Friday, April 28, 2017

Reproductions for NLAS Edukit

Stone, bone, ivory, wood, antler,
red ochre, and sinew
artifact reproductions
Here's an overdue look at the reproductions that I recently completed for a new exhibit in a suitcase that is being designed and assembled by Robyn Lacy for the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society.  The pieces that I made primarily represent the Indigenous and Pre-Contact cultures of the Province.  The diverse array of materials used in the reproductions include wood, antler, ivory, whalebone, sealskin, sinew, slate, chert, steel, caribou bone, red ochre, and cotton cordage.  In addition to the pieces that I made, Robyn gathered and made several more pieces that represent the Norse and European presence in the province.  Using reproductions allows the edukit to be used in a much more interactive way than if it was stocked with real artifacts.

Roughing out the composite pieces, including a slate ulu, wood snow goggles, and a steel crooked knife.  The small object in the middle is a reproduction of a Dorset polar bear head carving made from walrus tusk ivory.

Snow googles (Inuit), Maritime Archaic slate lance, Dorset knife, Beothuk arrowhead, Palaeoeskimo hafted side-scraper, Maritime Archaic whalebone barbed fish spear prong, ground slate ulu (Inuit), roof slate (Historic European), polar bear head carving (Dorset), Beothuk pendant, and crooked knife (Mi'kmaq/Innu)

The wood snow goggles are reproductions of Inuit goggles used to prevent snow blindness on bright spring days seal hunting.  The leather straps are sealskin and they are lashed in place with sinew.

Ground slate ulu, with a wood handle and sinew lashing.  This reproduction is based on a slate ulu blade from Labrador that is on display in The Rooms. The arrowhead in the upper right hand corner is a Little Passage or Beothuk style point.
I made two different styles of Dorset polar bear head carvings. The more natural carving on the left is the one in the kit.  The one on the right is a highly stylized 2D carving of a bear head.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trail Creek Cave Slotted Antler Point Reproductions

Slotted Antler Points with
inset Chert Microblades
I've completed a set of reproduction antler points with inset microblade side blades and am in the process of hafting two of them to arrow shafts.  I showed progress shots of these points in the previous blog post and I got lots of feedback and good questions.  One of the comments was regarding the width of the exposed microblade cutting edge, so I went back to my reference materials for guidance. The primary reference that I was supplied with is a recent paper by Craig Lee and Ted Goebel called "The Slotted Antler Points from Trail Creek Caves, Alaska: New Information on Their Age and Technology". The whole article is freely available online.  Although none of the points were found with microblades in situ in the side slots, the author's did measure the depth of the slots and the widths of the microblades found associated with the points and determined that if the microblades were set in the slots, then the exposed edge would be 2-5 mm wide.  I used that 2-5 mm width as my tolerance for the reproductions and wound up changing several of the designs that I had previously shared.

This point is about 16 cm long

Slotted antler points
 Since the previous blog post, I have glued all of the microblades in place.  The orginal artifacts did not contain traces of adhesives, so I had some freedom to experiment.  In the end, I used hide glue on five of the eight points and pine pitch on the remaining three.  There were pros and cons of both methods and by the end of the process, I think that I preferred the pine pitch option.

The piercing point of the projectiles is the sharpened end of
the antler, while the stone provides extra cutting surfaces
along the lateral edges.
When I made the antler points, I soaked the antler in water to make it more pliable and easier to cut and carve.  Wet antler makes a significant difference in how easily antler can be worked, especially with stone tools (not to imply that I used stone tools to carve these - I used a combination of metal tools and rotary sanders and saws for most of the shaping).  The antler was still wet when I began fitting the microblades and because it was still so soft, I could press the blades into the side-slot and they would stick in place.  This let me plan out the position of the microblades and I could roughly assemble the point with all of the microblade fragments stuck in sequence.  Hide glue is gelatin mixed with warm water, so it seemed like a natural adhesive to use to bind the stone blades to the wet antler.  It was very simple to remove the blades and glue them back in place and by working with the damp antler I could also press the sharp backs of the blades into the slot or used the microblades to cut and carve the slot to a perfect fit.  Then the glue and the antler could dry together.  The drying turned out to be the biggest downside to gluing the microblades in place while the antler was still wet.  Sometimes when antler dries it will take on a curve or bend that wasn't there initially.  That happened in a couple of the points.  The curve was slight, but noticeable and difficult to correct with the blades in place.  If I re-soak the antler to straighten it, then the hide glue will loosen as well and the blades will become loose.  I could also re-carve the antler while it is dry to remove the curve, but now the blades are in the way.  It's a small problem, and it's something that I probably could have avoided by clamping the points to a board or something while they dried.

On this one, the microblades form a leaf-shaped
cutting edge.
Using pine pitch as the adhesive meant that I was working with dry, solid antler that won't change shape after the microblades were glued in place.  When the antler is dry the slot is stronger than the microblade, so it's not really practical to cut and change the shape of the slot to fit the microblade.  The individual blades don't stick in the dry side-slot the same as they do in wet antler either, which meant I couldn't really plan out the whole sequence of blades.  Instead I started at the tip and glued the first two blades (one on the left and one on the right) into place, then moved on to the next two and so on.  I changed how I planned the project, but in the end I was just as happy with the results and it removed the possibility of unexpected warping from drying.  As an added bonus, the pitch is also waterproof, which makes the points less susceptible to damage from rain or snow and means that they could be used for different activities, like fishing.  For bigger game, the individual blades are also more likely to stay in place in the point inside the wound cavity.  There would be pros and cons to that.  Blades that fall out in the wound would cause more damage, but blades that remain in place would make it easier to re-use the point without repair.

An antler point and a matching wood arrow shaft

Using a pair of sandstone
shaft smoothers
The last step is to haft two of the points onto arrows.  The base of the points have a simple scarf joint, so I'm carving the wood arrow shafts with a matching wedge shaped scarf.  Working the arrow shafts also gives me an excuse to test out the shaft smoothers.  They do their job.  The sandstone acts as a sandpaper to smooth the arrow shafts and it also polishes and burnishes the shaft to a clean, shiny finish.  A couple of the reference artifacts have grooves cut in the ends or the sides.  They look like they may have been carved there so two stones could be tied to together.  That logic sounds good, but in practice, tying the two halves together seems pretty unnecessary.  The pair of stones work just fine when they are held together in your hand and adding extra lashing seems redundant.  The stones in these photos have the grooves on the sides (where the wheels of a car go) but the most complete reference shaft smoother that I saw had the grooves on the ends (where the headlights and tail lights go).

Some of the shaft smoothers have grooves on the edges of the ends that appear to be designed to accept some sort of cordage or lashing.

Here the microblades are arranged to create a barbed point.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Slotted Antler Points

Microblades in an antler point
Today, I'm working on slotted antler points with inset microblades.  I made most of the microblades a few days ago and now I'm trimming and fitting them into the side slots on antler points.   Two of these points will then be hafted onto arrows.  

Slotted antler points in the foreground and
rejected microblades in the background
 The microblades are all chert, with the exception of a few Texas flint blades.  Despite having a couple hundred microblades to choose from, I'm starting to run low, so I think I'll return to the workshop tomorrow and knock off a few more.  These reproductions are based on artifacts from Alaska.  Microblades are found associated with the antler points, but I've been told that there aren't any in tact examples to get a sense of the arrangement of blades in the slot or adhesives that may have been used to secure them in place.  Slotted points like this begin to appear during the Upper Palaeolithic and composite microlith tools spread around the globe.  Some styles of slotted points or harpoon heads will have blades protruding like jagged barbs that look like shark's teeth with gaps between the microliths.  However, the microblades found associated with this style of point seem to be prepared to create a continuous edge, so I'm trying to arrange the blades to create a leaf shaped blade, with a clean, sinuous cutting edge on each side of the point.  

I avoided using mis-matched material types in the beginning, but once I started running low on suitable blades, I began mixing and matching.  I kind of like the look.  I think mis-matched stone gives the pieces a more random, real world look.

To create the initial fits and plan out the positioning of the blades, I worked with soaking wet antler.  Water makes the antler soft and pliable enough that I can press the blades into the slots without crushing the thin, sharp edges.

The base of the points end with a scarf joint.  Two of them will be secured to arrows.

So far, so good.

Microblades will have a platform and small bulb of percussion at the proximal end and curve, like the end of a ski at the distal end.  To get the maximum, straight cutting edge, the distal and proximal end need to be trimmed off.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Alaska Archaeology Month - Shaft Smoother

A pair of sandstone abraders
I'm working on a few shaft smoothers for Alaska Archaeology Month.  These are sandstone abraders, that were likely used to sand arrow or dart shafts smooth.  Based on analogies with such abraders that have been found elsewhere in North America, we are assuming that they were used in pairs.  I'm working the abraders into shape and trying to antique them as I go along.  At the moment, these preforms have the approximate shape roughed out, but I'm continuing to modify and antique them to match the reference artifacts.  
The cut blocks in the ledger stone make ideal
blanks for sandstone abrader
So far, the biggest triumph has been finding a good source of sandstone.  I know of roadcuts and quarries around St. John's where I can collect red or reddish purple sandstone, but I wanted something more neutral or buff coloured for these pieces.  I wound up buying sheets of sandstone wall facade at Home Depot.  In the past, I've had bad luck trying to use this sort of building material as a source of raw material.  I have a box of very poor quality quartzite ledger stone that I picked up at one point hoping that I could knap it.  It didn't work.  However, this particular stone worked perfectly, it is a tough, gritty sandstone that is perfect for this particular project.

Each section of ledge stone has at least a 1/2 dozen good shaft smoother blanks in it. I intend to use the remaining sandstone as abrading stone for other projects.  Later in May, I'll see how it works for grinding slate ulus.

I'm grinding and chipping the blanks down to match the reference photos.

The shallow groove in the middle is used to abrade dart or arrow shafts.

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Crooked Knife

Crooked knife made from a file like the one
shown beside it
I recently completed a set of reproductions based on artifacts from Newfoundland and Labrador for the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society.  The NLAS is making an exhibit in a suitcase that contains reproductions and activities that can travel around and be used in places like schools to help interpret the Province's archaeological past.  One of the tools in the kit is a crooked knife.  The crooked knife is an historic tool that is still used today by Innu and Mi'kmaq in the Province.  The reproduction that I made is generic enough that it might be at home on the Island or in Labrador, although I primarily used Innu tools as references. My main source was this one in the collections of the Canadian Museum of History.  

The file fits into a slot cut into the side of the handle
Crooked knives were made from re-purposed iron, especially iron files.  I used a file to make this one.  I broke an inch or so off of the end of the file, so that I'd have a 4-5" long blade.  I sharpened it along one edge (and then dulled it again to make it safe to handle).  A bit of heat and a hammer and anvil is enough to curve the tip.  These are a type of draw knife and the crook in the handle is there to support your thumb as you draw the blade towards you.  

A matching wood plug fits into the socket
The tang of the file/knife blade is fit into the wood handle by gouging out an open socket on one side of the handle.  The way the blade is fit into the handle seems to be one of the slight variations in design between the knives made on the Island of Newfoundland and those made in Labrador.   On the Island, the Mi'kmaq would fit the blade in a slot in the middle of the handle or the back edge rather than an open faced socket, like this one, which is modeled after an Innu example.  A matching wooden plug is carved to close the socket and everything is then lashed securely in place.  I used a cotton thread for this lashing.  I've seen reference to rawhide being used here, but I haven't really come across any good ethnographic examples with rawhide.  Rawhide makes good lashing, but on a handle like this, I could imagine the sweat from someone's hand making the binding rubbery and loose on a hot summer's day.  I think something that doesn't expand of loosen with moisture would be more desirable.

The assembled knife, ready for lashing


Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 17, 2017

April is Alaska Archaeology Month

Chert microblades and core
Every April, Alaska celebrates Archaeology Month.  This year, I'm making some artifact reproductions from the area, including some pieces that I've never attempted before, so I'm enjoying working on something new.  The first pieces, are slotted antler points.  The body of the points are antler, with long slots running the length of the sides.  These side slots hold microblades, so the first step of the process is to make the microblades.

Pile of blades
It always takes me a while to get into the rhythm of making microblades.   Fortunately, I'll need a lot for this project (and other spring orders), so I was able to dedicate a couple days last week to practicing and building up an inventory.  I tend to use soft hammer percussion or indirect percussion to produce the blades.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Clovis Points

Clovis point, Keokuk chert. Front and back
view of the same point.
2017 has been a busy year so far and I've been a bit lax in keeping track of Elfshot projects on this blog.  I was teaching the Lithic Analysis class at MUN, taking an evening class for interest's sake, working on a report from last summer's field work in Iqaluit, and trying to keep up with Elfshot orders.  It all kept my attention divided and blog posts fell off my weekly to-do list.  I'll try to share a backlog of photos and stories, starting with this look at a pair of Clovis points that I made earlier this year.   

Clovis Point, Obsidian. Front and back view
I find fluting points challenging and since I'm rarely asked to make them, there is always a bit of trial and error to get back into the groove of things.  I have a half dozen failed points on my workshop floor, before I finished two that I was happy with.  The white one is Keokuk chert and the black one is obsidian.

Fluted points and their channel flutes

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Related Posts with Thumbnails