Friday, January 9, 2015

Experimenting with Dorset Palaeoeskimo Tools

Scraping the spurs on a harpoon head
I got some exciting news today - a project and paper that I was involved with was just published.  It's based on some experiments that I did with Patty Wells for her PhD research into organic tools from Dorset Palaeoeskimo contexts at Port au Choix.  The paper was published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology and is called:

Dorset Culture Bone and Antler Tool Reproductions Using Replica Lithics: Report on the Identification of Some Possible Manufacture Traces on Osseous Tools from Phillip’s Garden, Newfoundland  – Patricia J. Wells, M. A. P. Renouf, and Tim Rast

The finished antler harpoon head
Ahead of the work, I made reproductions of a range of Dorset scrapers, burins, knives, and hafted microblades and then tried to experimentally reproduce four different organic tools using the kit.  I worked antler, bird bone, caribou bone, and whale bone.  Patty documented the work and compared the results to the archaeologically recovered artifacts.  In some cases the tool marks from the reproductions matched the originals and in other cases they differed, indicating that the Dorset craftspeople used different tools or techniques that the ones I chose.  Both instances were informative.

This is a whalebone tool.  Maybe a foreshaft, maybe something else.   After a very tedious, long time of working the bone, we finally tried soaking it in water and it started to carve like butter.
A bird bone needle

I think the bird bone needle was the first tool that I worked on in the set.  It was one of the simpler tools to get started on.

A barbed point made on caribou bone.  
A lot of people think its really hard to make tiny holes like those found on Dorset tools, but its actually not that hard.  The Dorset didn't use drills, so the holes have to be gouged out.  Before a hole gets big, it starts out as a tiny hole.  It's the big holes that take time to make.

 Photo Credits: Patricia Wells

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