Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

A creepy statue in Venice - how does stone decompose like that?
Apparently Cenobites lie behind this doorway in Venice.
Yeah, that's grim. Castelvecchio Museum, Verona

Creepy kid and her creepy drawing.  More nightmare fuel in the Castelvecchio.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ötzi in Bolzano, Italy

Ötzi - reconstruction
One of the highlights of the Italy trip was heading north towards Bolzano on my 40th birthday to visit the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology - the home of Ötzi - the Iceman.  Ötzi is a 5300 year old wet mummy that was found frozen in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991.  Not only was his body preserved, but many of the tools that he was carrying with him as well.  The museum does not disappoint.  Ötzi's mummified body is on display in a cooled room, behind glass.  The window into the mummy room is the first display that you see when you enter the exhibit space.  Then all of his tools are beautifully presented and interpreted.  Photos are not allowed in that part of the museum, but you can seen wonderful photos of the artifacts on the museum website (link above). Photos, however, are allowed in other parts of the museum, including the fantastic reconstruction of Ötzi and a lifesize, interactive touchscreen autopsy table that lets you examine the mummy inside and out.

The outside of the museum in scenic Bolzano.

The touchscreen autopsy table let you zoom in and see different layers or bone, muscle, and tissue inside the mummy.

Ötzi's big hands and his farmer tan reminded Lori and I of my dad's hands as soon as we saw them.  Its a remarkably lifelike reconstruction of a man who made his living with his hands.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast, Lori White

Monday, October 27, 2014


We visited Pompeii on our way off of the Amalfi Coast and north through Florence and into the Dolomiti Mountains.  The scale of the excavations and ruins at Pompeii is something that I wasn't prepared for.  The town had a population of around 11,000 people when it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.  The town that I grew up in had a population of 2000, and the homes and businesses were spread over a comparable sized area to Pompeii. Archaeological excavations at Pompeii over the past 250 years have exposed most of the town.  Our visit lasted from mid-afternoon until sundown.  At night it was pitch black and without a GPS and our iPhone flashlights we might have still been stumbling around the streets when the packs of stray dogs inhabiting the town began to rouse and prowl the empty streets.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, October 24, 2014

Isle of Capri, Italy

Leaving Capri

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pontone, Italy

View of Pontone from a garden in Ravello, Italy

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Monday, October 20, 2014

Amalfi, Italy

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, October 17, 2014

Atrani, Italy

Home for 10 days
Atrani, Italy
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Vacation

Flying over the Austrian Alps on the way to Italy
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, October 13, 2014

Late Dorset Biface and Cover

This is an interesting pair of Late Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifacts from Button Point, Nunavut.  I saw these in the spring at the Canadian Museum of History while Chris, Lori, and I were looking at Dorset drums.  I can't say for certain that these two objects belong together, but they are a good match and illustrate how the carved wood covering might have fit over an endblade, knife, or lancehead.  

The upper artifact is a chert biface and the lower object is a wood covering that is designed to fit over the same style of point.  I think its probably a protective covering to protect the sharp edges of the biface between uses.  Although it is carved to a sharp point itself, so its not impossible that it is a functional wooden lance head designed to fit over an existing stone point.  I think the sheath option is the more likely scenario, but you never know.  The Dorset threw away their drills and didn't want hoods on their parkas.  It wouldn't surprise me if they decided that knapped stone tools made life in the Arctic too easy and decided to cover them up with really, really sharp wood instead.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Courtesy of the Canadian Museum of History

Friday, October 10, 2014

How to wear the Beothuk quiver?

I don't know how the Beothuk wore their quivers.  Judging from Cartwright's illustration, it looks like the quiver strap was very long and not permanently fixed to the birch bark tube that held the arrows.  This makes me think that the quiver was adjustable and could have been worn any number of ways across the back, over the shoulder, or at the hip.  I'm not going to pick a most likely scenario, but here are a few options that come to mind.  In each version the strap is tied around the top and bottom of the quiver and either left at its full length, shortened by one additional wrap around the tube, or shortened by two additional wraps around the tube.  The version shown worn at the waist is looped through an additional rawhide strip acting as a belt around my waist.

With a very long strap the quiver
could be worn low across the back.
This style makes sense if you
imagine it worn over a large winter
With a short strap the quiver could be
worn at the waist on a belt.  You could
get a similar effect with the very long
strap hung over the opposite shoulder
like a sachel.

Slung over one shoulder.  Fine
for short distances, but
probably not the most secure or
practical option in most cases.
Worn diagonally across the
back, the quiver is secure,
the arrows are easily accessible
and they aren't in the way for
walking through the woods.

Photo Credits: Lori White

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Finished Beothuk Quiver

The Beothuk birch bark quiver reproduction is finished!  This will end up in a freshly updated exhibit for Dildo Island alongside the Beothuk bow and arrow reproductions that I worked on earlier this year.  The quiver is 74 cm long, with a top diameter of 11 cm and a bottom diameter of 9 cm.  Its made from a single sheet of rolled birch bark.  The original peel of birch bark was approximately 50 cm longer when I took it off the tree and the pieces cut from the ends were used as applique fringes around the top and bottom of the quiver.  All of the stitching is done with spruce roots.  There is no glue or modern binding materials used anywhere.  The stain is red ochre, water, linseed oil, and egg.  The strap is a strip of caribou raw hide ribbon about 2 and a half times as long as the quiver.  Its not permanently attached, but is long enough that it can be wrapped and tied around both ends of the quiver and adjusted to a number of different lengths.  I'm not certain how it would have been worn over the shoulder, across the back, or at the hip, so I wanted the strap to be versatile.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the bow-tie.  The only illustration that I have to use as a reference shows a ribbon-like strap tied around the top of the quiver and wrapped around the tube.  I think this is partly a cartographic liberty as the illustration accompanies a map of the Exploits River.  I don't know whether to take the bow-tie literally, but what I did take away from the drawing was the approximate width, weight, and exaggerated length of the strap.  It also gives the impression that the strap was not permanently fixed to the quiver, but wrapped around and tied in place.  I tried to capture the feel of the ribbon-like strap by using a strip of thin caribou rawhide.  Overall, I like the weight of the strap, the paper-like quality of the strap suits the cardboard-type weight of the quiver itself.

Here's the reproduction next to the original reference drawings.  There are things that I like about it, but I can also see a few things that I might modify in future quivers.  The conical taper could be a little sharper.  The width at the top looks good, but it could be a little narrower at the bottom.  I'm happy with the stitching details at the bottom of the quiver, although I might try stitching across the bottom in a sort of star or spiderweb pattern with the spruce roots next time.  I have that sort of stitching inside the bottom of the tube to hold some extra birch bark discs in place at the base of the quiver to protect the bottom of the tube from the arrow points.  The stitching up the side looks good, although I might make it just a hair smaller and tighter in future builds.  Incidentally, this is the first time that I've notices how the Beothuk arrows are shown with their fletching extending past the nock on the end.  I've looks at this image a dozen times and never noticed that detail before.  I'll need to modify the fletching on future arrows.

I'm not sure how many arrows you'd want to store in something like this.  If you wanted to cram as many in as possible, then you could probably fit a couple dozen in, maybe more.  But to actually access them easily, then perhaps a dozen or so would be more practical.  The tapered points made from hammered iron nails would be much easier to withdraw from the tube than the earlier barbed stone points.  In terms of keeping the arrows dry  - there is no indication in the reference drawings of any sort of flap or cover.  I didn't seal any of the holes for stitching the the spruce root through the birch bark, so water should drain out the bottom without too much trouble if you got caught wearing it in a downpour. Birchbark is naturally waterproof and the ochre and oil staining will only help make it even more weather resistant.

Before the ochre went on, the birch bark seemed bright and fresh and new. 

The ochre stain adds a lot of depth and character to the reproduction.  I think a person's first impression might be that its a leather quiver, but if you look closely you can see the telltale birch pattern beneath the rich red ochre staining.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, October 6, 2014

Plans and Profiles: Claidhbh Ó Gibne Experimenting with Neolithic Watercraft in Ireland

Claidhbh Ó Gibne
Over the summer I exchanged a few e-mail with a fellow in Ireland named Claidhbh Ó Gibne who researches and builds traditional skin currachs.  He's undertaken an ambitious project to construct a larger ocean going vessel built using the same principles as the smaller currachs.  We know that Ireland's Neolithic inhabitants were part of a larger sphere of contact with Europe, but what do we know about their methods for making sea voyages 5000 years ago?  I asked him about his project:

Plans and Profiles #20. Claidhbh Ó Gibne Experimenting with Neolithic Watercraft in Ireland

1) Tell me a little bit about your project.

The Bovinda on the water
I have always been intrigued with the Stone Age, perhaps its because I have lived in an area where, 5,000 years ago, a great complex of burial chambers was built - known as Newgrange. This neolithic passage tomb culture travelled across from Europe to Ireland before the era of metal. They then continued to voyage northwards, settling in Orkney, north of Scotland where they strove to leave a legacy to their very existence in the form of a great passage tombs. The elephant in the room of course is the sea that lies between all the these countries and as a lure it was just too exciting not to bite. The other aspect of this, is the human story that tells of how we developed as a civilisation once we obtained a manageable food source, namely - the cow, which allowed us expand to the further corners of the world. This is what inspired the Newgrange Currach Project: the construction of a wicker framed, skin-covered boat used by mariners in prehistoric times. We plan to recreate ancient voyages that would have been undertaken by our ancestors over five thousand years ago. This 36 ft leather boat, Bovinda, was built as much as a trophy to salute human endeavour.while at the same time, as an acknowledgement that the cow today, is seen reluctantly as an archaic form of food production. Perhaps it symbolises the end of an era on the human journey and the beginning of this new voyage we seek to begin, that of renewal. (Hope that's not too deep!!)

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

The area where I live, along by the river Boyne, was one of the last places where woven skin boats were made to fish salmon, surviving on our river until as late as 1961, so I always had an interest in making these craft and reintroducing them onto the river. The question that all the archaeologists pose when talking about the tomb builders, is: How did our Neolithic ancestors transport such large stones from locations along the coastline which they used to ornate their tombs. When weaving our small traditional river boats, it became obvious to me that any shape or size could be made using this traditional method, and therefore I began to experiment with them.

3) Has your project changed since you began?

Bovinda sea trials
The swings and roundabouts associated with any project like this are so horrendous, that no one would have taken it on if they had known in advance. To answer whether my project has changed, a contortionist's performance out on stage, but like all good shows it worked its self out in the end. I would have liked to have used more raw hide in the construction and perhaps have had velum for the sails. A lot more experimentation is needed on leather tanning, especially natural sleeves of the lower legs of animals. I would have liked for the boat to have been smaller and lighter but I have had to add in a lot of extra support boughs due to its size. It quickly became apparent that the boat was to be double in size and have half the work force - as I said swings and roundabouts! The project was initially to be a woven imitation of the 36 foot Colmcille that is kept by the Causeway heritage group in Co Antrim. But a film documentary maker's imagination combined with a sailor's appetite always for more saw the project grow incrementally out of all proportion, least to say neither sailor nor film maker were there at the end.

4) If you could ask a Stone Age mariner one question, what would it be?

I would ask him (or her) if they tonged or sewed the leather or skin onto their boats. If they tonged, I would ask if they used bird bone flutes to offer the rawhide thread through the holes? Or if they sewed I would ask what materials and tools was most successful for sewing with and if they ever came across an alternative to black spruce roots, as we don't have that over here! Ooops - think that's more than one question!! Basically, I would quiz them about their sewing techniques....I spent many many months experimenting with different materials and stitching methods before I settled on one!

5) Has your research taught you anything about yourself ?

Yes it has! I realise now how much I love a challenging journey, not too bothered about the destination, just the journey getting there!
Also I learnt that having no money for long stretches of time can hurt the hell out of your dignity, but not your pride!

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

I like to unwind by playing music on my fiddle! And as this seems to wind everyone else up in the morning, I normally retire to the out doors with my cup of tea and play to the blackbirds. I like to meet up with friends and have fun on the river in our little leather boats, and the odd evening I get to play music with my sons and daughter who, being very good musicians manage to put up with me...only because I'm their Dad!!
Where I live, there are some beautiful walks at my doorstep and a dog who will always remind you. When the house is quiet, or when I manage to find a little corner for myself away from the busy bustle of the day, I love wood carving and I'm big into cultural heritage so carving Celtic design with knots as deep as I can make them is my favourite. I like to do illustrations and to draw Celtic designs which usually turns into a carving after some time, or yes, you got it, drawing detailed sketches of the boat. I get great enjoyment out of writing too!

7) What archaeological discovery or project do you wish you could have been part of?

Don't think a leather boat has ever been found but if ever there is such a find, thats where I would like to be, looking for answers to many of my questions, seeing how close I was to the real McCoy! So I would like to be on an Archaeological excavation working on a dig that uncovered a sea-going leather boat somewhere along the coast, in a nomadic settlement along side some middens!

8) What's next for you?

By next March, weather permitting of course, we hope to take Bovinda out again. The leather square sail is at present being improved upon and time permitting I will have a small leather lateen sail to experiment with too.. The oars of alder poles are at the moment being bent in the opposite direction in an attempt to straighten out the kinks. and I've had some time to experiment with two new quarter rudders made of elm and oak. So a lot going on and a lot to do -

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?

Of course I will recommend my own book for reading about skin currachs (Boyne Currach - from beneath the shadow of Newgrange, published by Fourcourts Press 2012). Other books that I would recommend would be Facing the Ocean by Barry Cunliffe, Sinews of Survival and Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America. With website we have a website and a face book page too! when I was researching about the boat I found that PaleoPlanet was the most helpful forum with many subscribers only to willing to give advise and suggestions.


Are you part of an archaeological research project or perhaps you know an archaeology student who could use a boost in exposure. I'd love to hear your recommendations for future interviews.

Photo Credits: 
All photos Claidhbh Gibne
Plans and Profiles Banner, Tim Rast based on a linocut by Lori White
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