Wednesday, October 30, 2013

62 Million Things to Do

Finished Pressure Flakers
Office days are always hard to write about.  I usually build my blog posts around a few photos taken during the day.  So if I'm not working on something tangible, I find it hard to come up with a topic worth documenting.  Most of this week I've been answering e-mails and preparing lists, agendas, and powerpoint presentations for upcoming meetings and workshops.  I've been able to dart out to the shed from time-to-time to work on all those little projects that I'm trying to finish up.  When my Dad would get busy, he'd say that he had "62 million things to do."  I don't have that many, but there's enough.  I completed two dozen pressure flakers and I'm close to finishing the slate and nephrite endblades that I started last week.  Half of the pressure flakers are for upcoming workshops and the other half are for flintknapping kits for the lithic analysis class being offered at MUN next semester.

This hole was filled back in by noon, but then they dug two
more just as big
There are also all kinds of house related jobs on the go. The last 12 months has seen nearly continuous work in and around the house. Maybe we put off necessary maintenance too long or we're just having a string of bad luck, but it really seems like we've been hit by a lot of surprise upkeep this year.  Some was voluntary, like putting new clapboard and windows in, but others, like the leaks in the roof and the sewer upgrades, were unavoidable.  There is a big sewer upgrade happening on our street right now and they've started ripping up the road right in front of our house.  This isn't even the main upgrade - this is just one of the little holes that they dig to hook up the temporary pipes so that they can rip up the whole street and put in the really big pipes.  The big dig will probably hit our section of street early next spring when they start up again, so there's really no end in sight to living in a construction zone.
Lori raking the back lawn.  At least this side of the house looks peaceful.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, October 28, 2013


Lichen on a rock, northwest Baffin Island.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, October 25, 2013

Puttering away

A cluttered toolbox
With a half dozen small projects on the go and no deadlines looming until early November, I've been a little scatter-brained in the workshop lately.  I'm starting new projects faster than I'm finishing old ones so its beginning to feel like there are a lot of loose ends that need tying up.  Hopefully next week, I'll be wrapping up a few projects and begin delivering them.  In the meantime, I've got half-finished Beothuk arrows, copper pressure flakers, ground slate and nephrite endblades and assorted rawhide and sinew projects laying around.

Cut handles and copper ground wire for pressure flakers.

Partially finished nephrite (L) and ground slate (R) endblades.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Beothuk or Little Passage Flintknapping Sequence

Knapping sequence, from
core to finished arrowhead
This stone and antler set illustrates the stages and tools that would have gone into making a Beothuk or Little Passage arrowhead from chert. Its composed entirely of raw materials from Newfoundland and is going to accompany the Beothuk bow and arrow in a local museum display. The set includes a chert core and assorted flakes with a small cobble hammerstone. The caribou antler tine would have been used to pressure flake the larger flakes into a triangular biface and then a corner-notched arrowhead. Evidence of soft hammer percussion or punch work also shows up in Recent Indian collections, but its not necessary for the small chert points, so I went with a simpler reduction sequence in this kit.  Over time, as iron became more available to the Beothuk, their knapped tools became simpler and simpler.

Chert core and flakes, with a hammer stone about the size of a chicken egg

The initial flakes removed from the core could be further worked using the pressure flaker.  Triangular Bifaces are common artifacts in Recent Indian sites in Newfoundland and could be unfinished arrowheads, un-notched knives, harpoon endblades or a combination of any of those tools.  

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, October 21, 2013

International Archaeology Day Success!

A glimpse from the Vaults
We had a really great day at The Rooms on Saturday in celebration of International Archaeology Day.  The Rooms organized and advertised the event and provided volunteers and staff to run a sandbox dig for kids as well as give people a glimpse at some of the artifacts that are normally kept behind the scenes in the storage vaults.  The public programming folks with The Rooms also sent out invitations to other archaeology stakeholders in the Province, including the Provincial Archaeology Office, Memorial University of Newfoundland's Archaeology Department, the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society.

Ask the Expert
A representative from the Provincial Archaeology Office brought maps and chatted with people about the work that the PAO does, answered questions, and helped identify artifacts that people brought in.  Archaeologists from MUN set up a Micro-museum to showcase the range of microscopic artifacts and samples that show up on archaeological sites.  It was a bit of a wet, grey day in the city, so I think we benefited from some outdoor event cancellations around town.  I don't know exact numbers, but I'm sure that visitors numbered in the hundreds.

The MUN Archaeology Micro-Museum!

The NLAS corner
This was the first public Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society event, so our goal was to let people know that we exist, promote our upcoming free lecture and AGM on November 4th and begin offering people the chance to become members of the Society.  We had a lot of NLAS volunteers on hand to talk to people, discuss the archaeology of the province, the work we do, and demonstrate flintknapping.  You can see a tonne more photos from the event on the NLAS Facebook Page (as well as find membership information).

The Shipwreck Preservation Society of  Newfoundland
and Labrador
The Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador showcased their recent work identifying three shipwrecks in Conception Harbour.  Through careful investigation of the ships preserved above and below the waterline in the harbour, SPSNL researchers were able to positively identify the three whaling vessels wrecked in the harbour.  Its a very interested story and the SPSNL should be commended for their fantastic contribution to the the history of Conception Harbour and the Province.  You can read about it today's Telegram: New Answers About Sunken Ships.

Photo Credits: Lori White

Friday, October 18, 2013

Demo Days - See you Saturday?

Everything has its place
The first day of back-to-back flintknapping demonstrations went down without any major injuries to report.  Today I was working with grade 8 and 10 students at their school here in St. John's.  This is the second year that I've worked with this particular teacher at his school, following two years of Open Minds programming with his students at The Rooms. In the morning I demonstrated flintknapping and gave an illustrated introduction to Newfoundland and Labrador archaeology using the reproductions that I currently have on hand as props.  

Full House and this is only half the class!  44 in all.
I think that seeing a flintknapper work a lump of stone into a finished tool helps humanize the past.  A reproduction like a bow and arrow or a harpoon can help bridge the gap between the fragmentary, but tangible, archaeological record and the abstract ideas or behaviors that created that record.    A tiny triangle of rock might represent seal hunting or a maritime adaptation to an archaeologist, but for most people that concept won't make sense until you see that endblade hafted into a harpoon, with all its moving parts and understand how a person would use it to secure the food that they need for their family.  In the afternoon, the students worked ground stone themselves and made their choice of ulus or Thule Inuit men's knives.  Its a good format, although I'd love to include an outdoors component in the future, perhaps and atlatl toss or archery range out on the soccer field.

bow drills
Tomorrow, I'm taking everything back and setting up at The Rooms for International Archaeology Day from 1-4 PM.  I'll be part of the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society table.  Tomorrow is the first day that you can officially become an NLAS member.  We will be announcing our inaugural Annual General Meeting dates and our first guest speaker.  We also want to hear from you about what services you think the NLAS should be offering members and what role you think the society should play in the Province's archaeological community.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Preparation and Maintenance

NLAS Membership Cards
I've been doing a lot of prep work for upcoming workshops and demonstrations this week.  I have an all-day school visit coming up on Friday where I'll be demonstrating flintknapping and talking about archaeology with the students in the morning and then working with them in the afternoon to make ground stone tools.  Saturday is International Archaeology Day at The Rooms, and coming up in November I'll be leading a pair of week-long workshops in northern Nunavut.  All of those fun days require an equal or greater number of boring preparation days to make sure that they run smoothly.

Obsidian for a knapping workshop
I've been doing stuff like preparing PowerPoint presentations, writing e-mails, printing promotional materials, packing and shipping cargo and checking my inventory of supplies and reference materials to have on hand at each event.  Probably the most exciting thing to happen was finding a bit of mold growing on the Tuktut Nogait bow.  I've had it packed away for a few months and when I went to check on it today, I noticed a very light dusting of mold on the sinew.  I caught it in time to prevent serious damage, but I still unwound the cable and treated it with a 30% isopropyl rubbing alcohol solution to kill the mold.

The fuzzy green dots are mold growing on the braided sinew lashings on the Tuktut Nogait bow.  I need to stop that growth immediately.

The bow disassembled
 for cleaning
Now that the bow is apart, I'll take the opportunity to make a couple modifications.  When I first built the bow, I used braided sinew to lash the baleen braces in place at the elbows in the bow limbs.  Sealskin rawhide is another option for that lashing.  I didn't have sealskin rawhide when I intially assembled the bow, but I have it now, so I think I'll use that as the lashing for those baleen braces and to wrap around the sinew bundle.  I'm curious if it will make any difference to the performance of the bow.  At the very least, it should reduce the total length of braided sinew needed for the bow by several metres.  

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Thinking of home.

Thinking of family.

Whatever your harvest I hope it's a bountiful one.

Photo Credits:
1,3: Tim Rast
2: Ragna Schnell

Friday, October 11, 2013

Beothuk Bows - Finished!

A Beothuk Bow and Arrow
The Beothuk bow reproductions are all done now.  Both bows are made from Mountain Ash saplings and are each less than an inch wide - one is approximately 22 mm wide and the other is 25 mm  wide.  Each bow is approximately 5'11" long unstrung, and about 5'10 with the caribou/reindeer rawhide bowstring on.  They are quite light, with draw weights of 20-25 lbs each when drawn to 30-32 inches.  The limbs are long enough that I could trim a few inches and increase the draw weight by a few pounds, but for now, I'm going to keep them as they are.

Beothuk bows should be the height of their owner and the arrows should be the length of their draw, from the centre of their chest to the tip of  their outstretched fingers.  After Europeans started arriving in Newfoundland, the Beothuk began using hammered iron nails for arrowheads, similar to the long loose points inside the lower bow.  

The twisted rawhide makes
 a great bow string
I still want to monitor the bows for a couple more weeks before sending the most stable one to the client, just to be sure that there are no surprises in store.  The wood has been drying and now that the ochre is on, there is oil coating on them that needs to set.   Both bows have been stable for a week or so now, so I'm hoping their desire to twist is passing.  The wait will also give me a bit of time to continue test shooting the bows and create some wear patterns in the ochre around the grip, string nocks, and where the arrow rests. Plus, they are just fun to play with and even with their light draw weights they are still legal for small game hunting in this province, so long as I use them with blunt arrows.

Drawing the bow.  I'm not much of an archer, but I can say with all honestly that I've hit the broadside of this barn. Of course, I was aiming at a cardboard box in front of it, but still... I hit it.
The bows unstrung have a bit of set in them, which I haven't done a lot to discourage as they dry.  One of them will be used in a static display and it will  most likely be left permanently strung.  This will damage the bow over time, but at least the bow is light and set with a curve to it, so it won't be stored under a lot of pressure.  I have a hole in my dining room wall from a bow that lost its string and I don't want to risk the same thing happening in a museum display case.

The pith canal in both finished bows,
compare the groove to the groove in
fragments A and D/E below
I've mentioned it before, but here's a final look at the pith canal on the belly of both bows.  Its not continuous on either bow, but I feel that the width and depth of this natural groove is a good match for the groove that is visible on two of the Beothuk bow fragments photographed by James P. Howley 100 years ago.  If you enlarge the black and white photo below, you'll be able to make out the channel running down a the middle of a couple fragments.  I think this suggests that the original bows were made on saplings or branches similar to how these reproductions were made.  That canal would not be preserved at all on a bow that was made from a quartered log, for example.

Here is an index of the previous blog posts related to this build, from earliest to most recent:
Beothuk Bow Fragments
from Howley 1914

Beothuk bows, arrows, and arrowheads

Photo Credits:
1, 4: Lori White
2, 3, 5, 6, 8: Tim Rast
7: After Plate XXXIII from Howley 1914

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The sticks are not selected with any great nicety...

Ochre staining the bows
and bow strings
I've been test shooting and ochre staining the Beothuk bows over the past week.  They still need a bit of time to dry, so I'll have to save the final reveal for another day, but they are very nearly finished.  There's a tip from at least one broken chert Beothuk arrowhead embedded in my shed door, which I'm quite proud of, although it does make me want to make a few iron tipped Beothuk arrows for target shooting.

The top bow is shown with its back
up and the lower bow is belly up.
The ochre staining is the final step.  Of the two bows, the one that has been stable as it dries is still stable and the bow that twists as it dries has been twisting less, so hopefully its becoming more stable as well.  As the red stain goes on, I don't want the ochre and oil to be so thick that it obscures all of the details of the wood underneath it.  I purposely left the backs of the bows as rough and unmodified as possible.  For the overall general shape of the bows, I used the photo references found in Howley and this description made by John Cartwright in 1768:
The sticks are not selected with any great nicety, some of them being knotty, and of very rude appearance; but under this simple rustic guise they carry very great perfection; and to those who examine them with due attention admirable skill is shown in their construction. Except in the grasp the inside of them is cut flat... - Lieutenant John Cartwright 1768
It was important to me that there be
knots preserved on the back of the
 bow (top), while the belly (lower)
should look much flatter and
smoother by comparison.
What I wanted was a finished bow that would look like a random stick when viewed from the back, but with a flat, obviously worked belly and a nice even arc when it was drawn.  Not exactly a character bow, but I didn't want to hide the imperfections in the wood either.  I wanted a person viewing the reproduction bows to go through the same stages of understanding as Cartwright from first seeing a very rough stick to arriving at the conclusion that they were holding a carefully crafted instrument upon closer inspection.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, October 7, 2013

NLAS update

Our new logo!
The Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society is picking up steam.  We have our first public event coming up at The Rooms on October 19th for International Archaeology Day and have tentatively scheduled an Annual General Meeting for November 4.  We have a guest speaker confirmed for the AGM and I'll share more details when we have a time and venue confirmed.  We've struck a nominating committee to work on finding the NLAS an executive committee and board of directors ahead of the AGM.  Our constitution is nearly complete and will be adopted at the AGM.

Dedicated volunteers
At our latest planning meeting we accepted our Code of Ethics.  You can read the complete Code of Ethics on our facebook page, but in essence, we expect members to protect, rather than disturb, archaeological sites, to value archaeological objects for their scientific and cultural significance over any sort of commercial value, and to respect Federal, Provincial and Aboriginal heritage legislation.  We also adopted a logo for the organization.  Here's the thought process behind the design:
We are proud to introduce the new Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society logo. Like the missing pieces of a puzzle, the NLAS acronym is cut from a backdrop of two artifacts that, individually, are typical of the archaeology of Newfoundland and Labrador but when taken together create a combination unique to this corner of the North Atlantic. Like the grass and trees overlaying the ground where archaeologists search for this Province’s history, a green English wine bottle is positioned stratigraphically above an earthy, ochre-stained Maritime Archaic harpoon head; one of the most recent cultures overlaying one of the earliest. The wine bottle represents Historic archaeology, European history, trade, the movement of people, the domestic sphere of hearth and home, and connections to faraway places. The sealing harpoon head represents Pre-Contact archaeology, the Aboriginal history of the Province, and the connection to the bounty of the land, and especially of the sea, that was common to all people who made this place their home. The scattered pieces of the broken bottle have been recovered, catalogued, and refit, calling to mind all of the effort that goes into the archaeological process from planning and permitting, to work done on the land, underwater, and in the laboratory, and on into the realms of conservation and museum curation, all with the goal of preserving and interpreting the past for future generations.
Whenever possible, we'll use the colour version, but it was also important to us that the logo could be simplified and  that it would work in greyscale or black and white as well.

If you'd like to help out, please let us know:
nlas (at)
We just received word today that the Canadian Archaeological Association has agreed to host our NLAS website and e-mail.  This is a very generous in kind contribution and show of support from our national archaeology organization.  We are just now beginning to build the website, but you can contact the NLAS by e-mail now at: nlas (at)

If you'd like to learn more about volunteering or becoming a member, drop us an e-mail or come and see us on October 19th at The Rooms.  The planning committee has been working hard to create the organization, but we want your input on how to grow it.  What role would you like the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society to play in your life, education, career, or community?

Photo Credits:
1-3, 5: Tim Rast
4: Elaine Anton

Friday, October 4, 2013

October 19th is International Archaeology Day

Is there an archaeology site in Newfoundland and Labrador that you have always been curious about?  Perhaps there's an artifact in a museum display that you'd like to know the history of?   Have you ever found a rock on the beach that you think might be an artifact? Mark your calendar, because International Archaeology Day is coming to The Rooms in St. John's on October 19th and the place is going to be crawling with archaeologists who'd love to answer your questions.

 International Archaeology Day is the brainchild of the Archaeological Institute of America and they have organized events across North America and around the world with scores of collaborating organizations all with the aim of increasing the public profile of archaeology and the fun side of discovery.  From the AIA's media package:

"International Archaeology Day, being held on October 19 in 2013 but fêted throughout the month of October, is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the Archaeological Institute of America and collaborating archaeological organizations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests."

Storyboards for The Rooms Sandbox
Archaeology Program.
In St. John's, The Rooms stepped forward as a collaborating organization and reached out to archaeologists and archaeological enthusiasts in the community to come together on the afternoon of Saturday, October 19th, for an archaeology fair at The Rooms.  The fair is open to the public and there are events and displays planned for all ages.  The Rooms staff and volunteers will be running sandbox archaeology digs for kids and bringing some cool artifacts up from the vaults - the sorts of things that aren't usually out on display.  Folks from the Provincial Archaeology Office will be there to hear about your discoveries and help identify artifacts that you might have picked up over the years.  I'll be there along with other volunteers from the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society demonstrating flintknapping and talking about the role that the Society will play in the province and how you can become a member.  I'm sure that I'll have a healthy number of artifact reproductions that you can handle and use.  The Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador will be in attendance to make an important announcement on the identity of the three Conception Harbour whaling shipwrecks.  A faculty member from Memorial University of Newfoundland's Archaeology Department will be there to take you on a tour through a collection of archaeological remains so tiny that you'll need a microscope to see them.  Literally - you get to look through a microscope at stuff - how often do you get to do that?

I'm really looking forward to it.  I hope you can make.  Bring your kids and whatever treasurers you might have in that cigar box in your closet.

Photo Credits:
1: Archaeological Institute of America
2: Tim Rast

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Signal Hill, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

Lori and I went out for breakfast downtown on Sunday and took a drive up Signal Hill.

Panoramas always look better if you click to enlarge them
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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