I have yet to complete will be left unhafted.

Slate, antler and whalebone Maritime
Archaic Indian Reproductions
The Maritime Archaic pieces include a ground slate lance, barbed harpoon head and whalebone fish spear.  These reproductions are all based on artifacts from Port au Choix and date from 4400 - 3300 BP.  The antler harpoon head and fish spear have yet to be red ochre stained, but they are otherwise complete. There is also a knapped point to include in this set which I need to finish.

There is an extra lance head and pressure flaker in this photo, but otherwise everything shown here is intended for the same order.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, May 13, 2013

Chip log

The three silver dots are lead weights.
I was looking through some old photos and came across these images of a reproduction that I made for the Matthew Legacy centre in Bonavista about 10 years ago.  Its a chip log, used to determine the speed of a sailing ship.  The triangular board was tossed from the stern of the ship and dragged behind the vessel.  As it dragged, the line would unspool from the reel.  At certain intervals there was a knot of fabric tied to the log line.  Each interval was marked with a different colour and texture of fabric so that the sailors could recognize them by both sight and feel.  Using an hourglass as a timer they would count the number of knots unwound from the reel in a set amount of time.  This is where the term "knot" came from to refer to the speed of a ship.

Oak, hemp line, assorted fabric knots, lead
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, May 10, 2013

Did James P. Howley haft this adze 100 years ago?

The adze head is an artifact, the handle a reproduction
This Maritime Archaic Indian adze hafted in a red ochre stained handle is in the collection of Newfoundland and Labrador's Provincial Museum at The Rooms, here in St. John's.  I took this photo more than a decade ago while working on a contract with the Provincial Museum to put together their first webpage, while they were still in the old building on Duckworth Street.  I believe this is one of the earliest artifact reproductions made in this Province and its probably coming up on its 100th birthday.   The stone adze head is a Maritime Archaic artifact and most likely dates somewhere between 5500 and 3200 years old, but the handle is a reproduction that was crafted and added later.  But by whom?

Howley 1915. Plate XVII
 (click to enlarge)
James P. Howley was a geologist in this Province who was a key figure in the creation of the Newfoundland Museum.  He collected many of the first artifacts to be housed within its walls.  In 1915, he published a book called "The Beothucks or Red Indians", which is still one of the most comprehensive works to collect the primary historical references to the Island's Beothuk people.  Among the plates in that book Howley published a silhouette photo of this adze (Plate XVII,  No.9) and remarked in the plate caption;
These are specimens of the well-known Celts, which appear to have been common to savage people all the world over.  They are nearly always of the same pattern, and consist of long flattish pieces of hard slate rock or other material found suitable for the purpose.  They are usually about 6 or 7 inches in length, narrow at one end, and ground away to a good cutting or chopping edge at the other and wider end.... I have seen a similar implement in the Smithsonian Museum at Washington, with a wooden handle attached by thongs of hide, in the form of an adze.  It looked as though it had been used for dressing down sticks for spear handles etc., and possibly for hollowing out wooden troughs... No. 9 stone adze with wooden handle attached.
Howley 1915 Plate XVI. The hafted adze head is No. 1,
shown here without an attached handle.
When Howley mentions "Celts" in the caption he isn't talking about the European ethnic or linguistic group, he's talking about this style of wedge shaped, ground stone tool.  He doesn't indicate that the adze photographed with its handle is a reproduction, but since wood and hide preservation from the Maritime Archaic Indian period in Newfoundland and Labrador is unheard of, it seems very unlikely that this is the condition that the original artifact was found in.  In fact, Howley illustrates the adze head on its own, without a handle in another plate in the same book.  The adze head used in the reproduction is asymmetrical and has a fairly distinctive shape which is easily recognizable as artifact No.1 in Figure XVI (left).

Another view of the adze

Detail from Plate XVII showing
Howley's adze
So what we know about this particular adze is;

1)  During the years when Howley was compiling his book on the Beothuks he had an opportunity to sketch and photograph this adze head both with and without an attached handle.

2) He mentions seeing stone adzes with wood and hide lashings on a trip to the Smithsonian Museum.

The conclusion that I draw from this information is that Howley had something to do with crafting the reproduction handle for this artifact.  James P. Howley seems to have been a pretty magnanimous guy who didn't mind giving credit and acknowledging his sources.  Which makes me think that if someone else was commissioned to make this reproduction for him, that he would have mentioned it.  The fact that the handle suddenly appears to his specifications between Plates XVI and XVII in his own publication makes me think that he did it himself.

I believe James P. Howley made the red ochre stained handle and lashings for this artifact sometime before 1915, almost 100 years ago, making it the oldest known pre-Contact artifact reproduction in the Province.

Photo Credits:
1,4: Tim Rast
2,3,5: Plates from The Beothucks or Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland  by James P. Howley 1915.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Inuit Drum Props

A drum and five drum sticks
A week and a half ago, I had an unexpected request for five large, and relatively inexpensive Inuit style reproduction drums to be use as props for filming in Iqaluit. The client needed them very quickly.  I generally require 6 weeks of turn around time between an order coming in and delivery of the completed reproductions.  There is usually a fair bit of time required to source materials and then trial and error time as I construct the pieces and antique them to the clients requirements.  There are often days of drying time, which can turn into weeks in the damp St. John's springtime.  But this job needed to be done in 7-10 days.

Five prop drums.  You can't really fake this kind of drum, so they are made more-or-less traditionally, but with oversized dimensions and using some non-traditional materials.

I thought I might be able to
get a four foot diameter with
 an extra large fringe on the
 canvas.  But it added too
much weight and didn't look
 right, so I trimmed off the
excess fringe.
The original request was for very large 4 foot diameter drums that would show up in long distance shots.  We eventually settled on something more manageable, but still quite large.  In the end, the drum frames are about 32" across.  Measured across the fringe of the canvas drum skin they are 40" across, which is well over 3 feet in diameter.  Inuit drums are played by striking the frame and the drum is rolled back and forth as they are played.  The large size of the drums and the style of play puts a lot of strain on the frame and especially on the lashed and glued joint where the handle is attached.  I added a couple wood screws under the lashing to help secure the handle in place.  They are intended to be props which will be visible from a long distance rather than close up, but I still want them to be able to be functional and sturdy enough to survive the rigours of playing and filming.

The laminate hoop, before
cutting the individual frames.
Aside from the large diameter, the other modification that I made to the traditional drum construction was to build the hoop out of laminated layers of oak veneer, rather than bend a single piece of solid wood for each frame.  The main reason for that decision was to avoid steam or heat bending wood, because I always run into problems with that and I don't have the space or materials to bend and clamp five individual hoops at one time.  I would have had to bend them one at a time and I was worried that would eat up too many hours and days from the brief construction window.  Instead I made one large cylinder out of sheets of veneer glued together and then cut out five large rings when that had dried.  In essence, the hoops are made out of slices of a plywood tube.

Laying out the canvas to cut
 the drum skins.
This method of manufacture came with its own problems.  It was hard to get a perfect tight bond between all the layers of veneer, so there was lots of touch up work with glue and sawdust filler to create a solid hoop.  The veneer sheets and glue were a little more expensive than equivalent strips of solid wood, and I don't know what to expect their lifespan to be on such large drums, especially if they are played vigorously    However, the laminating technique did serve its purpose of removing the need to bend wood and at the end of the day they I think they turned out to fine looking prop drums.

They don't look too bad up close,
 either, I guess
The handles and drum sticks are simple dowels. Again, they don't require a lot of exact detail to look right on film.  The only modifications were lashing grooves cut into the drum handles and canvas and hemp cord wraps on the drumsticks.  It feels a little strange to make reproductions with so many material substitutions, but I had to keep reminding myself that these were functional props that needed to look good from a distance.  They aren't the usual sort of reproductions that I make that are held in someone's hand and need to  look authentic from a few inches away.

The five drums needed to match each other as well.  As I understand it, designs will be painted on to them as part of the filming.

They're in Canada Post's hands now.
I tested them all, and when the canvas is damp they have a rich deep "boooom, boooom" sound.  They should serve their purpose and are en route to Iqaluit by way of Ottawa.  It was an interesting job to be part of and if I get any set photos or more information from the filming I'll post some updates.  I'm anxious to hear how they hold up.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, May 6, 2013

Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society nearly exists

L'Anse aux Meadows National
Historic Site. The Norse site on the
 northern peninsula.
It was a full weekend of drum building and planning for the soon-to-be incorporated Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society (NLAS).  More on the drums in a later post as I want to give a brief update on our second planning meeting to discuss the creation of a public archaeology society in the Province.  In our first meeting we decided that having a society was probably a good idea and we sent people off to research some of the nuts and bolts of incorporating and securing funding.  In this meeting we discussed what we found and made plans to act on the information gathered.

Ramah chert debitage and
A dozen of us met in the boardroom over Bitters.  (Bitters is the  graduate student bar next door to the Archaeology Department on the Memorial University of Newfoundland campus.)  There were fewer people than at the first meeting, but everyone who couldn't make it sent their regrets and we picked up another handful of extra regrets from people who haven't been able to attend either meeting, but are still keen to be involved.  One of the big decisions to come out of this meeting was settling on  a name: Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society.  We are very close to landing on the final wording of a mission statement and we decided to incorporate as a not-for-profit corporation with five people volunteered to serve as directors.    We'll grab a domain name for the eventual website and try to find a few dollars to pay for expenses that come with starting up a society.  If we incorporate online, it will only cost $73, including reserving the name.  We have volunteers following up on funding sources, drafting a constitution, filing the articles of incorporation, researching charitable status, opening a bank account, and registering the domain name.
L'Anse Amour National Historic Site.
An archaic burial mound in Labrador

Our plan is to have one more planning meeting in June before everyone disperses into their respective fieldwork locations for the summer.  So if you are interested in getting involved in these early planning and foundation building stages, please get in touch, there is still room for volunteers;

Public archaeology programming
at The Rooms
One of the big jobs that a society like this needs done for its own benefit as well as to fulfill the requirements of funding agencies is a 3-5 year plan.  That's where we'll be looking for public feedback and seeking input from everyone who would have an interest in seeing a Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society.  What should our goals and services to members include?  We intend to hold that public planning meeting early next fall, when we all get back from the summer field season.

Photo Credits: 
1, 4) Lori White
2,3) Tim Rast
Related Posts with Thumbnails