Friday, March 30, 2012

2011 Archaeology Report Finished!

Four printed and bound copies
I'm finally done with the report that I've been working on all winter.  Copies are in the mail to the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, the client in Toronto, and the Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth and the Inuit Heritage Trust in Iqaluit. The artifacts are on their way to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.  I put the last package in the mail this morning.

$125 in postage later....
I'm happy and relieved to see the tail end of it.  Its thicker than my MA thesis by about 50 pages and it accounts for about 1/4 of all the archaeology that we did last summer.  The Archaeology Project Coordinator has his own report for the work carried out under his permit and that one is nearly twice as thick.

If I can manage to string together a sentence on Monday it will most likely be a scotch review.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Point Revenge Arrow

Point Revenge Arrow Reproduction
This is a reproduction of a Point Revenge, or pre-contact Innu arrow based on artifacts from Labrador.  The Innu people are alive and well and living in Labrador.  Archaeologically, the ancestors of the Innu left a material culture that Archaeologists call  "Point Revenge" or "late Labrador Recent Indian".  Their projectile points were corner-notched arrowheads, most commonly made from Ramah Chert.  If you want more information about the Recent Indian peoples who lived in Newfoundland and Labrador, I would refer you to these two informative blog posts from Inside Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology:

Point Revenge and Little Passage reproductions
What's interesting is that the archaeological recovered stone tools left by the ancestors of the Beothuk and the Innu were almost identical even though the two groups were historically quite different.  Take this arrow for example. When I make a Little Passage or Beothuk arrow, I start with a stone point and build the rest of the arrow around it.  I base the organic components on ethnographical observed Beothuk arrows.  I followed the same steps to make this Point Revenge arrow, except I used Innu arrows as the ethnographic reference.  Even though the projectile points are identical, the reconstructed arrows wind up looking quite different.

These are links to some of the arrows that I used as references for the Innu arrows - they are in the Ethnology Collection at The Rooms here in St. John's:

Stone, pitch, sinew, wood
I don't know the exact origin of these arrows and some aspects of their construction seem a little rough or unusual.  I suspect that they were made by an Innu person in the last century for someone from the south who wanted to collect examples of Innu arrows.  They feel like they were made by someone who had seen arrows and knew what they should look like, but didn't necessarily have a lot of experience with their construction.  Still, I don't have any reason to doubt the general size and shape of the arrows, the number of feathers used, the decoration, or the use of pitch as an adhesive, so I used those details in my reproduction.

Point Revenge, Beothuk, Copper Inuit
Even though a Point Revenge (pre-contact Innu) and Little Passage (Pre-contact Beothuk) stone arrowhead look identical, when you reconstruct the arrows based on the ethnographically available information they wind up looking very different.  The type of wood used is different: the Innu used tamarack or spruce for arrow shafts, while the Beothuk used pine.  The length of the arrows are different; the Innu arrows are described as being 24-30" long, while the Beothuk made longer 36" arrows.  The feathers are different; the Innu used three grey or white ptarmigan feathers, while the Beothuk used two goose feathers.  The decoration is different; the Innu decorated each end of the arrow with red paint, while the Beothuk covered the entire arrow with red ochre.

The shaft flattens toward the string nock
Aside from the projectile point, the only common treatment that I could see on both arrows is the flattened shape of the arrow shaft beneath the feathers and the shallow "V" or "U" shaped string nock.  Both groups would have tied their arrowheads and feathers in place and the Innu arrows show evidence of a light coloured pitch.  I don't know whether the Beothuk used pitch or not on their arrows, so I don't know if that is another similarity or another difference.  Likewise, the Innu arrows do not have the feathers glued down along the spine, just tied at both ends.  The drawings of Beothuk arrows suggest that the feathers may have been glued down to the shaft, but I can't say for certain.

Beothuk arrows and Innu arrows differ from each other in almost every way that an arrow can.  I think that the length of the arrows is especially significant.  The Innu arrows would be too short to make full advantage of the 6 foot long Beothuk bows and the oversized Beothuk arrows would be clumsily large in the Innu bows.
Arrows: Point Revenge/Innu (top) and Little Passage/Beothuk (bottom)

Side view of the hafted point
I'm not sure how to interpret this.  I don't know if I'm correct in assuming that all of the historic features of the arrows would have appeared on the pre-contact arrows.  Maybe the similarities in the lithic toolkits extended to all other aspects of the material culture and the Recent Indian arrows on the Island and in Labrador looked identical 1000 years ago.  Maybe they evolved along two separate lines since then from some sort of common arrow ancestor.  I'm not sure.

Ramah chert in grey and black
On this particular arrow, I used a coarse black chert.  This arrow was a paid commission and as much as I'd like to stay true to the Labrador Recent Indian preference for Ramah Chert, I still can't sell the stuff - so I went with this black chert because its comparable to the black version of Ramah Chert.  The shaft is made from tamarack, which I chose over spruce in this case because its colour gives it a slightly more antiqued look than bright white spruce.  I felt it matched the look of the ethnographic arrows a little better.  The arrow is about 27" long.  I used three strips of white feathers that I picked up on the barren grounds south of St. John's.  Ideally, these would be ptarmigan and although I don't know exactly what bird dropped them and its possible that they are ptarmigan, I kind of doubt it.  I used pitch for the glue on both the point and at each end of the feathers and tied them in place with sinew.  The pitch on the ethnographic arrows is light coloured, so I didn't add any charcoal to the gum.

Red paint; a memory of red glue?
I added red pigment to each end of the arrow shaft before tying the point and feathers on.  The Innu use bright red and blue paints on a lot of their objects.  I used red ochre mixed with oil for the base of the stain, although I did punch it up with a dash of red oil paint to brighten the ochre a bit.  The placement of the red paint seems decorative - if it has a special meaning I wouldn't want to guess what it might be.  Although, it is interesting that the red stain is applied in the same places that the arrow and feathers are tied down.  The archaeologist speaking at MUN this Friday is looking at the use of red ochre as an additive in adhesives used during the Middle Stone Age in Africa.  Ochre was used for a lot of things in Newfoundland, but I don't think that I've ever heard that it was mixed with pitch to make a better adhesive.  Still - IF it had been, then it would leave a red stain on each end of an arrow that would look very similar to the pattern of red paint on the ethnographic Innu arrows.  Its an interesting coincidence and maybe something to follow up on.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, March 26, 2012

MUN Archaeology Lecture - Andrew Zipkin

I got this notice last week about a talk happening at MUN this Friday afternoon.  I'm really looking forward to it. Andrew Zipkin is studying some very interesting ochre stained Middle Stone Age tools from Africa.  He uses experimental archaeology and laboratory analysis to work out how and why the ochre was used.  Very cool stuff.

The Department of Archaeology Lecture Series presents a talk by Andrew Zipkin, PhD candidate, from the Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology (CASHP), Department of Anthropology, The George Washington University.

 Date: Friday, 30th March 2012 
   Location: Memorial University, St. John's. Queen's College QC2013 
Time: 3pm 
Andrew Zipkin's PhD research focuses on the role of ochre (iron-containing earth pigments) in the evolution of modern human behavior. Ochre is widely proposed to have been used in either a symbolic capacity as pigment, or in a functional capacity as a component of hafting adhesive during the African Middle Stone Age. His research attempts to address these two leading interpretations of ochre use by conducting a geochemical provenance study of ochre artefacts from Middle Stone Age sites in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, March 23, 2012

Palaeoeskimo Pressure Flaker First Impressions

A little blunter and worn
Here's an update on those walrus bone Palaeoeskimo pressure flakers that I made a few weeks ago.  Since then I've had several opportunities to work with them and these are my first impressions.  Generally, I've preferred the feel of the shorter of the two tools and have used it the most.  I've used them both almost exclusively for pressure flaking, although I did try using the short one as an indirect percussion punch for a half dozen or so blows. I haven't carefully kept track of the time I've spent using the flaker, but I'd estimate its somewhere around 10 hours.

This is what they looked like fresh and new.  I had a fairly sharp tip on them , but that wore off quickly.  The bone in the back is a walrus mandible that I used as the raw material for the pressure flakers.

Pitted with embedded micro-flakes
Initially I was a little concerned because the bone tip started chipping, in a way that I wasn't used to seeing with antler.  If it would have kept flaking apart like that it would have worn down to a nub in no time.  But once the fresh polished surface was worn off it seemed to stabilize into a slightly pitted, blunt working surface that seemed relatively durable.  Still, it seems to wear a little faster than antler.

Better interpretive tool than a copper flaker
I like working with the flaker tip slightly blunt.  There is a little less grinding using this sort of bone flaker than a more solid copper tipped flaker.  With a copper flaker, the edge of the stone must be continually ground or prepared so that it is sturdy enough to withstand the pressure from the hard copper tip.  With the softer bone flaker, the edge of the stone can be left a little sharper and the stone will bite into the bone to create the support for the required pressure.  I noticed when I took these photos that there are actually tiny flakes embedded in the tip of the flaker.

The same flaker.  The pitting is a combination of the natural porosity of the bone and the damage from contact with the sharp chert.

Apparently I have frog fingers
One benefit that I see from not having to work from a ground edge is that the biface will take on a thinner, flatter, sharper cross section more easily.  With the bone flaker, you can stop at any point in the process and the biface will tend to have a thin sharp edge, with edge angles and preparation that looks comparable to an artifact.  With a copper flaker, the biface you are working alternates between a blunt edge and sharp edge.  Leaving a sharp edge with a copper flaker is a conscious decision of the knapper at the final stage of the knapping process, but with the bone flaker, the objective piece never really passes through a dull stage - its always sharp.  Maybe I'm overthinking it, but there were a number of instances where I stopped and looked at the unfiinished pieces that I was working on and was taken aback by how thin and "Palaeoeskimo" looking they were, without any effort.

Bone knapped point
Secondly, I find the flake pattern left on finished tools by the bone flaker a little more authentic feeling.  It probably has to do with the different platform preparation and the way the flaker wraps itself around the sharp edge and as opposed to the narrow pressure point from the copper flaker.  I suppose I could set up an experiment that is a little more systematic to see if any of this is real or just my imagination. The point on the right isn't Palaeoeskimo in style, but I made it with the walrus bone pressure flaker.  I feel like there's something about the flake pattern that makes it look more authentic than comparable points that I've made using a copper pressure flaker.  Sometimes copper leaves a point a little too neat and tidy.

Some glue staining near the haft
As for the rest of the design of the flaker, I found that after an hour or so of constant use the sinew and hide glue binding started to become sticky in my hand.  The scarf joint never became loose, but I could feel the glue becoming rubbery and it has left discoloured marks on bone piece where it meets the wood handle.  I think when I wear these flaker tips out and replace them I'll make a nice solid baleen wrapped handle.  At this point I want to sharpen the blunt one so that its similar to the more pointed version.  I want to make smaller tools and although its still working, I feel like I need a smaller working edge for the next set of reproductions.

Photo Credits:
1-4: Tim Rast
5: Jason Prno
6-9: Tim Rast

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mule Deer and Pronghorn Antelope

If I see wildlife on the side of the road, I have to pull over and try to take a picture.  My dad was the same with rubber tarp straps.  If he'd see one of those in the middle of a four lane highway, he'd hammer the breaks and back the truck up.  The best would be if he could back right over it and just lean out the door to pick it up.  He'd be happy for the rest of the day.  I can't ever recall seeing dad buy a tarp strap.  Any trip could be rated on the number of tarp straps found along the way.  
Anyhow, when I was in Alberta earlier this month I saw dozens of mule deer and pronghorn antelope along the highway. The deer were all near the Bow and Little Bow Rivers and the antelope were in a big herd just outside Medicine Hat.  

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, March 19, 2012

Medalta Potteries, Medicine Hat, Alberta

Craft and Archaeology at Medalta
On the way out of Medicine Hat, Alberta a couple weeks ago, I stopped in to Medalta Potteries for a quick look around.  Its a pretty spectacular site where a large scale historic pottery site is interpreted and opened up for visitors and visiting crafts people.  I was expecting a lot of ceramics and craft, but I wasn't anticipating archaeology to be such a big part of the story.  Medicine Hat is built on rich alluvial clay deposits along the South Saskatchewan River and during the decades around the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century a large brick and ceramic industry grew up in the community.

The large industrial site has be re-envisioned into a historic site, museum, gallery and clay studio for workshops and visiting crafts people

The kilns from the outside
The standing kilns, with their beehive shapes and tall smoke stacks are prominent features on the outside of the rebuilt factory museum.  The archaeological footprint of two more kilns, found buried beneath the floor are even more impressive once you enter the building.  It turns out that I've met the archaeologist who worked on exposing these kilns, Talva Jacobson, when she was living in St. John's and working on her MA in archaeology at Memorial University.

The exposed interior of a kiln found buried beneath the factory floor.

A second, smaller kiln was also exposed.  This one would have been a test kiln for trying out new techniques and forms.

The museum's interior was constructed around the exposed archaeological features.   Its a fantastic example of integrating an archaeological feature into a building designed to interpret an historic site. 

I couldn't help but think of The Rooms built over top of Fort Townsend when I was visiting Medalta.  We do have a remarkably intact Fort lying exposed beneath our Museum, Art Gallery, and Archives - you just can't see it yet. 

Fascinating place to work
The sprawling 150 acre Historic Clay District at Medalta is a combination of museum, art gallery, archaeological site, and ceramic workshop - complete with an artist in residence program.  As you tour through the facility you'll see the work of contemporary potters, examples of classic Medalta ceramics and descend beneath the floor to tour the archaeologically exposed features of the factory below the kilns and turning floor.

Medalta Potteries Limited in Medicine Hat, Alberta. MED,ALTA - get it?
Mural at the Entrance, the sign below is the caption.


When I was there a new exhibit was being installed in the gallery.  I'm not sure who's work this is.

The working part of the pottery studio.  The artist in residence studios are more private - this is the public floor where you can see potters at work.

There are also many static displays that explain the equipment and techniques used in the factory.

Lots of bright, colourful display cases showcasing some of the products to come out of Medalta over the years.

Cowboy Hat Ashtrays from Medalta.

Custom corporate advertising was available.

Not just prairie scenes...

The abundant local clay made this whole industry possible

Lots of durable, functional stoneware crocks were produced here as well.

Beneath the museum floor, you can tour the underground and see more archaeological  interpretations explaining the foundations and equipment that would have been used beneath the factory.  

Archaeological work has been carried out at the site during different times over the past  several decades.

Visiting the underbelly of the factory floor.  The motors that powered the machines on the turning floor above to create the stoneware crocks were mounted down here.  Other features of the kilns and foundations were also found in the excavations.

The big round kilns are no longer used, but they museum has integrated them into the design and interpretation of the facility.

Inside the kilns, you can see more pottery and learn a bit more about how the kilns were used.

Many of these were printed with the names of schools.

Where the smokestack meets the roof inside one of the big kilns.

Inside the kiln, looking out the loading door.
I couldn't leave without bring home a pot for Lori's Birthday.

Photo Credits:
1-28: Tim Rast
29: Lori White

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