Friday, April 29, 2011

Knapping etc...

Notching with a coat hanger
This is such a weird time of year.  The productive part of my day has been creeping back later and later into the evening and wee hours of the morning.  I'm outside in the workshop during the late morning and afternoon and then assembling jewelry in front of the TV in the evenings.

Fibre Optic Necklaces assembled and ready to ship
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Beothuk Pendants

Ochre Stained Beothuk Reproductions
Here's a look at a few Beothuk reproductions that I made for The Rooms several years ago to use in education kits and public programming.  I've talked about the gaming pieces and bowl in an older post, but I don't think I've shown pendants on this blog yet.  I'll be making a couple more in the next week or two, so I've been keeping my eyes open for good caribou bones to make them from.  I'm always struck by how thin the pendants are.  The ones shown here are made from long bones, but I'm thinking that I might experiment with caribou mandibles on the next pendants I make.  The bone is thin enough, and the triangular shape of many of the pendants seem like a good fit for the jaw bones - plus I have tonne of caribou mandibles right now.

Pendants like this were sewn onto Beothuk clothing as ornaments and found on sinew cords, suggesting they were also worn as necklaces.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 25, 2011

Knapping tools and fibre optic preforms

Antler billets and copper flakers
I'm still plugging away at spring orders.  I'm putting a few pressure flakers and some moose and caribou antler billets into the mail for a customer sometime in the next 24 hours.  In the workshop, I'm knapping away at fibre optic blanks for necklaces and earrings.  Its still feels like there is a lot to get done before the start of summer, so I'm just trying to focus on manageable goals to keep from getting overwhelmed by it all.

Fibre optic preforms, ready to notch
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 22, 2011

Crafts of Character

Crafts of Character is the craft marketing brand promoted by the Provincial Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.  They've recently released a video showcasing some of the outstanding crafts and craft producers from this province.  You can learn more about Crafts of Character on their website:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo Toolkits

Palaeoeskimo tool reproductions
Recently, I completed a set of reproductions based on artifacts found at Port au Choix, Newfoundland and Labrador.  Here's a look at the complimentary sets of Dorset and Groswater Palaeoeskimo hafted tools.  Each set includes a knife, burin-like tool, scraper, self-bladed harpoon head and endbladed harpoon head.  There are also a side-hafted and end hafted microblade which could belong to either culture.

Groswater Palaeoeskimo Toolkit
The Groswater Palaeoeskimo lived at Port au Choix between about 2800 and 1900 BP.  They liked to make their stone tools on very fine grained, colourful cherts.  They frequently used grinding throughout the knapping process and finished their tools with fine serrated edges and side-notches to haft haft them.  They left small camps, in locations where they could exploit a range of resources and seem to have adopted a generalist strategy to deal with the unpredictable nature of the world they lived in.

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Toolkit
The Dorset Palaeoeskimo lived at Port au Choix between about 2000 and 1300 BP.  They also used fine grained cherts for their small tools, but don't seem to have been quite as particular about the colour and finishing techniques on their stone tools.  Grinding was used by the Dorset on the Northern Peninsula, but not as routinely as when the Groswater lived there.  The Dorset would use grinding exclusively to make specific tools, like their little nephrite burin-like tools, but had other specialized finishing techniques, like tip-fluting to use on their endblades.  The specialization in their tools seems to be symptomatic of a more specialized society, which at Port au Choix, is focused on seal hunting.

Groswater (L) and Dorset (R) Harpoon Heads
Harpoon Heads: I've talked about the differences between Groswater and Dorset harpoon heads before.  The earlier Groswater Palaeoeskimo harpoon heads share a lot of features with pre-Dorset open socket harpoon heads.  The foreshaft socket was gouged out of one face of the harpoon head and they often closed back in with some sort of lashing material - I usually use sinew.  Their side notched endblades are tied onto a shelf cut on the nose of the harpoon head.  Their Selfbladed harpoon heads have similar bases, but may have one or more barbs instead of a stone endblade.  The Dorset versions have closed sockets, that are gouged into the harpoon head form the base.  Their endblades are frequently triangular, un-notched and tip-fluted.

Groswater (L) and Dorset (R)
Burin-Like Tools: Burin-like tools are small ground stone tools that would have been hafted and used as small engraving or carving tools for working organic materials.  They are modelled after the earlier chipped stone true burins, which create a cutting edge by removing a spalls along the edge of a flake or biface.  Burin-like tools (BLTs) force this sharp cutting edge by grinding.  The Groswater Palaeoeskimo used chert for their burin-like tools and chipped and ground them very flat, with edge bevels and facets to create the cutting edge of the tool.  They finished them with flaring stems, instead of the wide side-notches they used on knives or narrow side-notches they used on endblades.  There must have been a reason to use the flaring stems, instead of the notches that they used elsewhere, but I don't quite understand it.  The Dorset BLTs take the evolution away from the true burin one step further by doing away with a knapped preform entirely.  They used nephrite for the blanks and prepared the entire tool through grinding.  Even the single side notch is ground or incised into place.

Groswater (Top) and Dorset (Bottom)
Knives: Groswater Palaeoeskimo knives are frequently called asymmetric knives because they are often bent or unusually shaped.  There's so much variability that its difficult to describe them succinctly, but they have a tendency towards being long and narrow.  They are finished with side notches, often wide "E" notched, and will sometimes be serrated.  They are always finely made and frequently have an abrupt change in angle along one or both edges, creating bent or dog-legged blades.  Dorset Knives have less variability and are frequently wider across the based, with shallow side-notches for hafting and tend towards a more tongue or triangular shape.  Resharpening along a Dorset knife tend to create a softer edge and the abrupt changes in the edge angle that create the bent look in a Groswater knife aren't as common.

Groswater (L) and Dorset (R) scrapers
Scrapers: Both Palaeoeskimo groups made small, unifacial endscrapers.  I tend to think of the earred Groswater Endscrapers as being larger than the small triangular scrapers that the Dorset Palaeoeskimo left behind. The reproductions that I made show the difference in shape, but the size difference might be a little distorted, because the Groswater scraper is almost used up and the Dorset endscraper still has some life left in it.   The classic Groswater endscraper has a square base and flaring ears, although its not the only type of scraper they used.  The ears are a remnant of a wider scraping edge that has been resharpened down to flat muffin-top.  The triangular Dorset endscraper will shrink back into the handle as it is used and tiny resharpening chips are removed along the working edge.

You can see a preview of a brand new volume on the archaeology of Port au Choix edited by M. A. Priscilla Renouf called: The Cultural Landscapes of Port au Choix: Precontact Hunter-Gatherers of Northwestern Newfoundland.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weeks of Wholesale Orders Ahead.

Could be a little narrower
Its Monday.  I'm working on filling spring wholesale orders.  That's what I'm doing and its what I'll be doing for the next couple of months.  There are a few reproductions sprinkled into the mix, like these Maritime Archaic ground slate lances, but for the most part its necklaces and earrings until the start of summer.

Most of the slate we get in the province is green or reddish-purple

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 15, 2011

Maritime Archaic Spear and Harpoon Head

Quartzite Spear
This red ochre stained spear and harpoon head are based on artifacts from Port au Choix, Newfoundland and Labrador.  Along with the fish spear I mentioned in an earlier post, they round out the Maritime Archaic Indian reproductions heading to the Port au Choix National Historic Site.  They are all based on artifacts from the 4400-3300BP Maritime Archaic cemetery.

The reference artifact
Maritime Archaic Quartzite Spear: For all the richness of the burials at Port au Choix, there are hardly any knapped stone artifacts.  The majority of stone tools represented in the site are ground stone artifacts like lances, bayonets, axes, adzes, and gouges.  The spear point (left) that this reproduction is based on was one of only two chipped stone spear points found in the burials.  Its stemmed base is consistent with the style of points found at other Maritime Archaic sites dating to the same time period.  Its made on a relatively tough blue-grey quartzite. Its a rough durable looking point so I gave the reproduction a relatively robust pine shaft to match.  I used rawhide for the lashing and covered the whole thing in red ochre.
Maritime Archaic Indian Spear Reproduction, 188.5cm long, quartzite spear point, rawhide and hide glue binding, pine shaft, red ochre stain

Maritime Archaic Toggling Harpoon Head: This red ochre stained toggling harpoon head is interesting because of how different it is from later harpoon heads belonging to other cultures in the province.  All of the Maritime Archaic harpoon heads were self-bladed.  Self-bladed harpoon heads were used by other cultures, but they were used alongside harpoon heads fitted with composite stone or metal endblades.  To date, I'm not aware of any Maritime Archaic endbades or harpoon heads designed to accept endblades.

Reference Artifacts in The Rooms
The harpoon heads made by the Palaeoeskimo, Thule, Inuit and Beothuk all have some degree of symmetry to them, either left/right symmetry or dorsal/ventral symmetry.  If you find part of one of their harpoon heads, you can often envision the missing pieces as mirror images of the parts that were preserved.  There might be asymmetry in the placement of spurs, barbs, or the open socket, but that asymmetry is usually confined to a single plane.  It seems like some degree of asymmetry was allowed or expected in harpoon head designs, as long as a certain degree of left/right or dorsal/ventral symmetry was maintained.  But the Maritime Archaic toggling harpoon heads, like this one, don't have any of the symmetry seen in later points.  The open socket and slightly D-shaped cross-section do away with any dorsal/ventral symmetry that might have existed in the blank.  Likewise, the off-centre line hole and single basal spur make them asymmetrical along the left/right axis.

Maritime Archaic Toggling Harpoon  Head
If there is one thing that makes the Maritime Archaic harpoon heads diagnostic it is the off-centre line hole.  Everyone else in Newfoundland and Labrador placed their line holes in the centre of the harpoon head.   On their toggling harpoon heads, the Maritime Archaic Indians placed the line hole on the short edge, opposite the single basal spur.  This would probably help with the toggling action, but it also seems to give the line hole one relatively weak edge.  The line holes on their barbed harpoon heads are also placed off centre along one edge.  The other features of the harpoon head -- the single basal spur, open socket, and self-bladed tip -- all show up in harpoon heads made by other cultures, but if you find something that looks like a harpoon head in this Province with an off-centre line hole you could probably make the argument that its Maritime Archaic.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dorset Palaeoeskimo Harpoon and Knife

Dorset Harpoon and Knife
This pair of Palaeoeskimo reproductions is heading to the Labrador Interpretation Centre in Northwest River.  If the knife looks familiar, its because I've made several of them in the past few weeks and showed how I knap the blade and assemble them in the post called Knapping a Dorset Palaeoeskimo Knife; A Photo Essay.  The harpoon is actually one that I made several years ago, but it had lost some parts and needed a bit of updating based on new details that I've learned since I initially assembled it.

Middle Dorset Harpoon Reproduction
This is the first Dorset harpoon that I've worked on since seeing the Groswater Palaeoeskimo harpoon shaft from L'Anse aux Meadows last spring and I decided to base the general dimensions of the spruce mainshaft for this harpoon on the L'Anse Aux Meadows mainshaft made from tamarack.   I've been using main shafts with hexagonal or octagonal cross sections on Dorset harpoons for a few years now which are based on Palaeoeskimo harpoon fragments found in the Eastern Arctic.  They are more or less contemporaneous with the Middle Dorset occupation of Newfoundland and Labrador, but come from more than a thousand kilometres away, so they are a temporal, but not geographic match.  The Groswater mainshaft from L'Anse aux Meadows comes from the same area, but dates to a thousand years earlier, so its a geographic, but not temporal match.

Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo Harpoon reproduction.  Spruce mainshaft, bone foreshaft, antler harpoon head, chert endblade, braided sinew and sealskin line and lashings

Harpoon Detail
I'm happy with the look of the L'Anse aux Meadows inspired shaft on this harpoon.  I like how lean the wood is - only 2.5 cm square, by about 120 cm long.  I kept the bark tanned sealskin harpoon line, but swapped out the old bark tanned lashing on the mainshaft and used the air cured hooded seal skin that I prepared last spring.  Originally the harpoon head was attached to the sealskin line with an artificial sinew braided lanyard, but I gave it a new one made from real sinew.  I feel that the length and square cross section of the mainshaft work well and I liked having a good reference from the Province for the design of the foreshaft socket and the placement of the line attachment.  I didn't scarf a bone icepick on to the end, because it was outside the budget of this particular piece.
Harpoons; Dorset (L), Groswater (R)
I used spruce for the mainshaft rather than tamarack because I was modifying the old Christmas tree mainshaft that I'd originally used on the harpoon.  Its much lighter than a comparable-sized tamarack shaft.  I didn't weigh it, so I can't say exactly how much lighter, but the difference is noticeable.  In the side by side photo on the right, you can see that my Groswater harpoon has been taking on some annoying twists and turns since I took it to Calgary.  The humidity and elevation caused some warping in the wood and antler that I haven't fixed yet.  I don't think the foreshaft will ever go straight again and I will need to replace it all aligned again.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 11, 2011

Central Arctic Reproductions, Index

Ready to pack
This post is a linked index of all of the Central Arctic artifact reproductions that I worked on over the winter.  Its one last look at the project and a hub to quickly link to more information about each piece.  The drum from last fall was the first phase of the project and was followed up with an additional 17 pieces.  All of the pieces are based on artifacts in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  Clicking on the image will give you a larger version of that image, but clicking on the caption will take you to the final, summary blog post for each reproduction.

Copper Needle

Bone Needle
Antler Shuttle

Bone Thimble
Fishing Rod

Skin Scraper

Friday, April 8, 2011

Maritime Archaic Barbed Fish Spear

Maritime Archaic Fish Spear Reproduction
This is kind of a cool piece that I just finished for Port au Choix National Historic Site.  Its a reconstruction of a Maritime Archaic Indian fish spear based on barbed bone and antler points that were recovered in the 4400-3300 BP cemetery at the site. The wood and binding material were not preserved, but there are several interesting details preserved on the barbed points that assist with recreating the tool.

The spear has a light pine shaft and measures 2.25m long.  The 3 prongs are antler and are secured with gut hafting.  The whole thing is covered in red ochre.

Maritime Archaic artifact tray
I started the reproduction by reviewing photos of the original artifacts and visiting The Rooms to see the actual artifacts.  I've made the barbed points on their own in the past, but I've never tried assembling them into a functional tool before.  Many of the long barbed points are quite straight, while others have a warped appearance.  I think that I'd always assumed that they started out straight and that some had warped through taphonomic processes in the ground.  Which might still be true, but I also think that some of the flow and curves in the points were intentional.  I built some of those curves into the design of this reproduction.

I used the top spear as my inspiration

7ft +
I used the general shape of the top artifact in the above photo as my reference.  The bottom barbed point is straight, but the curve in the top piece is perfect for a forked fish spear.  The sinuous bend in the point makes it look a little warped or twisted when its lying in a tray, but it you imagine it as one prong of a leister or trident type spear, then the slight S-shape looks perfectly well planned and executed.

The prongs came from a single antler
The sinuous shape of the barbs was relatively easy to accomplish.  I split a beam of caribou antler in half and then in half again to get 4 matching antler blanks to start with.  The subtle bends and curves of the antler were mirrored in all 4 blanks and I worked them down together.  I was careful to arrange all the teeth in the solid outer surface of the antler, rather than the more porous interior.  Each prong is about 28cm long.

Barbs change to nubs towards the end
There are other clues in the arrangement of the barbs along the edge that help plan a hafting strategy.  The majority of the teeth cut in the edge are backwards facing barbs, a style of barb that shows up on fishing spears around the world, but a couple inches from one end, the barbs turn to small nubs.  Those little nubs are there to facilitate hafting.  The spear starts to taper off when the nubs start and the cross-section changes from round or oval to flat, with a bevel along the edge opposite the nubs.  I think that beveled ridge is designed to fit into a V-shaped channel cut into the mainshaft of the fish spear and the nubs are there to grip the hafting material that ties the bone or antler spear into place.

One consequence of this hafting arrangement is that the finished spear will have outward facing barbs.  Which makes sense in this style of spear.  The spear is designed to pierce right through the body of the fish, not grab it like a leister (left), which has two large prongs with big, inward facing barbs to grab the fish like two giant fingers. The outward facing barbs on the Maritime Archaic spear will have more opportunity to grip the fish as it tries to wriggle off the prongs, than if they were tucked away on the inside of the prongs.  Fish spears with inward facing barbs do exist in the same style as the spear that I've made here, but apparently the Maritime Archaic Indians preferred outward facing barbs on their fish spears.

The specific arrangement and number of barbs on the spear is speculative.  When Millie Spence at Port au Choix placed the order she asked for a 3-prong spear.  I like the look of the 3 prong spear.  When you look down the prongs from the fish's point of view it looks like a squid reaching out to grab its prey.  I'd love to try different numbers and arrangements of prongs in future reproductions.  I think anywhere from 1-5 prongs would be reasonable reconstructions based on the artifacts and ethnographic fish spears.  Some of the straight  barbed spears could have been hafted as single prongs and probably still worked.

Single prong

multiple prong fish spear

Bird spear with prongs placed midway down the shaft

The Inuit made throwing darts with similar barbed points hafted midway down the shaft for hunting birds.  I think the concept there is similar to shooting into a flock of geese with a shotgun - the prongs increase the "spread" of the spear.  However, I've only seen bird darts with inward facing barbs.  I think they are designed to grab and tangle in the flying bird's limbs and neck.  The outward facing barbs on the Maritime Archaic spears wouldn't be much help in that style of dart unless they penetrated the body of the bird and I don't think that was necessarily the goal with that sort of weapon.  To me, the orientation of the barbs on the Maritime Archaic Indian barbed points at Port au Choix suggest fishing rather than bird hunting.

Too little contact
I made the mainshafthafting around, but I could have just as easily ended the mainshaft in a bulb and sunk the points more deeply into the wood so that they could be tied directly onto the wood.  I lost sleep trying to figure out how to tie the barbed points on.  Initially I simply wrapped the gut around and around through the hafting nubs, but the tapered shape of the wood shaft meant that most of the lashing only made contact with the antler spear points, and not the wood.  That's not a good hafting solution.  It didn't make the most of the hafting area.  If the shaft flared at that point, instead of tapering then there could have been more contact with the wood as well as the antler, but that's not what I had to work with.
This feels more secure
Finally I figured out a lashing pattern where I alternated loops around each individual antler prong and the central prong which gave me a lot more contact between the hafting material, antler, and wood.  The gut crisscrosses and lies down against the wood in the channel between each prong.  Then there is a final wrap of the gut cord over the whole area that closes in the gap.  There's more binding and its arranged better.  It felt solid and secure when it went on wet and feels even better dry.  Of course, in use this would be wet all the time, so I'm happy that it feels secure even when the hafting is wet.

Ochre staining is messy 
I used a 7 foot shaft to suggest a very long spear. It could easily have been several feet longer.  These sorts of spear could have very long shafts, but for the sake of transport and indoor interpretive use the 7 foot shaft is still plenty long.  I covered the whole thing in red ochre to make it look more Maritime Archaic.  The Maritime Archaic Indians certainly coated their belongings with red ochre in ceremonial situations, but I'm not sure if they coated them for day-to-day use in the same way that the later Beothuk did.  Still it looks cool and the oil and ochre stain will help preserve the reproductions, so its all good.

Finished Maritime Archaic Indian fish spear and stone tipped spear

  Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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