Friday, November 29, 2013

Blogging Archaeology: Why do I blog?

Blogging Archaeology
The Society for American Archaeology's 2014 conference will have a session dedicated to archaeological blogging.  As a precursor to this session, bloggers with archaeology themed blogs have been invited to participate in a blog carnival hosted on Doug's Archaeology. Each month a new question will be asked and bloggers can participate by writing a post dedicated to exploring that month's question or questions.  All of these blog posts will be collected and linked from a monthly wrap-up post on Doug's Archaeology.  For November, the questions and my answers are:

Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog? 

Original Elfshot Blog Banner
I started this blog in 2009 for several reasons.  One of the main reason's was a growing sense of detachment from my static website that was dedicated to my archaeology-themed flintknapped artifact reproductions and jewellery, called  My business name is simply Elfshot, but when I tried to register the domain name it was already taken, so I added the word "gallery" to recognize that the website would be acting as a sort of online portfolio or gallery of my work.  At one time I was comfortable programming in html and working with FTP clients to update and share content on the website, but over time it became a chore.  At the time I was heavily involved on the board of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador and we were encouraging members to start blogging about their work.  It seemed like the quick and easy way to maintain a web presence that I was looking for.  So I started this blog for myself and my business, Elfshot.

Some of the first reproductions
profiled on this blog
I suppose I could say that I started the blog to communicate about the archaeological past with a public audience, but that's kind of a given.  The whole point of archaeology is to share what you find.  The truth is that I started this blog to fill several roles and all of them were selfish.  I wanted a portfolio of  Elfshot's artifact reproduction and jewellery work to show future clients.  In a similar vein, I wanted one place to link all the different online articles or profiles that may have been done on Elfshot in the past.  I'd also noticed that I didn't have a very good system of record keeping when I made a new type of reproduction and found myself repeating the same mistakes over and over again because I couldn't recall what did or did not work in the past.  When I start a new project, much of my process is trial and error, so I wanted to use this blog to record the things that I learned along the way so that I would not have to repeat the same mistakes the next time I worked on something similar.  That's still how I approach the majority of the blog posts that deal with making artifact reproductions.  I generally record the techniques or references that I think I'll need to know or remember the next time I work on a similar project.  Knowing that there are people other than myself reading the blog means that I make these notes in slightly more detail and plainer language than I might if I knew that I'd be the only person reading them.  

Why are you still blogging?

Still whittling away
I'm still blogging because I'm still working, I still have a poor memory and I still need to refer back to earlier posts for current jobs. This blog is still an ongoing notebook of experiments that either work or fail. Its evolved since I started and there are a handful of loyal readers who comment and who I learn from. The blog has lead to opportunities and contacts that I would not have had otherwise. More often than not, when I hear from someone new about some aspect of archaeology or inquiring about artifact reproductions they make reference to seeing my work on this blog. It still fills its role as a personal notebook and a marketing tool.

Its drifted over the years as I've done more fieldwork and Elfshot has been able to focus more on one-of-a-kind artifact reproductions and less on wholesale jewellery. Which I'm happy with. I enjoy exploring archaeological topics and meeting archaeologists through blogging.

Same old calendar
As a self-employed craftsperson through most of the year, I also appreciate the structure that blogging adds to my workweek. I force myself to blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which creates a framework that I can hang the rest of my week on. I can not begin to count the times where the only reason I accomplished something in the workshop on Monday morning was so that I would have something to write about on Monday afternoon. Blogging keeps me accountable and on task. Some days it feels like I have a boss looming over my shoulder demanding progress and updates, but at least it keeps me focused on my job and gives me deadlines in a job where deadlines can be few and far between.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dorset Lance Head - There, I Fixed It...

Cast of antler lance head with knapped stone side-blades
and sinew lashing
This is a slightly embellished cast of an antler lance head that I borrowed from the Canadian Museum of Civilization for the High Arctic artifact replication workshops.  The original was found in the Igloolik area in a Dorset Palaeoeskimo context.  The resin cast was very well done, including the slots for a pair of sideblades, so during a quiet afternoon in Resolute, I made a pair of sideblades to fit the slots.

Resin cast, stone sideblade, sinew 
I was careful not to scratch or damage the cast, but I was able to come up with a snug fit.  I also wrapped a few feet of twisted sinew around the open socket on the base to complete the effect.  I should emphasize that these embellishments were all temporary, reversible, done without glue, and left no permanent marks or traces on the borrowed cast.

The lance head cast and knapped side blades.  You can see the distinctive hoof shaped spur at the end and the narrowing towards the base where some sort of lashing would have been used to close the open socket on the opposite face.

The ventral surface, showing the open socket and small line holes in the spur.

The side blade sockets
were two different sizes
These would have been beautiful tools in life.  Lance heads like this are interpreted as caribou hunting points.  They are scaled up versions of harpoon heads, although it appears that a light line was attached off of the caribou hoof shaped spur rather than through a line hole in the middle of the lance head.  They would not have toggled.  The points were sometimes made of chipped stone, or self bladed as this example is.

Moureau S. Maxwell describes them like this:
The caribou lance shaft was a larger version of the one used for harpoons.  The head, usually of antler, was long and narrow with sharp edges and either self-bladed or slotted for a stone end blade.  Most were slotted for oval side blades near the proximal end.... The fact that the proximal end was perforated for a line suggest that the lance head was meant to slip from the foreshaft.  Presumably a hunter supplied with reserve heads could throw off the line to drag and, slipping a new head on the foreshaft, wound the animal again. (Maxwell 1985:138)
I really want to make a complete one of these tools.  The peculiar line holes are something that I don't quite understand and I like the idea of making a "land" harpoon. 
You can see how thin and flat the side blades need to be to fit the slots.  I started the side-blades on large flat microblades.

The side blade slot on this side was very long, but still very narrow.

I'd like to do more work like this -
 combining actual artifacts with
reproduced elements.
The addition of the sideblades changes the look and feel of the lance head substantially.  The sockets of the artifact are relatively deep and since I didn't want to force the blades into the cast, the inside edge of the flint blades are perhaps a little more shallow than the original artifacts.  The slots seem designed for a wider, more oval sideblade, which I tried to match on the exposed part of the blade.  In other words, I think that the look of the reproduction is correct when the sideblades are inserted into the lance head, but the actual blades themselves could probably have been a couple millimeters wider and more symmetrical. My sideblades are somewhat "D" shaped, while the originals for this piece were likely more "O" or football shaped in outline.

Maxwell, Moureau S.
1985 Prehistory of the Eastern Arctic. Academic Press, New York.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, November 25, 2013

Grise Fiord Artifact Replication Workshop

Students researching a harpoon head
The week in Grise Fiord flew by.  I'm so grateful to Parks Canada for sponsoring the workshop and to the teachers and students at Umimmak School for making me feel completely at home in their community.  On Monday through Thursday, the workshop was set up in the school's Manual Arts room and I had full days working with the thirty students enrolled there.  On Friday the school was closed for renovations to the heating system, so we moved into the attached gymnasium.
The bow drill, always a crowd pleaser

Between the 30 students, their teachers and parents, the hamlet workers, RCMP officers, and elders who visited the workshop and handled the artifact reproductions, I'm sure that at least half of the town's 114 residents dropped by at some point during the week.  I think I met the other half in the Co-op during my daily grocery runs. The focus of the workshop was recreating stone tools based on the artifacts left by the very early Independence I musk ox hunters who lived in Quttinirpaaq National Park on northern Ellesmere Island upwards of 4000 years ago.  
Finished pieces were initialed with
 an engraver to recognize the
knapper's effort and to avoid confusing future archaeologists.
The emphasis was on knapping chipped stone tools, with over 70 pounds of obsidian and flint flown into the community for the workshop participants to work with.  The bow drill gave the younger kids a project to master and the older students were able to spend additional classroom time drawing, researching, and recording the artifact reproductions.  The classes were small and the kids in Grise Fiord were so handy and comfortable around tools that I was able to work individually with kids as young as grades 4 to 6 to get them safely flintknapping.  They did a marvelous job, with the star students finishing arrows, flint and obsidian knives, and scrapers.  I'm very proud of them all.

Umimmak School's Manual Arts rooms was the ideal space for the workshop

Working in the school allowed time for quiet reflection
and one-on-one work with the artifact reproductions
The workshop was set up in the school and all of the students were encouraged to participate as much as they could during the week, with many choosing to come back in the evenings to continue working on their projects.  Having the artifact reproductions in the school from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Parks Canada, and my own collection allowed for some excellent learning opportunities for the students.  One afternoon, I borrowed a journalling exercise that I learned from the Open Minds program at The Rooms and worked with the Junior High and High School age students to draw and record the tools in their notebooks.
Students traced the reproductions and recorded details like the materials used in their construction, the culture and time period they represented and where they were found.  This is a process that I use myself when researching a new reproduction, but its also part of the cataloging process on any archaeology project.

Cooperation and discussion were part of the exercise
Each student selected one artifact reproduction at a time, which they traced into their notebooks and annotated with information that they found in reference books or by asking myself or their teachers about the pieces.  Throughout the week, the students learned first hand about how archaeologists can learn about the past through experimentation, but this exercise gave them an opportunity to examine specific pieces in more detail.  I wanted to make the point that archaeologists use a lot of different ways to try to understand the past.  The journaling exercise introduced the idea of cataloging artifacts, as well as the concept that careful observation and recording of artifacts is an important part of the archaeological process.  So too is consulting previous literature and asking other archaeologists about their experience and thoughts on different aspects of material culture.  I think that the conversations that came out of that afternoon were some of the most interesting that I've ever had with students about archaeology.

An example of a student's journal page.  The primary sources used in the journaling exercise were Doug Stenton's and Robert Park's illustrated guide books: Ancient Harpoon Heads of Nunavut and Ancient Stone Tools of Nunavut.  The books are bilingual in English and Inuktitut and are written in language that anyone can understand.  I used the Stone Tools book as the textbook for the workshop and brought 25 copies along for students and teachers.  I left copies with the hamlet offices, hotels and RCMP in Resolute and Grise Fiord.

Student projects.  The first step was to learn to knap obsidian.  Then we moved on to hafting and working with flint.

Everyone should have a bow drill.

A knife made by one of the star grade 6 students.

If she keeps at it, I'll come back in 4 years and take lessons from her!

A powerpoint projector in the room was always running and showing slides of sites, wildlife and artifacts.

Student projects: Obsidian, driftwood handles, sinew and hide glue

I hadn't realized how difficult it would be to find feathers in winter in the High Arctic Communities.  One of the teacher's donated a raven feather that was big enough to split and fletch an Independence I driftwood arrow reproduction.  I'll show some photos of the finished arrow in a future blog post.

Another star pupil with his flint knife and obsidian tipped arrow scarfed together out of 3 pieces of driftwood.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, November 22, 2013

Grise Fiord, Nunavut

A cool November afternoon in Grise Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Moonlit Grise Fiord

Grise Fiord lies along a beach and is enclosed on the
landward side by steep rocky mountains
I’m halfway through the week in Grise Fiord and the stone tool making workshop has been going great. Grise Fiord is Canada’s northernmost community, with a population of about 114 people living on the steep south coast of Ellesmere Island. I’ve met the one nurse in town, the two RCMP officers, and the 30 students enrolled at Umimmak School. Its dark and beautiful here.

Grise Fiord.  I'm staying in the big white building on the left.
The sun rose and set for the last time several weeks ago and is now so low below the horizon that even at mid-day it is still dark enough to star gaze while having your lunch. The moon has been full since I arrived and the light from the moon combined with clear skies mean that moonrise to moonset are the bright times of the day. The community still runs on a regular 9 to 5 schedule, but when the cycle of day and night or light and darkness don’t sync with the clock on the wall, it can be a disorienting experience. I don’t find myself particularly tired, but I do feel like I could sleep at anytime during the day or night. The sun won’t rise here again until February. In the workshops, I’m talking to the students about the Independence I people who lived 800 km north of here in Quttinirpaaq National Park up to 4500 years ago. It’s numbing to think about their lives, living in musk ox skin tents with their families through an even longer and darker winter. With sunlight removed from the equation and without contact with the outside world, it’s easy to imagine spending the winter sleeping, conserving energy and following the cycle of the moon for your light and brief waking periods.

I took this shot of the south end of town on Monday night to catch the snow blowing over the mountain top.

The town is built along the shore edge, so a turbulent ridge of sea ice forms along the beach between the community at the flat expanse of the fiord.

This new building is the new Hamlet office and community centre.
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, November 18, 2013

Apparently Polar Bears Don't Mind Fire

The two on the left are very large cubs belonging
to the mother on the right
If this post goes up on Monday, it means that I've left Resolute and I don't have internet access in the lodge in Grise Fiord.  I scheduled this post to go up while I was still in the South Camp Inn in Resolute Bay, which, by the way, is a fantastic hotel.  Its definitely one of the nicest places that I've stayed in the North.  Last Sunday, the hotel manager, Cheyenne, gave me a ride to the airport to pick up a couple hundred pounds of rock and other materials that I shipped up as cargo ahead of the workshops.  On the way back into the hamlet we swung by the dump to check out the bears.  We saw five hanging around, although I'm sure there were more that we couldn't see in the dark.  It was 2:30 in the afternoon, so it was already quite dusky.  The thing that really amazed me was how calmly the bears were rooting through the burning garbage.  The flames didn't bother them at all.

One of the cubs actually grabs a burning ember and drags it closer to itself.  A coal lands on its paw and the cub doesn't flinch.  Just lets it burn out.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, November 15, 2013

Resolute Bay Artifact Replication Workshop

Artifact casts on loan from the
 Canadian Museum of Civilization
Here are a few photos from the Parks Canada sponsored artifact replication workshop in Resolute Bay.  Weather pending, I'll be heading to Grise Fiord on Saturday to deliver the program there.  At them moment, the flight to Grise is not guaranteed because of winds.  Hopefully I can get there by Monday.  Resolute has been a lot of fun.  I have some crazy bear photos to share in a future blog post and I met all the kids in town.  It was an excellent week.  I'm very grateful to Parks Canada for this opportunity and especially to Patrick Carroll for all his help in logistics, community introductions, and helping wrangle a roomful of excited kids every day.

Some of my reproductions

The Independence I reproductions from the Kettle Lake sites in Quttinitpaaq National Park.  I haven't seen these pieces since I finished them in 2010.  This was a fun chance to bring the work and the archaeology from the park into the communities.

A pair of student projects drying in the windows.  All of the window sills have little tools squirreled away behind the curtains. 

More student projects

Working with sinew at the gluing station

All of the kids in the school came with their classes to see the reproductions and witness a flintknapping demonstration, but the grade 7 and 8 kids were especially eager to return after school.  Many of them were very focused on their work.

A student knife. Obsidian, driftwood, sinew, and hide glue

An end hafted flake knife.  Since this picture was taken a second blade was added to the opposite end of the handle and we are preparing to add baleen lashing to the handle.

We've had a dozen or so kids coming to work with us right after school and again for a couple hours after supper.

Lots of arrows, spears, and knives coming out of the workshop.  I apologized to the RCMP constable in the Hamlet office for the influx of weapons in his community, but I know that the kids are very responsible.

Responsible and hardworking.  I loved working with the kids in Resolute Bay.  They have such a strong background understanding of the history of the area as well as traditional tools and hunting.  If I mention sinew, they can tell me the best places to find it on the caribou.  I have a little wood saw that has been in my workshop kit for years with a bend in the blade - part way through the evening last night a student let me know that he'd straightened the blade out for me.  I've never done a workshop where my tools were in better working order at the end of the day than at the start!

The grade 3,4, and 6 class at their flintknapping demonstration.

The younger kids were a little small to try flintknapping safely, but the bow drill is always a sure hit.
Photo Credits:
1-11: Tim Rast
12-14: Patrick Carroll
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