Monday, March 31, 2014

Ā-ā-duth, or Spear for Killing Seals

Beothuk Harpoon
The twelve foot long Beothuk harpoon reproduction is complete now.  The reproduction is based on Beothuk harpoon heads in museum collections, historic descriptions, and a drawing by Shawnadithit illustrating a complete "Ā-ā-duth, or Spear for Killing Seals."  The toggling harpoon head is certainly more reminiscent of Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon heads than Inuit designs, but beyond that similarity, this harpoon is completely unlike anything known from any other culture in Newfoundland and Labrador.  It lacks a foreshaft, is at least twice as long as Inuit sealing harpoons, and based on the Groswater harpoon shaft from L'Anse aux Meadows, it is three times the length of Palaeoeskimo harpoons.

Harpooning a compost bin in the back yard.  The caribou skin line runs the length of the harpoon, hooks into a notch cut in the end of the shaft and doubles back to where I'm holding the loop of the line with my left hand.  You can see the details in the drawing by Shawnadithit below.

In Shawnadithit's drawing she gives the Beothuk name for the harpoon (A-a-duth) and illustrates how the line was attached.  The type of wood isn't identified in the sources, but I used pine, primarily for its ease of working and light weight.  I made the shaft a little more than an inch square, based partly on the shape and diameter of the L'Anse aux Meadows harpoon and Cormack's mention that Beothuk harpoons were "slighter" than Inuit designs.  Besides, it's unwieldy enough at 12 feet long, without having a lot of added girth and weight to it.

Harpooning a backyard snowbank from two stories up.

The mainshaft tapers
into a foot long wedge
shape, which serves to
mount the harpoon head
and also creates a scarf
join to connect the two
sections together.
At twelve feet long, this is definitely an outdoor harpoon.  However, the plan is to us it in interpretive programming at the Mary March Provincial Museum in Grand Falls-Windsor.  For ease of transport and use, I made the main shaft in two 6 1/2 foot lengths.  The tail section of the harpoon is actually a complete, half sized harpoon that could be used to illustrate how the tool was used.  Apparently Beothuk harpoons did not have a separate foreshaft, so the long tapered end of the wood shaft in this reproduction can double as a scarf joint that fits into a rawhide socket permanently attached to the second 6 1/2 foot long section.  Basically, I made a complete 6 1/2 foot long harpoon for interpretive purposes that fits into an optional extension that will create a full 12 foot long Beothuk harpoon for a wall display or outdoor use.

In order to make the harpoon easier to transport, store, and use, I made it in two parts.  This rawhide lashing connect them together.  Here I've wrapped the end of back half of the harpoon in a plastic bag and wrapped rawhide tightly around the joint.  The rawhide and hide glue join glues itself to the wood of the front half of the harpoon and the plastic bag prevented this from happening on the back half.  When the rawhide dried, it created a hard socket permanently attached to the front half of the harpoon.

In the lower right corner, you can see the rawhide lashing that joins the two halves of the harpoon together to create the full 12 foot long harpoon shown in the photos here.  The entire harpoon is stained with red ochre.

The Beothuk bow reproduction is the
 height of a man and the arrow is
three feet long, but they are dwarfed
by the harpoon.  If you enlarge the
photo, you can see the "V" shaped
notch in the end of the harpoon to
fit the line into.
Given the length of the harpoon, I think its safe to surmise that it was used as a thrusting tool, rather than a thrown projectile.  James Howley suggested that it was unlikely that the Beothuk hunted seals from their canoes, because he felt the canoes were relatively frail, especially when compared to Inuit kayaks.  However, we know that the Beothuk hunted caribou from their canoes in open water, so I'm not so certain that we should rule out the possibility.  When you look at other cultures that used very long harpoon shafts, they are often used from boats in open water.  The length seems excessive for breathing hole sealing, so perhaps they were used along the ice edge in leads, or even from the shore, in the right setting.  I think it would be ironic if the Beothuk hunted land animals in the water and marine mammals from the land.

You can see previous posts documenting the construction of this harpoon here:

I will miss having this around the house, but it needs room to roam.  It wouldn't be fair to keep it cooped up in someplace with 8 foot ceilings.

Photo Credits: Lori White and Tim Rast

Friday, March 28, 2014

Intermediate Period Scraper and Beothuk Collection Update

The correct way to hold and
use this style of scraper.
After posting the photos of the Intermediate Period scraper reproduction on Wednesday, I've got some important feedback from folks in Labrador explaining the proper way to use the Innu style handle that I used to mount the stone endscraper.  I included a photo in that post showing two different ways to hold the scraper and they were both incorrect.  The scraper should be held vertically, with your hand holding the stem and the heavy bulb at the top to add weight to the downward scraping action.  Scott Neilsen sent me a link to a fantastic video clip showing this style of scraper in use: you can view it here, Skimming the Fat and Removing the Hair.

I carved a bit more of the bulb to
create a longer stem for holding the
As I mentioned previously, all that was preserved at the 3000 year old archaeological site in Sheshatshiu were small end scrapers made on flakes.  The handle is an historic Innu design.  Until an Intermediate Period site with organic preservation is found, we don't know for sure what kind of handles were in use 3000 years ago.  However, if we are going to use the analogy of an historic Innu style handle for the reproduction, then I should at least show the correct way to use it.  There were several ethnographic examples that I used as inspiration for the handle.  This one on the Tipatshimuna website was my primary source for the overall shape and construction and I used the measurements for several pieces in the collection of the Canadian Museum of History to guide the handle's size, like this one and this one.  The examples in the CMH online collection range in length from 21 to 29 cm long.  The handle that I made is meant to fit a relatively small stone scraper, so I went with a 23 cm long handle which places it in the smaller range of the ethnographic examples.  My hands are a little big for this particular handle, but I carved it to fit Lori's hand.

Beothuk harpoon head, scraper, and knife lying on a
caribou skin harpoon line.  Everything is there, except for
the ochre.
In other news, I'm wrapping up a large order of Beothuk reproductions this weekend and have several other pieces in the Sheshatshiu Intermediate period collection to complete.  Its going to be a busy few days.  The Beothuk set includes a bow and arrow, harpoon, knife, scraper, and flintknapping kit.  I can draw on existing inventory for a couple of those pieces, like the bow and arrow, but the rest needed to be built from scratch.  Everything is done now except for staining them with red ochre, which is a very important step.  Hopefully on Monday I'll have some photos of the fully assembled and ochre stained Beothuk harpoon.  At 12 feet long, its one of the larger reproductions I've ever done.  Its drying on the floor downstairs, where it starts in the living room and ends in the dining room.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Intermediate Period Scraper Reproduction from Labrador

The finished scraper
This is an Intermediate Period scraper reproduction based on an approximately 3000 year old artifact found in Sheshatshiu, Labrador.  The stone artifact will be on display in the Labrador Interpretation Centre and this reproduction will assist in interpreting the small pinkish tan colour scraper, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  The scraper is a relatively innocuous little flake scraper that on its own is not particularly diagnostic.  Most precontact cultures in Newfoundland and Labrador made versions of these small triangular or rectangular end scrapers.  The unique handle tells a different story.

Tools like this would be used to finish cleaning and
scraping a hide. (EDIT: I'm holding the tool wrong in these
photos.  I should be holding the narrow stem.  I'll show the
correct way to hold it in a future blog post.)
The handle is based on ethnographic and historic Innu scrapers.  It will be a familiar form to people in Sheshatshiu, especially older members of the community.  The historic scrapers were fit with a metal or sometimes bone scraper blade, but the reproduction of the small chipped stone endscraper from the archaeological site is a good fit.  Choosing to use an historic Innu style handle on the 3000 year old artifact definitely implies a continuity between the people who live in Sheshatshiu today and the people who lived there 30 centuries ago.  There aren't any scraper handles preserved from this remote time period, so we don't know exactly what Intermediate period handles looked like.  Often when I don't know what the missing organic pieces look like, I'll choose a design that is as simple as possible and fades into the background.  In this case, the handle is front and centre and so is the message of continuity that it conveys.

The small scraper was made unifacially on a flake.  The reproduction is shown hafted onto the wooden handle using spruce gum and red ochre as a glue and gut as a lashing.

The ventral surface of the scraper is a flat, unmodified ventral surface of a flake

Approx. 23 cm long
Red ochre was found within the site, so at the request Scott Neilsen, the archaeologist directing the project, I went with a spruce gum and ochre glue for the scraper.  I used gut lashing to reinforce the bond.  The ethnographic examples tended to use a leather lashing around the bit, but given the smaller hafting area on the archaeological scraper I went with something a little finer, less stretchy and more durable.  The handle is cut from a short fir or spruce log with a diameter of approximately 2 or 2 1/2 inches.  You can see where the bark was removed around the fattest part of the handle.  The small knob on the end opposite the scraper is there to secure a leather loop.  I used caribou skin for this loop on the reproduction.

Intermediate Period Scraper Reproduction: Chert scraper, spruce gum and ochre glue, gut lashing, softwood handle, caribou leather cord
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, March 24, 2014

Saskatoon, I hardly knew ye

Awesome example of a knapped
projectile point mounted in a foreshaft
The trip to Saskatoon was over way too soon. Between Friday and Sunday I facilitated a two day flintknapping workshop, presented a talk, and gave a knapping demo.  I hope that I don't leave anyone out, but this leg of the trip was sponsored by the University of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society, the Saskatoon Archaeological Society and the Saskatchewan Association of Professional Archaeologists.  It was a big workshop, with close to thirty participants on the first day and more than twenty on the second day, but everyone was fantastic and patient with me.

We worked in a long narrow room that easily accommodated 30 knappers.

Matt, Liz, and Tomasin.  Bottle melting
During the workshop, Jack, Phil, Alan, and Matt all helped mentor new knappers and keep the risk of serious injury and blood-stained tools to an absolute minimum.  Tomasin and Karin were critical in organizing the materials, advertising the events and handling the registration.  It would have been impossible to pull of this event, and the rest of this tour if it hadn't been for all the volunteer time put into planning and organizing all the various parts by Liz Robertson.  Liz and I worked together in the Arctic Lab back in our undergrad days at the University of Calgary and she pulled this whole thing together and made sure that I had a place to stay, food to eat, and a ride to get everywhere that I needed to be.

The industrious second day was full of scraping, cutting, knapping, whittling, shaving, gluing, and lashing

This great old building is home to the
University of Saskatchewan's
The talk, demo, and workshop were all held in the same room in the Archaeology Building on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan, which meant I only had to set up once and clean up once, which was very nice.  I've been to the UofS campus once or twice to attend conferences, but this was my first visit where I got to spend much time in the Archaeology and Anthropology Department.  The whole campus is quite beautiful, with it stone buildings in the Collegiate-Gothic style.  The Archaeology building is the most archaeology-looking archaeology building I've every been in.  When you walk down the hallways you expect to see Indiana Jones climbing out of one of the classroom or office windows and sprinting away across the campus.

A display in the department

A familiar name in Newfoundland and Labrador archaeology as well

On Friday afternoon, I did a flintknapping demo for the Archaeology Department.  Over the week, I stumbled upon a new format for knapping demos that I think I'll probably continue to use.  Rather than make a single large-notched biface, I made a rough portable bifacial core to show the basics of hard and soft hammer percussion and then use one of the flakes from that core to pressure flake a small arrow or dart point.  The advantage of this is that I can pause the percussion work relatively early and jump to pressure flaking and make a pretty, notched projectile point for everyone to see.  Both the portable core and the pressure flaked projectile point are better matches for actual artifacts than the big lumpy "spear points" that I usually force out in demo.  I'm happier with the end results, the narrative is more interesting (I think), and I can produce two end products, rather than one in the same or even less amount of time.

On Friday evening, it was my very great pleasure to give the Jesse Caldwell Memorial Lecture to the Saskatoon Archaeological Society.  I can get nervous giving talks, there were some archaeologists in the audience who I have a lot of respect for, and despite Liz embarrassing me with phrases like "visiting scholar" in her introduction, the folks in Saskatoon are all so nice that I think it went off without a hitch.  The title of the talk was "Recreating the Arctic: The Story of an arrow, harpoon and drum".  I talked about the Independence I driftwood arrow, the L'Anse aux Meadows Harpoon, and the Button Point drums in a show-and-tell format.  Its a small sample size (n=1), but in my experience playing a Dorset drum will mesmerize a baby at 50 feet 100% of the time.

That's a lot of tarp space
On Saturday and Sunday we held the two day flintknapping workshop.  Saturday was a day to cover the basics and review percussion and pressure flaking for people with some knapping experience.  Its was an introduction for some and a refresher for other. With nearly 30 people in the room, it could have been an exhausting day, but there were a lot of experienced knappers willing to share what they knew with others and everyone was just so darned patient and nice that I didn't feel run off my feet making the circuits and helping people with their problems.  On Sunday we had a project day.  This was my first time knapping in Saskatoon, so we focused on hafting.  We made Hoko knives in the morning and people used them to whittle more complex hafts and foreshafts for their scrapers, knives and projectile points throughout the day.  We used sinew, gut, and rawhide for the lashing and spruce gum and local Saskatchewan red ochre for the glue.

Jack (standing) dedicated a lot of his workshop time to help a the knappers on Sunday morning who couldn't attend on Saturday.

Mahogany Obsidian
and chert points
The four days that I spent in Saskatoon flew by and I really hope we can do it all again some day.  It was great reconnecting with old friends, and despite the short amount of time I spent there, I think I made some knew friends that I'd like to see again.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

lashed and glued in place

foreshafts with points and a projectile point read to haft

Knife, scraper, arrowhead, and assorted flake tools


The gluing and binding station

Matt knapping a big glass slab from a wine bottle melted in the kiln

Novaculite point

Points and debitage

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Busy day in Saskatoon

Today was a fantastic day in Saskatoon at the University of Saskatchewan.  I spent some time in the morning wandering around the beautiful campus.  In the afternoon I did a flintknapping demo for the archaeology department and in the evening I had the priveledge of giving the Jesse Caldwell Memorial Lecture to the Saskatoon Archaeological Society.  Wonderful people.

I'm having some difficulties with connecting to the internet from my laptop, which is where my photos are stored.  I'm posting this from my iPad, which I've never tried before.  The best I can do for a photo for this blogpost is a snapshot of my laptop screen showing one of the cool dinosaur skeletons at the UofS.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is the trip half finished or half started?

Knapping with the BAS in Provost
I'm at the midway point of this flintknapping tour of Alberta and Saskatchewan and things are going great. Yesterday afternoon I was talking with students at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton and the night before that I was knapping with members of the Bodo Archaeological Society at the museum in Provost.

Some last minute fletching
Right now I'm going through some final preparation for this evening's slideshow-and-tell with the Red Deer branch of the Archaeological Society of Alberta.  The talk will focus on three of my favourite Palaeoeskimo artifact reproductions; the Independence I driftwood arrow, the Groswater harpoon from L'Anse aux Meadows, and the Late Dorset drums from Bylot Island.  I finally got around to tying a couple feathers on to the driftwood arrow in my hotel room a few minutes ago.  I just need to pop a few more slides into the powerpoint and then I should be ready to hit the road for Red Deer (I'm in Edmonton at the moment).

I am making out like a bandit in the swag department.
Highlights include a Bodo sweatshirt, mug, and
 calendars.  I'm especially grateful for the timely gift
of the Grant MacEwan University laser-flashlight-pen.
I feel like James Bond heading into my talk tonight.
I must thank everyone again for organizing all of this.  I've been able to show up at the locations and have everything ready and waiting for me.  Volunteers, staff, and students with the Bodo Archaeological Society(Christie, Courtney, Peter), Grant MacEwan University (Franca), the University of Alberta, and especially Kurtis Blaikie with the Strathcona Archaeological Society have taken care of all the logistics of gathering the flintknapping supplies and rock as well as organizing and advertising the events and handling all of the registration details.  I really appreciate all that effort.

The highway sign at Provost, Alberta.

The museum had a great ambiance for a flintknapping workshop and we had a very good turn out, with about a dozen new knappers joining us from the surrounding area.

A local collection donated to the museum and put on display.  Its nice when folks keep track of where they find stuff, and let local museums, archaeologists, and the public know about it.  It also serves as good inspiration for a flintknapping workshop.

A couple of the first time points made on Monday night.  Some real talent there.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, March 17, 2014

Edmonton Flintknapping Workshop Wrap-Up 2014

New and familiar faces
What a workout!  I'm recovering this morning from a very enjoyable weekend flintknapping and ground stone ulu making workshop in Edmonton.  The workshop was sponsored by the Strathcona Archaeological Society, the Archaeological Society of Alberta and the University of Alberta's Anthropology Department.  I am very grateful to have been invited to participate in this event for the second year in a row, and especially for the hard work of Strathcona volunteers, Kurt, Peter, Sean and more who kept everything running smoothly.

It was a tough slate to work, so there were a lot of single hole ulu designs.

We had 16 participants on Saturday and 19 on Sunday
We had a good turnout on Saturday and even more people participated on Sunday. On the first day we covered the basics of flintknapping and then on Sunday people made and hafted their own drills and used them to make chipped and ground slate ulus.  I picked up two types of slate at Lowe's when I got into Edmonton on Friday and one variety was reasonably soft.  However, the one that most people wound up using was extremely tough.  The end product will be very sharp, durable ulus, but it was grueling work to get them all done by the end of the day.  Slate of this toughness is on the edge of the capability of an obsidian or dacite drill bit, which is good to know.  It was possible to drill the holes, but the tips became worn and polished very quickly and needed frequent resharpening.

cools designs

Brian working on his pump drill
One of the guys in the group made a pump drill with a flywheel that he shared with everyone.  This helped a lot with the drilling, and the one drill with a nephrite bit that I brought with me helped finish off a few more holes.

drilling, drilling, drilling
Tonight we move the show to Provost, where I'll be knapping with the Bodo Archaeological Society.  Tomorrow, I'll be back in Edmonton doing a demonstration and chatting with students about careers in archaeology at Grant MacEwan University before travelling to Red Deer on Wednesday to give an evening talk to the Archaeological Society of Alberta's Red Deer centre.  There's no time to get bored on this trip.

Sean (standing) was a huge help in making sure that everyone with a question got an answer.  I was happy to have the chance to work with him again this year.

Kurt, well-prepared and focused.

Pressure flaking the drillbits

Splitting the slate tiles.  If there was an upside to the tough slate, it was that it split quite well so by the time we got the chipping, grinding, and drilling stages, it was only half as thick as when we started on it.

more drilling

still drilling

It was great to see everyone.  We had good mix of experience and fresh enthusiasm in the room.
A rare double hole-r. 

A drill and an ulu.  Not a bad day's work.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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