Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Harpoon Head Repairs Finished

Two antler harpoon heads and two
ivory harpoon heads
The three harpoon heads that I set out to make and/or repair on Monday are finished now.  The missing endblade on the complete Dorset harpoon is part of a larger order, so I'll hold on to that for the time being, but I can contact the owners of the other two harpoon heads and make the delivery arrangements.  I'd like to hang on to the fresh ivory harpoon head for a few days just to be certain that it is stable.  A freshly carved ivory surface is prone to cracking if its not treated carefully.  I coated the harpoon head in mineral oil overnight at various stages and now that it is done, I've added another mineral oil coating.  The oil should help mitigate the swelling and cracking as the new surfaces react to their new temperature, humidity, and pressure.

The new harpoon head is shown here alongside the broken one that it is replacing.

This is an Inuit style toggling harpoon head for seal hunting.  It is made from walrus ivory for the body, iron for the blade, and brass for the rivet to hold the blade in place.

This is a Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon head reproduction with a tip fluted endblade.  It is made from antler and Newfoundland chert.

Two of the harpoon heads are part of complete harpoons.  The one in the upper right corner is another Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon head that was given a replacement endblade.  I don't have the complete Inuit harpoon, but the client sent along the ivory foreshaft so that I could ensure that the replacement harpoon head fits.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 28, 2014

Making and replacing harpoon heads

Ivory and antler harpoon
heads in need of repair
I'm working on a few harpoon heads this week.  Some will be newly made form scratch and others are repairs or replacements of damaged harpoon heads.  I needed a theme to the week to get me motivated.  I have a long long list of reproductions to get done before I head into the field in June and a short list of people waiting for me to get the work done.  In the photo on the right, the disassembled ivory harpoon head in middle is the broken tip of a complete harpoon.  The roughed out walrus ivory block beside it will be a (hopefully) identical replacement piece that will be fit with the original iron endblade and brass rivet.  The stained harpoon head with the line and foreshaft is a Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon head that I made for a client years ago and that needs a replacement endblade made.  I'm aiming to make those two repairs and make a third Dorset harpoon head and tip-fluted endblade from scratch over the next couple of days.

The original harpoon head fell and shattered, but when it is pieced back together you can see its original shape.

The iron endblade with the brass rivet still in place.

Its unfortunate that it broke, but being able to take it apart lets me see details of its construction that would be otherwise hidden.  The red stains are rust marks from the endblade inside the slot.

Having the original piece with me in the workshop helps speed up the work greatly.  I should be able to get this finished tomorrow.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 25, 2014

Beothuk Iron Arrowheads

A reproduction Beothuk arrowhead
I'm working on a couple orders right now that are heavy with Beothuk and Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifact reproductions.  Today I made four Beothuk arrowheads by cold hammering square cut iron nails.  Laurie McLean did his MA on Beothuk ironworking and I used a short publication that he put together with the Newfoundland Archaeological Heritage Outreach Program in 2003 as a reference for the work.  He shows there how the Beothuk would hammer nails in the middle to remove the end and start the shaping of the blade.  He also gives some idea of the size of nails used and the arrowheads made from them.

The four arrowheads on the right were all cold hammered and ground out of nails that were identical to the two on the left.  They lost their rust during the hammering. 

I worked two of the nails by chiseling
off the hear.  This is not how the
Beothuk worked them.
I started with 4 inch nails that I bought off a supplier that I found through eBay.  I picked 4 inch nails because I was aiming for a finished arrowhead in the 11 cm range (about 4 3/8").  I knew the nail would get wider through hammering, but I guess I wasn't thinking about how it would also get longer.  The four arrowheads that I made today were all made by hammering and grinding and they ranged in size from 10 to 14 cm long.  For the longest three, I either left the head on the nail as I hammered or chiseled it off flush with where it joined the body of the nail.  I thought that I needed to do that to preserve the length of the finished arrowhead.  But of course that was unnecessary and the better reproduction came from actually following the Beothuk method as it was preserved in the archaeological record.

Based on artifacts recovered from Beothuk archaeological sites, this is how they began working nails into arrowheads.   The nails were hammered flat in the mid section.

When the iron gets foil thin, its easy to bend and snap the nail head off.

A sequence from nail to
completed arrowhead
To work the nails, I hammered them cold on an anvil with a metal claw hammer.  I made a few strikes with a hammerstone and it worked fine, although the long handle on the hammer made things much easier.  To grind the blade down to size and make it symmetrical and sharp, I used a bench grinder for the coarse work and an hand file for the lighter work.  Again, a stone abrader worked fine, but I opted for something with a longer handle to actually do the work.  I did a small amount of hammering on the tang as well to narrow it.  This also added length to the arrowhead.  In the end, the hammered arrowhead was more or less the same length as the nail that it was made from, even with more than 3 cm removed from the head end.  The four arrowheads are all more or less correct, although as a set they feel large.  I have some 3 inch nails on the way and I think working them in the same way will give me some smaller points that will create a better collection.  I'd like the points to be in the 7cm to 11cm range when completed.

Its possible that some of the little nail heads were ground into scrapers.  It makes sense to reuse those little pieces somehow.

McLean, Laurie
2003 A Guide to Beothuk Iron. NAHOP Artifact Studies 1.Archaeology Unit, MUN, St. John's

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Drone Practice

The houses and powerlines are a
couple hundred metres away.  Wide
open spaces are a must.
Over the Easter weekend I had a chance to tag along with a couple friends out for the inaugural flight of their new 3D Robotics multirotor drone.  The ultimate goal is to use the drone to assist in archaeological mapping and overhead site photography, but on this first attempt the goal was to simply get it off the ground.  This was my first time seeing a multirotor fly and I was surprised by how quiet and stable the flight seemed, even on a somewhat gusty day.  The vehicle seems perfectly suited for aerial photography at the site level and probably larger area mapping, but it will require a lot of practice.  Being on hand to see a new operator try one for the first time really impressed on me how difficult it is to learn to use one of these safely and confidently.  It definitely requires practice in a wide open space, a steady hand, and spotters on the ground to help keep an eye out for trees and powerlines and to run interference on the throngs of kids that are attracted to the spectacle. 

Marc on the controls.  

Discussing the flight plan.

Its remarkably steady in the air, especially in "loiter" mode.

A second multirotor was on the scene as well, although it was having a bit of a rough day flying.

The drone has a pretty robust chasis, but the blades are necessarily light.  The slightest tumble was enough to break two rotors. The blades are designed to be easy to replace.

Like any aircraft - takeoffs and landings were the trickiest part.

In the air, it was very quiet and stable. I can't wait to see the results once the camera gets mounted. 

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sheshatshiu, Labrador Intermediate Period Collection

A 3000 year old toolkit
Here's a final look at the Intermediate Period reproductions that I've been talking about for the past few weeks.  They are based on artifacts recovered in Sheshatshiu, Labrador under the direction of Scott Neilsen.  The site is dated to around 3000 years ago and will be the focus of a new exhibit in the Labrador Interpretation Centre in North West River.  Aside from the two cobble tools (the quartzite hammerstone and the coarse pestle) I've documented most of these pieces in previous posts, which are indexed here:

If you would like to learn more about the archaeological site that these reproductions are illustrating, you can visit the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society's YouTube channel and watch Scott's April 2, 2014 talk at The Rooms called "Archaeology in Sheshatshiu: A Review". 

These are the artifacts that the reproductions are based on.  Only one of the three side-notched projectile points was reproduced (the top one) and the large reddish quartzite biface was used as the reference for both a spear point and adze blade.

For this quartzite hammerstone, I went through my bag of hammerstones and found one that had a similar size and shape to the Sheshatshiu artifact.   If you've attended a MUNArch flintknapping workshop in the past few years, there is a pretty good chance that you used this hammerstone and therefore you helped make this reproduction.

This is a little rougher looking cobble that is meant to represent a possible pestle in the collection.  Its a softer rock that probably wouldn't last long as a hammerstone, but it may have been used for grinding ochre or pulverizing other materials at the site.  Mostly unmodified rocks like this present their own problems when trying to reproduce them.  Finding a cobble that matches the artifact is kind of like finding a perfect match for a specific snowflake.
All of the pieces.  Quartzite, chert, charcoal, softwood, spruce, tamarack, rawhide, gut, sinew, hide glue, spruce gum, red ochre, caribou skin, beach cobble, caribou antler

The quartzite biface hafted as a spear point is one of my favourite pieces in the collection.  It has a nice weight to it.

Seeing this coming at you would suck, if you were a caribou.

The scraper, hafted in an Innu style handle.

A side-notched point hafted with red ochre and spruce gum into a wood foreshaft with sinew lashing.

A grey banded chert knife hafted in a caribou antler handle.  The handle is designed to fit into the spear as a short foreshaft.

The red quartzite biface is shown here hafted as an adze blade in an antler socket lashed to a wood handle with rawhide.

The Sheshatshiu Intermediate Period Set
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 18, 2014

Intermediate Period Quartzite Biface - Spear or Adze?

Identical quartzite bifaces are hafted
in each of these tools - one as an
adze and one as a spear.
This was a fun reproduction, or pair of reproductions to make.  It shows two alternative interpretations of a red quartzite biface from the 3000 year old archaeological site in Sheshatshiu, Labrador. In one version the tool is hafted as a spear point and in the other it's hafted as an adze.  I love that the exhibit designers for the Labrador Interpretation Centre opted to show both concepts.  Often when I'm commissioned to work on a set of reproductions there are artifacts in the set that could be interpreted in a number of different ways.  Is it a knife or a harpoon endblade?  A dart point or an arrowhead?  I usually prepare a quote for the client based on each of the interpretations and then they pick the one option that fits their storyline or budget the best.  In this case, the designers came to me with two competing interpretations and rather than lock the exhibit into one of the options, they elected to show both ideas.

For a bit of context, you can see the original artifact in this video clip. What do you see?

The two reproductions in their
hafts flanking a photo reference
of the original artifact.
I don't want to prejudice either option by saying which version I prefer, but I will say that after making both of them, I think they are both plausible interpretations.  As I assembled them there were pros and cons to each design, but I didn't encounter any issues or technical reasons why one version would be impossible.  There are analogs in the archaeological record for both chipped stone adzes and wide stemmed spear points. At the same time, one is probably wrong and one is probably right, but I don't really know which is which.  Its kind of a Schrodinger's reproduction - simultaneously correct and incorrect at the same time.

Radically different tools and interpretations stemming from the same artifact.

Adzes are wood working tools, kind of like
a chisel hafted onto a small axe handle.
In support of the interpretation of the tool as a spear point, it does appear to be thinned at the base, ground along the wide parallel sided stem but left sharp and serrated along the leaf shaped edges toward the tip, which also appears to have impact damage.   On the other hand, the projectile points found at the site are much smaller and side-notched rather than stemmed.  Ground stone woodworking tools are curiously missing from the assemblage, but the people living there 3000 years ago must have worked wood somehow.  The slight grinding around the base may also be a bit of usewear or it may have been intentionally ground to smooth and even out the edge, which is important in a chipped stone woodworking tool to remove unintentional platforms that could accidentally detach flakes during use.   After all, hard wood can be used as a billet to knock flakes off of knapped tools, so using a chipped stone blade as an woodworking tool would be risky business if you weren't careful with the angles and platforms that you leave exposed on the working edge.

The antler socket is a shock
absorber and creates a larger
hafting area to lash the stone
blade to the handle.
Originally I thought that I would tie the biface directly to the wood adze handle, but as I started to assemble it I decided that a caribou antler socket lashed to the handle with rawhide would be a much more practical solution.  Perhaps the pointed end of the quartzite biface is actually there to help wedge the tool more tightly into the socket and the impact damage is really from contact with the inside of the socket.  I have seen comparable chips happen in handles when retooling things like projectile points and drills. The socket needed to be quite deep to fit the profile of the tool and I used a bit of hide glue to lock it in, although I could have done the same with pitch.  I think I elected for hide glue so that the join between the blade and the antler socket would be more visible.   I only made one version of this tool and it needs to survive to deliver to the client so I'm not going to be able to use it to determine whether it could actually function as a adze, but from what I've seen it is certainly sharp and I think it's a reasonable interpretation.

Hafted as a spear, the quartzite biface creates a much more
robust lance than the small side notched projectile points
recovered from the site.
Hafting the biface as a spear point was fairly straightforward.  I used pitch made from spruce gum, red ochre, and charcoal for the glue with gut for the lashing.  I scaled up the dimensions of the foreshaft to match the scale of the biface, but the foreshaft is still designed to fit the same five foot long mainshaft as the side-notched point and knife mentioned in previous posts.  Its a different scale than the other points and so it would probably have been used in a different way; perhaps on different game or as a stabbing lance as opposed to a thrown or launched projectile. Like the adze, I'm sure this would be a perfectly serviceable spear or lance.

What do you think?  Is one of the interpretations more or less likely?  Is there a third (or fourth) option that we didn't consider?  Leave a comment - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

An adze?

A spear?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Intermediate Period Spear Reproduction

The hafted reproduction
alongside a 1:1 photo of the
original artifact
This is a hafted reproduction of an Intermediate Period spear or dart point based on an artifact found in an approximately 3000 year old archaeology site in Sheshatshiu, Labrador.  It is hafted in to a foreshaft with spruce gum and red ochre glue and sinew lashing.  The foreshaft is fit into a main shaft that is based on historic Innu caribou hunting spears.  The historic period spears had permanently fixed iron spear heads and were used for spearing caribou in close quarters, especially from canoes while the caribou were swimming.  

The foreshaft and socket
The recorded lengths of Innu spears range from 4 feet to well over 7 and a half feet long, although most of the references I've come across are in the 4 to 6 foot range.  For this reproduction I used a main shaft that is just over a five feet long and the total length of the spear is around six or six and a half feet, depending on which of the foreshafts is mounted in it.  Like the historic spears, the socket of the main shaft is reinforced with lashing to prevent splitting.  I used gut for this lashing and spruce for the mainshaft.  Other details borrowed from the historic Innu spears is the straight, non-tapering shaft with a consistent circular cross-section of a little over 2 cm.  There is also a small knob on the butt end of the spear, presumably this was there to assist in thrusting and retrieving the spear.

Spruce mainshaft, softwood foreshaft, gut and sinew lashing, red ochre and spruce gum binding. The mainshaft is 5 feet 1 inch long and when fitted with this foreshaft, the complete spear is 6 feet long. (click to enlarge)

The antler knife handle is tapered at
the end so it will also fit into the
spear mainshaft.
The interchangeable foreshafts will allow the interpreters to change the character of the spear by swapping out different foreshafts mounted with different point styles.  In total, there will be three different foreshafts, each mounted with a different biface or projectile point, including the knife that I mentioned in the last blog post.  The one limit will be the mainshaft itself.  Its a very good representation of a handheld thrusting spear, but it is not an aerodynamic design and doesn't easily lend itself to the interpretation of many of the notched bifaces as projectile points, perhaps fitted onto darts that were launched with a spear thrower.  Imagine a slighter shaft, with more of a barrel shape, lacking a knob on the butt end and perhaps outfitted with feathers to create drag and spin.  Again, that's one of the benefits of the detachable foreshaft technology.  The same foreshaft that could be fit onto this thrusting mainshaft could also be used on a light dart designed to be hurled at prey with a throwing stick or atlatl.

I had a choice of projectile points to use on this reproduction.  I went with the point with the tip damage over the more complete examples because I found a stone that was a very good match to the original artifact.
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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