Friday, January 30, 2015

More Photos of Knapped Stone Points

Stack them up like Shark's Teeth
This is my 935th blog post.  That's not a particularly significant milestone, but it is a pretty big number.  I've been blogging every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the past six years and sometimes it is very hard to come up with a new way to talk about the same subjects that I've covered many times.  Today, for example, I finished four dozen arrowheads and endblades for a jewellery order.  I've photographed and written about similar piles of knapped stone on dozens of occasions.  To make this post different, I tried to find some new ways of photographing the pieces.  They are all made form Newfoundland chert and include corner-notched Little Passage or Beothuk arrowheads, side-notched Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblades, and concave based Dorset Palaeoeskimo endblades.

Out in the Freezing Rain

Damp and Tossled

The School of Fish

The Tree Stand

The Bulls-eye


Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Wholesale jewellery orders were once the biggest part of Elfshot's business, but over the years the one-of-a-kind museum reproductions and workshop instruction have taken on bigger roles.  It's not that there isn't as big a demand for knapped jewellery, it's just that I can only do so much work in a year and I enjoy working with new pieces and new people more that I like the mass production side of making wholesale products.   However, this week I get to turn my brain off and knap a couple dozen necklaces and earrings.  The first step is making four dozen blanks that will be turned into Dorset and Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblades and Recent Indian arrowheads.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Monday, January 26, 2015

Silver Head Mine Path Boil-Up

Saturday turned out to be the best day this weekend for snowshoeing the East Coast Trail.  A friend and I headed out for a few hours along the Silver Head Mine Path running north towards Torbay from Middle Cove.  This trail has a good mix of woods, cliffs, and rivers.  We stopped for a few minutes and made some soup on a camp stove that Marc brought along.  Winter is definitely my favourite time to explore the trails around home.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 23, 2015

A half dozen bow drills

Combo #84: Wood bow, modified iron nail drill bit,
and antler socket
I just finished up a set of 216 bow drills for the Nunatsiavut archaeologists to use in school programs in northern Labrador.  Ok, maybe that's a bit of hyperbole, but the six bows, six spindles, and six sockets are all interchangeable, which means there are 216 possible combinations.  Since the kit is going to be out of my hands I'm not going to be able to do my usual maintenance on the sets.  The nephrite can be difficult to sharpen when it gets dull.  A wet lapidary wheel, diamond file, or abrading stone is needed to touch up the nephrite bits when they get dull.  Not every rock is going to work as an abrading stone, but finding one that works is part of the fun.  We went with three nephrite bits and three modified nail bits.  The iron bits are also traditional for the area and will be a little easier to keep sharp using conventional whetstones or metal files. 

The full kit.  The top two bows are antler and the rest are wood.  five of the sockets are designed to be handheld, while the one on the left is a mouthpiece.  The top three drill spindles have nephrite bits and the lower three have modified nail bits.
The nephrite bits.  I made one extra, just in case.

An unmodifed nail (L) and one hammered and ground into a drill bit (R) 
The assembled drill spindles before lashing the bits into place.

This is my first time experimenting with iron drill bits and I wasn't sure if they would want to twist out of the wood spindle, so I added a little 90 degree spur at the proximal end to lock it in the shaft.  I did this on three of the drills and left the fourth one straight.  In retrospect, I don't think its necessary and I believe that the square cross section of the wrought nails will prevent the bits from twisting in the handle.  Although I won't be there to make repairs if that belief is wrong, so its probably better to be safe than sorry.

Assembled.  I went with epoxy and artificial sinew for the binding.  These are going to get heavy use by people of all skill levels and I won't be there to make repairs.  As much as I dislike using artificial bindings, I think it was the right decision for this particular set.

I tested the spindles out with a class of Open Minds students at The Rooms yesterday.  Look how clean they were in the previous photo.  It doesn't take long antique them when you turn them lose on a classroom of grade 5 students.  I'll have to remember that the next time I need to make something look world weary and aged. 

Combination #173: Mouthpiece socket, antler bow, and nephrite spindle
Ready to pack and ship north.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Don Locke, 1938-2015

Gerald Penney’s Obituary for Don Locke, 20 January 2015.

Don Locke, Newfoundland’s premier amateur archaeologist, died at his home town of Grand Falls, on 14 January, 2015 in his 76th year. Known to family and close friends as Sonny, he was an avid woodsman, trapper and landscape/wildlife painter. In work life a linesman with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro he, along with other such dedicated workers, built the provincial electric grid system. However, his real passion was a strong desire to come to a better understanding of the Beothuk and the other pre-and post-contact aboriginal groups on the Island. Readings of J.P. Howley’s The Beothucks (1915) and other early accounts coupled with a keen sense of the natural landscape enabled him to find their campsites and other remains; in many respects following Howley’s footsteps. He created replica Beothuk villages, on the Exploits just outside Grand Falls and at Indian Point on Red Indian Lake. His 1973 inscribed booklet, concerning their sites and artifacts is a prize of my library. His material culture collection was eventually acquired by the Newfoundland Museum. Later in life Don and I undertook a number of exciting surveys of the interior southwest coast and Notre Dame Bay region. Always ready to reveal his deep knowledge of nature and lore he will be sadly missed, especially by Marjorie and three children.

Don Locke, 1985

Photo Credit: Gerald Penney

Monday, January 19, 2015


We got out for a quick snowshoe trip around Beaver Pond in Shea Heights this weekend.  

This was the first trip of the season where it really felt like snowshoes and poles were a necessity.  

 Photo Credits:
Tim Rast

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ulu kits for students

During the last half of this week I've switched my focus to education, especially hands-on learning.  I helped facilitate a ground stone tool making workshop at The Rooms yesterday, where I took this photo of the tools and materials that we use in the Open Minds program.  Over the coming weeks and months I will be doing work with a couple northern organizations that would like to bring a program like this into schools in Nunavut and Nunatsiavut.  In the workshop, I'll be making bow drill sets for archaeologists in Nunatsiavut to use in school programs in northern Labrador and, in the office, I'll be working with the Inuit Heritage Trust to write up the instructions and assemble the materials for teachers to use in programming in Nunavut.

Tools and materials used for the slate ulu making workshop. A) Rubber mat to protect the table, B) File for sharpening the slate, C) Sandstone abrader for grinding the slate, D) Bow drill bow, E) Bow drill spindle with nephrite bit, F) Bow drill socket (mouthpiece), G) Ulu handle, H) Ulu slate blank, I) Scissors, J) String, K)Assembled ulu
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Port au Choix Dorset Palaeoeskimo Reproductions

Artifact reproductions of
Middle Dorset Palaeoeskimo
cutting, scraping, and carving tools
The set of Dorset Palaeoeskimo hafted stone tools is ready to send to it's new home at Port au Choix National Historic Site.  These pieces were commissioned by Parks Canada to use in hands on interpretation.  They are made from the same wood, chert, antler, ivory, bone, and sinew available to the Dorset culture 1500 years ago.  The nephrite that I used in the burin-like tools is similar to what has been found here, but I used stone quarried in B.C.  Likewise, the reddish microblades are made from an exotic jasper.  The red and green stones give the set a bit of a holiday feel.

From left to right; A side-hafted chert microblade with sinew lashing and a wood handle and brace piece, a hafted chert endscraper with sinew lashing and wood handle, a chert knife with sinew lashing and antler handle, and a hafted nephrite burin-like tool with sinew lashing on a wood handle with a bone brace.
There are a couple extra pieces in the set shown here, but most of this will be in the mail to Port au Choix shortly.

Multiple views of the hafted endscrapers.  These are unifacial tools and they were hafted in unifacial handles.

Multiple views of side-hafted microblades.  These are extremely sharp slicing tools for use on soft organic materials.  Along with some friends, I once cut more than 330 feet of seal skin into rope using a knife like this and it is still sharp today. 
Hafted burin-like tools.  Archaeologically the brace pieces from BLT handles and the brace pieces from microblade handles look very similar, but they had slightly different functions.  Here, the back of the brace is important in supporting the back of the nephrite bit and the brace fits inside the handle to made the handle width adjustable.  I used sinew lashing to tie down the thin end of the brace, but the original artifact that I based this reproduction on used a hole and a small wood peg instead.  Another difference is that the wood handle opposite the brace is an open slot on my reproduction, but on the original artifact this is closed off below the notch of the tool.  I didn't realize that when I made the reproduction, but the notch and base of the Port au Choix BLTs are also a slightly different style than the reference artifact that I used.  I'm ok with the open slot in this instance.

Dorset knives with carved antler handles, based on artifacts found at Port au Choix.  A couple of these handles have been found and I believe that they represent a stylized polar bear.

A close-up view of the lashing on one of the scrapers.  The lashing is twisted sinew thread approximately 1 mm thick.  Sometimes it is a single thread that has been twisted and other times I twisted multiple strands together to make a longer cord. 

The twisted sinew lashing on one of the burin-like tools.  I coated the thread with hide glue and reinforced the contact surfaces between the stone tools and their handles with the same.  The hide glue hardens and protects the sinew, without changing the look of the tool. 
A sample knife, endscraper, microblade, and burin-like tool with a scale.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ready to Assemble

Lots of fiddly little pieces to
keep straight
I need to twist some sinew into threads and then lash the stone, wood, bone, and antler pieces together to finish the Dorset Palaeoeskimo set of reconstructed tools for Port au Choix.  Since these will be used in demos, I'll probably use a bit of natural hide glue to firm up the bonds, but everything is fitting so firmly that I think that's optional.   I'm hoping that final stage of assembly will get done tomorrow and I can ship the order by mid-week.  Maybe it should have been done by now, but we had the perfect amount of snow late last week for a snowshoe trip to Bowring Park last Friday afternoon.   
Honestly - how could I stay in the workshop when this trail is a 5 minute drive away?

A couple knives and some endscrapers have been added to the set. 

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, January 9, 2015

Experimenting with Dorset Palaeoeskimo Tools

Scraping the spurs on a harpoon head
I got some exciting news today - a project and paper that I was involved with was just published.  It's based on some experiments that I did with Patty Wells for her PhD research into organic tools from Dorset Palaeoeskimo contexts at Port au Choix.  The paper was published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology and is called:

Dorset Culture Bone and Antler Tool Reproductions Using Replica Lithics: Report on the Identification of Some Possible Manufacture Traces on Osseous Tools from Phillip’s Garden, Newfoundland  – Patricia J. Wells, M. A. P. Renouf, and Tim Rast

The finished antler harpoon head
Ahead of the work, I made reproductions of a range of Dorset scrapers, burins, knives, and hafted microblades and then tried to experimentally reproduce four different organic tools using the kit.  I worked antler, bird bone, caribou bone, and whale bone.  Patty documented the work and compared the results to the archaeologically recovered artifacts.  In some cases the tool marks from the reproductions matched the originals and in other cases they differed, indicating that the Dorset craftspeople used different tools or techniques that the ones I chose.  Both instances were informative.

This is a whalebone tool.  Maybe a foreshaft, maybe something else.   After a very tedious, long time of working the bone, we finally tried soaking it in water and it started to carve like butter.
A bird bone needle

I think the bird bone needle was the first tool that I worked on in the set.  It was one of the simpler tools to get started on.

A barbed point made on caribou bone.  
A lot of people think its really hard to make tiny holes like those found on Dorset tools, but its actually not that hard.  The Dorset didn't use drills, so the holes have to be gouged out.  Before a hole gets big, it starts out as a tiny hole.  It's the big holes that take time to make.

 Photo Credits: Patricia Wells

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It's winter here

The view towards the St. John's narrows from Deadman's Bay, last weekend.
Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Monday, January 5, 2015

Side-Hafting microblades

The microblades, edge on.
I'm back in the workshop this week and returning to the set of Dorset Palaeoeskimo reproductions for the Parks Canada interpreters to use at Port au Choix.  Here's a look at a batch of side-hafted microblades.  To prepare the blades for this style of handle, I usually trim a couple millimetres off the distal end, give the back edge of each microblade a quick brush with a hammerstone, and do a small amount of retouch around the bulb end of the blade.  Microblades will usually have a slight curve to them, with a more pronounced curve at the distal end where the blade wrapped around the bottom of the blade core.  Trimming off the distal end of the microblade removes that pronounced arc at the end of the blade.   Backing the blade dulls, straightens, and strengthens the edge inserted into the handle. The retouch on the bulb end dulls and thins the part of the microblade that is in contact with the brace piece.

For this set, I'm using a variety of wooden handles and some of the brace pieces are wood, while two are bone.  I prefer working with the wooden braces and handles over the bone, because the stone bites into the wood and seems to create a more secure bond.  However, bone and ivory handles and brace pieces show up archaeologically, so it's good to include some.

The blade needs to fit fairly snugly into the slot in the handle on its own.  The brace is there to lock it into place. 

These aren't quite ready to lash together.  I'll made a few notches and maybe some holes through the handles and braces to illustrate some of the variability seen in Dorset Palaeoeskimo microblade handles.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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