Monday, November 20, 2017

Dorset Bear Heads

A family of four Dorset Palaeoeskimo polar
bear pendant reproductions
I had a couple requests this summer for reproductions of Dorset Palaeoeskimo walrus ivory polar bear head pendants.  I finally finished a set and shipped off the first two late last week.  I use the same couple of Dorset artifacts for reference for all of them, but slight differences in the size and the ivory always gives them their own personalities.  To me, the larger two look the most natural and look like a male and female.  The smaller two are closer in size and style to the reference artifacts.  

The original artifacts have hollow throats, which
allows them to be suspended on a cord.  The
originals may have been suspended in a similar
way, but there may also be a more spiritual
significance to the hollow throat design.
I'm still working the same few tusks of walrus ivory that I purchased from the West Baffin Co-op in Cape Dorset.  It is well seasoned now, but I still take precautions to keep it from drying out and cracking or de-laminating.  When I finish a carving like this (and sometimes while they are in progress) I coat the ivory in a generous layer of mineral oil.  I use unscented baby oil.  The ivory sucks up the oil and it prevents it from drying out.  I find that if you wear and handle walrus ivory a lot your natural skin oils will replenish and protect the piece from drying out.  If you've purchased an ivory pendant or harpoon head from me in the past, it would probably be a good idea to give it another coating of baby oil every few years.  Now would be a good time.

Each one turned out slightly different.

The smallest in the set are still available.  Contact me for pricing.


Still available. Contact me for pricing.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reproductions for Qalipu First Nation

Waltes game and crooked knife
Earlier this week, I completed work on a few different artifact reproductions, tools, and games for the Qalipu First Nation. Some of the pieces, like this waltes set and crooked knife are based on Mi'kmaq culture from Newfoundland and the Maritimes.  Others are Maritime Archaic and Beothuk reproductions for use in a mock dig program run on Newfoundland's west coast. The pin and cup games are more generic and have analogs in many different cultures in this part of the world.

Crooked knife. This knife is made from a steel file, wood handle and waxed cotton thread.  I used several historic Newfoundland Mi'kmaq crooked knives as references for this piece, especially this one in the Canadian Museum of History collection.  Other groups in the Province made similar knives, but one of the characteristics that makes the Mi'kmaq version unique is how the blade is secured into the handle.  The blade is fit into a slot on the top of the handle and tied into place.  In Labrador, it seems more common to cut a socket out of the side of the handle, insert the blade, close the socket with a wooden plug and then lash everything together.  The blades in Labrador may also have a bit more of a curve to them at the tip.

The ochre stained pieces are all Maritime Archaic; two bird headed bone pins, a bird headed antler comb, and a bird-bone flute.  The two broken arrowheads are Beothuk or Little Passage style.

Pin and cup games made from long bones and antler for the cups and antler for the pins.  I used braided artificial sinew for the cord.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Onondaga Points for The Canadian Museum of History

Knapped arrowheads
As is often the case, I had a flurry of potential customers contact me early in the summer just as I was heading out the door for a summer of arctic fieldwork.  Thankfully, everyone was understanding of my schedule and now that I'm home, I'm getting back into the workshop and getting caught up on orders.

I shipped the first small order last week; a set of knapped arrowheads made from Onondaga chert to be used in programming this fall at the Canadian Museum of History.

The order was for arrowheads based on the look of the larger dart points shown in the background plate.

Signed and ready for shipping.
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, July 17, 2017

Provincial Historic Sites Reproductions and Games

Red Ochre stained Beothuk
knife reproduction
Last week, I delivered an order of artifact reproductions and games to the folks at Provincial Historic Sites to use in interpretive programming.  One set was a collection of Beothuk hunting tools, including a knife, scraper, deer spear, harpoon, and three arrows.  A second batch of games included rawhide buzzers, a waltes set, and pin-and-cup games.
The harpoon and deer spear (lance) are
very hard to photograph because of
their length.
Some of these pieces are new to me, including the Beothuk lance.  I used the archaeology site at Russell's Point as the reference collection for the lithics in the collection.  The knife blade, end scraper,  arrowheads, and lance head are all based on artifacts found by Bill Gilbert in his MA research at Russell's Point.  I used a metal endblade on the harpoon because I've only seen metal endblades on Beothuk examples of that implement.  It's possible that some of the lithic artifacts that we find in Beothuk sites and classify as arrowheads or triangular bifaces were used to tip harpoon heads, but no one has found one in association with a harpoon head to prove it.  Here's a link to a blog post from 2014 where I discuss the references available for Beothuk harpoons and deer spears.

Beothuk harpoon and lance reproductions

The point of this lance is based on a large bi-pointed artifact found at Russell's Point.  It's possible that it was an unhafted bifacial knife, but it was symetrical enough that it's possible that it tipped a long deer spear, similar to the long iron tipped deer spears of the later historic period.

An antler harpoon head with a steel endblade and sinew lashing.  Like all of the Beothuk reproductions that I make, it is covered in red ochre.  The harpoon head has a line attached and is designed to slip off the end of the long wooden harpoon shaft when it is stabbed into a seal.

The complete harpoon and lance.

According to historic observations and drawings by Shanawdithit, the harpoon and dear spear were very long.  The deer spears were reported to be 12 feet long, while harpoons were variously reported as 12-14 feet long.  The one shown here is 13 feet long and the deer spear is 12 feet long.  These tools are so lengthy, that I make them in two pieces with a hard raw hide socket to join them together.  The can be taken apart for transportation and storage and reassembled for interpretation.

Beothuk style chert knife in a wood handle with sinew lashing and red ochre staining.

Hafted endscraper.  The endscrapers at Russell's Point were primarily made on flakes and had very rounded scraping edges, especially when compared to similar Palaeoeskimo artifacts from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Wood artifacts are very rare form Beothuk archaeological sites.  There are a handful of pieces from ethnographic contexts, but things like tool handles are very hard to come by.  When I don't have archaeological references to use, I try to fill in the blanks as simply as possible.

Beothuk arrow reproductions.  Chert, sinew, pine, goose feathers, red ochre

The Beothuk reproductions together.

Raw hide buzzer game
A buzzer in action. You can do the same thing with a big button twisted on a string.  It sounds like the wind when it whirs.

Bone and antler pin and cup games.


Waltes.  This is a Mi'kmaq game.  There are many examples of this game in the Maritimes and it's becoming popular among the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland.  The game is played with a shallow wooden bowl and six game pieces.  The game pieces are blank on one side and incised with a design on the other and the game is scored based on the combination of face-up and face-down dice when they are flipped in the bowl.  The sticks are used for scoring.  Provincial Historic Sites tried unsuccessfully to find a Mi'kmaq craftsperson in the Province to make this game set before coming to me.  It would be good to see someone from the Mi'kmaq community making these.

Photo Credits: 
1-6, 8-10, 13, 15-17: Tim Rast
7, 11, 12, 14: Lori White

Friday, June 23, 2017

Harpoon Heads for Nunavik Sivunitsavut

Nearly 3000 years of
Arctic Harpoon Head evolution
I shipped a large order of harpoon heads and Dorset and Thule artifact reproductions to Nunavik Sivunitsavut, an Inuit post secondary school in Quebec.    The reproductions will be handled by students in their archaeology courses.  The harpoon heads were particularly interesting for me because of the breadth of examples requested; in total there are fourteen harpoon heads in the set composed of seven Dorset and seven Thule examples. 

Assorted Dorset and Thule Artifact reproductions. Chert microblades, knife, and scraper, slate tools, whalebone handles, nephrite Burin-Like Tool. 

A valuable reference
My primary reference for the harpoon heads in this collection is the book Ancient Harpoon Heads of Nunavut: An Illustrated Guide by Robert Park and Douglas Stenton.  I made all of the Dorset harpoon heads illustrated in the book and all of the Thule harpoon heads, except for the large whaling harpoon head.  There are also three Pre-Dorset examples in the book that we didn't cover here, but otherwise I worked through every page of the publication.
The book was extremely useful in selecting the raw material for each example and planning the general size and design of the pieces.
Common raw materials
and sizes are listed
As the reproductions neared completion, I also used sources like the Canadian Museum of History online catalogue to see actual photos of the examples as well as primary reports and archaeological publications.  Several of the harpoon head designs were new to me, and I've never attempted to make so many different styles all at once.  There were days when the rapid switching in the workshop between all of the various designs, materials, and styles kept my head muddled.  But over time the bigger patterns emerged and helped me understand the various stages in the sequence.

Thule Type 1
One of the things that struck me was how continuous the sequence actually is. Early and Middle Dorset contrast sharply with more recent Thule and Inuit harpoon heads where design elements like gouged versus drilled holes and dual versus single basal spurs create very different looking implements.  However, there is a much more grey area during the Late Dorset and early Thule where designs overlap.  In the archaeology of the Eastern Arctic there is a gap between Dorset and Thule and the cultural remains that we usually encounter look very different, but when you look west the differences are a little more subtle.

Thule Harpoon Head Reproductions, (left to right); Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, Type 4, and Type 5
Tyara Sliced - Early Dorset. Walrus ivory and chert
Kingait Closed - Middle Dorset. Walrus ivory and chert

Nanook Wasp Waist - Middle Dorset. Walrus ivory.

Dorset Parallel - Early, Middle and Late Dorset. Antler and Chert.

Dorset Type G - Late Dorset. Antler and Chert

Dorset Type Ha - Late Dorset. Antler
Dorset Type J - Late Dorset. Antler
Thule Type 1 - Classic and Postclassic Thule. Antler

Natchuk - Early Classic Thule. Antler and chert

Thule Type 2 - Classic and Postclassic Thule. Antler

Thule Type 3 - Classic and Postclassic Thule. Antler and copper

Sicco - Early Classic Thule. Ivory and copper

Thule Type 4 - From Classic Thule through Historic times. Whalebone and slate
Thule Type 5 - Postclassic Thule into Historic times. Whalebone and steel

The complete Dorset harpoon head set.  Ivory, chert, and antler

The complete Thule harpoon head set. Ivory, antler, whalebone, steel, copper, chert, and slate

Photo Credits: Tim Rast 

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