Friday, January 31, 2014

Knapping with future lithic analyists

I had a good day with archaeology students at Memorial University of Newfoundland today.  I spent the morning with Catherine Jalbert's lithic analysis class and ended the day with a student mixer where I was helping represent the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society.  During the morning class, we covered percussion knapping and we will be continuing with pressure flaking next week.

For MUN students who are interested in knapping it looks like MUNArch will be offering the flintknapping workshops again this semester.  We're finalizing the dates and topics, but it should happen late February/early March. Stay tuned for details.

Photo Credits:
1-2: Tim Rast
2-4: Catherine Jalbert

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Copper Pressure Flakers

Copper Pressure Flakers
I've been making and shipping a lot of flintknapping supplies lately.  Today I was cutting up moose antler into billets and preparing a few copper tipped pressure flakers.  I need to restock my own supply of tools for upcoming workshops, but I can't seem to get get ahead of the orders.  The pressure flakers that I make are pretty simple; 6 inches of wood doweling with a two inch section of heavy copper ground wire inserted into a hole that has been drilled in one end.  The reason knappers use copper-tipped flakers is that copper can be a little easier to find than antler and it is more durable than bone or antler, so it requires less retouch and resharpening.  Copper is preferred over other metals because it is relatively soft and will grab the edge of the stone that you are working on without crushing it, as a piece of brass or iron would.

It can be tricky to find a heavy gauge copper wire in a hardware store. You are looking for something at least a 1/4 of an inch thick.  The folded length of copper wire in the top of this photo is a copper ground wire from a power pole.  I bought a bucket of these folded ground wires a few years ago from a salvage yard and have been using them ever since.  A wire the length of a power pole can be cut into a lot of 2 inch lengths.
I straighten out a few feet of wire at a time and snip off the individual pieces with a bolt cutter.
After that, I just tap them into the doweling, grind a fresh point onto the end and touch up  the ends of the doweling with a sander.  They're pretty simple, but they get the job done.  They're great for students to learn with.  
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, January 27, 2014

The guns on Signal Hill

The Queen's Battery, Signal Hill
The rain, fog, and warm temperatures demolished the snow, so we weren't able to get out snowshoeing this weekend.  Still, we met friends for brunch on Saturday and went for a cold hike around Signal Hill, here in St. John's.  We stopped at the Queen's Battery on the way back to the car to check out the big guns.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 24, 2014

The NLAS has been busy

Planning for the future
I've attended a few Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society meetings in the past week or so.  We had an executive meeting last week and then a public planning meeting on the weekend.  Following the weekend brainstorming session, the Planning Committee got together on Tuesday to distill some of the great ideas we heard into a manageable 3 year plan.  We very nearly have a draft of the plan ready for the board to vote on at our next board meeting in early February.  We'll need the plan in place in order to apply for funding and seek charitable status for the NLAS.  I wish I was as organized with my own business as we are with the NLAS.  Of course having a large pool of energetic volunteers helps a lot.
We had a good turnout and some new faces at the public planning meeting last Saturday.  We generated dozens of ideas for services to offer members and directions to take the society.  We're organizing those ideas into themes and laying them out as a road-map that the society will follow for the next three years.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Looking for willow shoots

Collecting sticks
I've collected the wood for a first attempt at the Dorset drums from Bylot Island.  I don't know what sort of wood was used for the original drums, but arctic willow is the only option if the drums were constructed from locally available materials.  Willow grows throughout the arctic as a low lying shrub that sprawls along the ground.  Occasionally, in very sheltered locations with the right sort of micro climate, you will find willows growing vertically up to a metre high.  Given the dimensions of the Dorset drums, I believe they could have been constructed from one of these tall willows growing in a protected location.  Here in St. John's, I found some nice straight willow shoots that I think will work for the drum.

We took the clipboard on the willow
 hunt, because it makes you look
official when you are wandering
 around pruning trees.
At least I think they're willow.  The willow species that are native to Newfoundland grow low along the ground like arctic willow and a lot of them are endangered or not found near St. John's.  I need to go with an introduced species of willow.  I found what I think is a windblown willow tree with lots of nice straight shoots to choose from, but I'm not 100% certain that I got the identification right.  The twigs and buds look like willow to me, but I'm not expert.  I used an online twig identification key and it told me they were some sort of willow as well, so I'm satisified enough to proceed with the bending and shaping.

Arctic Willow on Baffin Island

Next up - bending the sticks.
Photo Credits:
1,2: Lori White
3,4: Tim Rast

Monday, January 20, 2014

Planning Dorset Drums

The Dorset Drums from Button Point
I'm starting work on a couple Dorset Palaeoeskimo drums based on artifacts found on Bylot Island off the north end of Baffin Island, Nunavut.  The original artifacts were found by Father Guy Mary-Rousselière at the Button Point site and are stored now in the Canadian Museum of Civilization History in Gatineau.  The drums are small, with a diameter between 17 and 20 cm and with 10 cm long handles that are the size of a pencil.  They're each about the size of a ping-pong paddle.  I don't know what wood the drums are made from, but unless they were made from driftwood, then willow is the only option in that part of the arctic.  I intend to use willow for the reproductions.  In a general sense they are similar to Inuit drums, but they differ in scale and several details, which I'll discuss in future posts.  I intend to use reindeer/caribou rawhide for the drum skin and sinew for the lashing.  I'm curious to see what the finished drums will sound like.  The Dorset are well known for their artistic carvings, so it'll be interesting to learn a little more about the sound of their music.

The printed photos show two drums.  In the lower image the two drums are laying on top of each other, while in the top image one drum is shown on its own (you can recognize it by it's short handle).  For a sense of scale, these images are printed at 1:1 scale and the sheets of paper are letter sized 8 1/2 x 11" pages.  The sheets are sitting on a roll of reindeer skin that will be the drum skin.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Friday, January 17, 2014

Edmonton and Saskatoon March Flintknapping Announcements

Edmonton Flintknapping workshop
I'm very pleased to be returning to Edmonton on March 15th and 16th of this year for a flintknapping workshop with the Archaeological Society of Alberta's Strathcona Centre.  I had a great time last year, so I'm really looking forward to it.  When the details get sorted out, there will probably be a couple demonstration dates elsewhere in Alberta during the following week.  Then I head to Saskatchewan, thanks funding from the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society, The University of Saskatchewan, and the Saskatchewan Association of Professional Archaeologists.  There will be demonstrations in Saskatoon on Friday, March 21st and then a workshop on the weekend (March 22nd and 23rd).     I'll post more details as we firm up the venues, but it promises to be a lot of fun.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Snowshoeing the Waterwitch Trail

The Waterwitch trail starts at the north end of Pouch Cove and winds towards Cape St. Francis, the northernmost point of land on the east side of Conception Bay.  We took off for a couple hours of snowshoeing there last weekend.  We've got some pretty beautiful and rugged lengths of coastline within easy access of St. John's.  Its not looking like good weather for snowshoeing this weekend, so I'm glad we got out last week.

 Photo Credits:
1-2: Lori White
3-4: Tim Rast

Friday, January 10, 2014

First Order of 2014 - Shipped!

Antler billets and pressure flaking kits
The first Elfshot order of 2014 is out the door and shipped.  A friend in New York ordered a bunch of flintknapping kits and moose antler billets to use with his students. It was the perfect sized order to ease back into the workshop.  Most of the week has gone into planning a flintknapping trip to western Canada for the spring, outlining some potential work with the Inuit Heritage Trust for next winter, and writing a couple of brief reviews.  I am so grateful for (and jealous of) people who are good at organizing and writing, because I find both activities extremely difficult.  This morning, I managed to finish a short summary of the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society's first year for the Provinicial Archaeology Office's annual report series and this afternoon I'm continuing to stab away at a book review that is increasingly overdue.  Right now, the closest thing that I can find to motivation for writing is a desire to pad out the rest of the work week with a few more productive hours so that tomorrow's planned snowshoe, greasy pub, and wine tasting adventure feels like an earned break.

Assorted small moose antler billets.  The smallest ones can double as pressure flakers.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Back to the Grindstone.

The dry grinding wheel still works fine.
I broke my grindstone.  I spent the morning working on an book review that I'd planned to wrap up in December and then in the afternoon I moved into the workshop to tackle a few copper pressure flakers for a friend in New York.  Of course, just as I was about to finish up in the workshop I broke a gear in my wet/dry grinder because I tried to rush thawing the block of ice in the wet grinder reservoir to get the wheel spinning again.  Now it looks like it won't ever spin again.

There's still lots of snow in
the yard, even after the rain
and warm temperatures
There is a nylon gear inside the grinder that runs the wet wheel and it is designed to fail in order to save the motor from burning out when there is too much resistance on the grinding wheel.  Its like blowing a fuse.  Unfortunately the machine is over 15 years old and apparently that replacement part is no longer produced, so it looks like I'm in the market for a new wet grinder.  I spent the last half of the afternoon looking around St. John's for a new one, but aside from some much smaller wet/dry grinders at Canadian Tire, I haven't had any luck finding a replacement, yet.  Even online it looks like it could be a challenge finding an upgrade.  I'll keep hunting.

The pressure flakers turned out fine.  I should be able to get the kits assembled and ready to ship tomorrow.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, January 6, 2014

Snowshoeing #DarkNL

Snowshoeing the East Coast Trail
is a little tricky with a metre of
powdery snow on the ground.
Newfoundland is still in the midst of coping with a major winter storm, pre-preemptive closures, rolling blackouts and and unexpected Island-wide power failures.  The Premier and Newfoundland Power officials are warning us that this could be the new normal.  If and when the power grid becomes stable, we may be asked to conserve power for another month or two, and the dim light at the end of the tunnel that the Premier is offering us is a new power generation station in Labrador allegedly coming online in 2017.

Which means its going to be a great time for star-gazing, mid-winter barbeques, and winter sports.  We've got the grill set up again on the back deck, which we shovel out now before we work on the car and the front of the house.  On Sunday morning, Lori and I headed out to Cape Spear with a couple friends to snowshoe the Black Head Path. We only made it a kilometre or so along the trail before the deep powder turned us back, but it was still a great time and the Fish and Chips and pints at The Duke helped a lot.

The start of the hike had blue skies and huge waves.

The snow on the barrens leading to the foot of Black Head was easy to cross, but the drift in the trees were another story.  

We didn't make it anywhere near the top of Black Head, but we were well prepared for the mid-way break.  If this is going to be the new normal, I want snowshoe poles and a hip flask for Scotch, too.

The grey clouds and a dusting of snow had started by the time we made our way back to the car.  The waves were still impressive.

Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador.  The Easternmost point in North America.

Cape Spear Light House.

Sausage, Tea, Coffee and booze to raise our spirits after an aborted attempt to cross Black Head.

A couple hours struggling through deep snow feels like a couple hours on a stair master.

There are so many great trails, I'm torn between returning to this trail and trying to finish it, or moving on to a new spot next time.
 Photo Credits: Lori White and Tim Rast

Friday, January 3, 2014

Daytime Havana

Christmas Eve 2013 in Havana
St. John's is not making it easy to adjust back to winter.  This time last week we were in Cuba and we visited Havana in shorts and t-shirts on Christmas Eve.  Today, in St. John's, we already have more than a metre of snow and because its the coldest winter in two and a half decades, most of it is still on the ground.  We're having rolling power outages across the Province because everyone has their heat cranked.  On top of that we are on a blizzard watch and will most likely be getting another 25-40cm of snow in the next 24 hours.  I am looking forward to some excellent snowshoeing on Sunday, but forgive me if I spend my computer's battery life reminiscing about warmer days while waiting out the second blackout to hit our street since breakfast.  

Looking up in La Plaza Vieja
Havana has 500 years of history, not including the indigenous people who lived in Cuba for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived.

Much of Havana is showing its age.  Businesses and public buildings are being renovated and restored, but residences don't enjoy the same treatment.  Makeshift scaffolds and supports keep the ornate exteriors from crumbling onto the streets below.

Museums, shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions are enjoying the effects of revitalization and Old Havana is becoming a colourful, vibrant destination.

Aside from a few decorations in the hotels, Christmas really isn't noticeable in Cuba.  The season coincides with the sugarcane harvest and the holiday has only been observed for the past decade or so.  We stopped for Mojitos in the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where Hemingway lived, drank, and wrote for several months.

One of the large government buildings surrounding Revolution Square.

Areas of the city are being revitalized, in part through UNESCO funding.  This sculpture by Roberto Fabelo was installed in the newly renovated La Plaza Vieja in 2012.  

The older stone architecture had a very European feel to it and the Spanish influences can be seen everywhere in the older part of the city.

Another view from La Plaza Vieja

More than 2 million people live in Havana, not counting the Canadian, British, and German tourists.  The streets are full day and night, which, again gives the feeling that you've been transported to Spain.

The house on the hill overlooking the harbour was the residence of Ernesto "Che" Guevara while he lived in Havana. 

The restaurant we had lunch in had an eclectic style.  No restaurant is too small to have a live band, and at this particular spot Peacocks and chickens roamed under the tables and lounged around the walls and fountains.  Not sure what the noose was for.

The view of the city from the lighthouse.  I don't know what I was expecting Havana to be like, but I had no idea it would be so beautiful.

A large church across the street from the City's indoor market.

The market has an overwhelming array of art.  Its the perfect place to get an inexpensive original painting of classic cars, Havana streets, and naked ladies.  The handful of artists producing original designs stand out.  We bought several pieces from this vendor.

Every mode of transportation imaginable can be found on the streets of Havana from horse drawn carriages and classic cars to scooters, buses, and rickshaws.

The ubiquitous turkey vultures make Havana their home, too. 

Statue of John Lennon in John Lennon Park.  Apparently the former Beatle never actually visited Havana, but he inspired the people enough that they built a park in his honour.  The glasses really make the statue.  The glasses have been stolen and broken on several occasions, so now their is an elderly custodian who is their caretaker.  He keeps them safe in his pocket, but will bring them out and put them on Mr. Lennon for photos.

More Spanish architecture.  More Peacocks.  

We only had one day and one night in Havana.  Some day we'll return for a longer visit.

Street musicians, buskers, peanut salesmen, and all manner of hawkers and performers punctuated the streets and intersections of Old Havana.

A famous Havana citizen, who roamed the streets during the 20th century has been immortalized in bronze.
Its easy to see how the streets of Havana could inspire generations of poets, painters, travelers, and writers.

Photo Credits: Lori White and Tim Rast

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