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

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