Friday, June 16, 2017

Dorset and Thule Harpoon Head Update

Seven Dorset Harpoon Head reproductions.
They aren't all finished yet.
 I'm slowly wrapping up a set of 14 arctic harpoon head reproductions.  This is the most complete set of Dorset and Thule harpoon heads that I've ever attempted at one time, so I'm excited to see them all finished.  I've been working on the whole set at the same time and it's been tough keeping them all straight in my head.  On the other hand, it's an interesting opportunity to see first hand the similarities and differences over time and between the cultures.  

Seven Thule Inuit harpoon head reproductions.  All of the pieces are there, I just need to finish the details and do some assembly.
The full set, plus a Beothuk harpoon head (lower left) from a seperate order.

These four are more-or-less complete.  They may need a little bit of dry sanding and maybe one or two slight adjustments, but I don't need to cart them back and forth from the workshop with all the others for the time being.  Twelve o'clock is a Middle Dorset Kingait Closed harpoon head made from walrus ivory with a chert endblade.  Three o'clock is a Thule Type 2 harpoon head made from antler.  Six o'clock is a Middle Dorset Nanook Wasp Waist selfbladed harpoon head made from ivory.  Nine o'clock is a Late Dorset Type G harpoon head made from antler with a chert endblade.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Thursday, May 25, 2017

King's Point Pottery

Fibre Optic Jewellery
We stopped at King's Point Pottery on the way to Port au Choix for this weekend's flintknapping workshop to delivery an order of colourful fibre optic knapped jewellery.  King's Point Pottery is open year round and the shop has grown a lot since I last visited with new products from tonnes of new crafts people. The ice is still in the harbour and we enjoyed the fresh air and sights around town during our brief stop on our way west.

King's Point Gallery
The ice is still in the harbour at King's Point.

Fibre Optic necklaces and earrings.

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Port au Choix Workshop and Deliveries

Dorset seal processing tools from Port au Choix
Preparation for this weekend's workshop in Port au Choix is well under way.  I have a radio interview this morning and I'll be packing the car today with all of the rock and materials that we'll need for the two day course.  The gift shop in Port au Choix has been stocking my artifact reproductions and jewellery for more than 15 years and I have a small top up order of earrings to delivery for the upcoming season.  Parks Canada also ordered a few new reproductions to illustrate Dorset Palaeoeskimo seal processing at the site.

Side hafted microblade, bevelled edged tabular slate scraper, chert knife, and endscraper, 

This was my first time making a hafted tabular slate scraper like this.  Over the years an assortment of slate tools have been recovered from Dorset Palaeoeskimo contexts at Port au Choix.  Rebecca Knapp studied these tools for her MA thesis at MUN:
An analysis of tabular slate tools from Phillip's Garden (EeBi-1), a Dorset Palaeoeskimo site in Northwestern Newfoundland.  
This particular class of slate tools, tends to have a straight unifacially beveled distal end.  The sides may be square or slightly taper and are often bifacially bevelled, with an additional third abrading pass to blunt the bifacial lateral bevels.  The bases have long, narrow, tapering stems.  
To the best of my knowledge there haven't been any handles found associated with this style of slate scraper. I chose to haft it similar to a large endscraper, perhaps the larger size of the slate scrapers indicate that they were used in a two handed fashion.  It's also possible that they would have been hafted to a more complex handle at a 90 degree angle, like an adze.  This is possible, but I think that the relatively weak stem would function better inline with the handle and direction of force, like this reproduction.

Chert knife in an antler handle, with twisted sinew lashing.
Chert microblade, side-hafted into a wood handle with a whalebone brace tied in place with twisted sinew.
Chert endscraper in a wood handle with twisted sinew lashing.

Lately, I've been using more twisted sinew for Dorset reproductions because that is how most preserved sinew in Dorset contexts has been found.  If the reproductions are display pieces or if they are for my own collection, then I keep the sinew dry.  It is possible to wrap and tie off the dry sinew very snuggly without the use of any adhesives.  In this case I've added a layer of hide glue.  The glue isn't necessary to keep the tools together, but it will protect the sinew and make them more durable in a hands on setting.
A few pairs of glass an stone earrings for the Heritage Shop in Port au Choix.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Flintknapping Workshop, May 27 & 28, Port au Choix, NL

Please join me at Port au Choix National Historic site for a two day Flintknapping Workshop on May 27 and 28th.  Parks Canada is sponsoring this event and it is FREE to anyone over the age of 16, with all materials and lunch provided.  On Saturday, you will learn the basics of flintknapping and on Sunday you will be hafting your stone tools into wooden hafts using traditional techniques and materials.

Space is limited and interest is high, so prior registration is mandatory.  Please contact Loretta Decker to register: or call 709-623-2797

Thursday, May 4, 2017

You want how many?

Ancient Harpoons of Nunavut provides a
reference illustration, the size range, and
the most common material types for the
most common harpoon heads found in the
Canadian Arctic.
I started a fun new order today for Nunavik Sivunitsavut.  I'm making 14 harpoon heads from ivory, antler and whalebone to represent much of the variability that is found in Dorset and Thule culture artifacts from the Canadian Arctic.  In 1998, Doug Stenton and Robert Park published a book called Ancient Harpoon Heads of Nunavut: An Illustrated Guide.  I've used this publication as a reference many times in the past, but this is the first time that someone has asked me to make ALL of the harpoon heads in the book.  The only pieces that I won't be making are the Pre-Dorset examples and one whaling harpoon head.  Other than that, I'm making every harpoon head on every page in the book.  I started the reproductions this morning and they they are coming along quickly, although I'm sure that Paretto's Law is at play;  I've put in the 20% of effort that produces 80% of the results.  Finishing these pieces and their accompanying endblades will take at least another week.

The seven harpoon heads in the upper left hand corner are all Dorset Palaeoeskimo styles.  The seven running through the middle are all Thule Inuit.  The loner in the lower right hand corner is a Beothuk reproduction for another order.  This will be the most diverse collection of harpoon heads that I have every produced at one time.
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Alaska Archaeology Month Reproductions

Hafted and unhafted antler slotted points
 Here's a look at the completed reproductions that I made for Alaska Archaeology Month.  The set included six slotted antler projectile points (two of which were hafted onto arrows) and 4 pairs of sandstone shaft smoothers.  It should be noted that the antler points may or may not have been hafted onto arrows.  These artifacts have not been found in a complete state, so it's possible that they tipped other tools like lances or darts.  
Sandstone shaft smoothers.  The arrow shafts gave me a chance to use the shaft smoothers and they worked well for smoothing, polishing, and burnishing the arrows.  You can see the brownish discoloured plant residue collecting in the channels of the stones.

Every year, the Alaska Anthropological Associations Public Education Group coordinates the production of a themed poster for archaeology month.  This year's theme was Paleoarctic.  You can view and download these posters from their website.

Arrow points
The complete set - four unhafted slotted points, two arrows, and four pairs of shaft smoothers

The arrow design was speculative, so I made each arrow a diffent length and gave one two feathers and the other three.  When I'm reproducing a specific artifact, I try to follow the original piece to the nearest millimetre, but when I'm speculating or filling in gaps, then I try to build in as much variability as possible.  I don't want to give people the impression that I know exactly what the missing pieces looked like and if I make every reproduction the same, then my own personal style may become confused with a meaningful representation of actual artifacts.

Antler slotted points with chert microblade
I think I like this one the best.  It certainly photographs well.
Photo Credits:
1-2, 4-8:  Tim Rast

Friday, April 28, 2017

Reproductions for NLAS Edukit

Stone, bone, ivory, wood, antler,
red ochre, and sinew
artifact reproductions
Here's an overdue look at the reproductions that I recently completed for a new exhibit in a suitcase that is being designed and assembled by Robyn Lacy for the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society.  The pieces that I made primarily represent the Indigenous and Pre-Contact cultures of the Province.  The diverse array of materials used in the reproductions include wood, antler, ivory, whalebone, sealskin, sinew, slate, chert, steel, caribou bone, red ochre, and cotton cordage.  In addition to the pieces that I made, Robyn gathered and made several more pieces that represent the Norse and European presence in the province.  Using reproductions allows the edukit to be used in a much more interactive way than if it was stocked with real artifacts.

Roughing out the composite pieces, including a slate ulu, wood snow goggles, and a steel crooked knife.  The small object in the middle is a reproduction of a Dorset polar bear head carving made from walrus tusk ivory.

Snow googles (Inuit), Maritime Archaic slate lance, Dorset knife, Beothuk arrowhead, Palaeoeskimo hafted side-scraper, Maritime Archaic whalebone barbed fish spear prong, ground slate ulu (Inuit), roof slate (Historic European), polar bear head carving (Dorset), Beothuk pendant, and crooked knife (Mi'kmaq/Innu)

The wood snow goggles are reproductions of Inuit goggles used to prevent snow blindness on bright spring days seal hunting.  The leather straps are sealskin and they are lashed in place with sinew.

Ground slate ulu, with a wood handle and sinew lashing.  This reproduction is based on a slate ulu blade from Labrador that is on display in The Rooms. The arrowhead in the upper right hand corner is a Little Passage or Beothuk style point.
I made two different styles of Dorset polar bear head carvings. The more natural carving on the left is the one in the kit.  The one on the right is a highly stylized 2D carving of a bear head.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trail Creek Cave Slotted Antler Point Reproductions

Slotted Antler Points with
inset Chert Microblades
I've completed a set of reproduction antler points with inset microblade side blades and am in the process of hafting two of them to arrow shafts.  I showed progress shots of these points in the previous blog post and I got lots of feedback and good questions.  One of the comments was regarding the width of the exposed microblade cutting edge, so I went back to my reference materials for guidance. The primary reference that I was supplied with is a recent paper by Craig Lee and Ted Goebel called "The Slotted Antler Points from Trail Creek Caves, Alaska: New Information on Their Age and Technology". The whole article is freely available online.  Although none of the points were found with microblades in situ in the side slots, the author's did measure the depth of the slots and the widths of the microblades found associated with the points and determined that if the microblades were set in the slots, then the exposed edge would be 2-5 mm wide.  I used that 2-5 mm width as my tolerance for the reproductions and wound up changing several of the designs that I had previously shared.

This point is about 16 cm long

Slotted antler points
 Since the previous blog post, I have glued all of the microblades in place.  The orginal artifacts did not contain traces of adhesives, so I had some freedom to experiment.  In the end, I used hide glue on five of the eight points and pine pitch on the remaining three.  There were pros and cons of both methods and by the end of the process, I think that I preferred the pine pitch option.

The piercing point of the projectiles is the sharpened end of
the antler, while the stone provides extra cutting surfaces
along the lateral edges.
When I made the antler points, I soaked the antler in water to make it more pliable and easier to cut and carve.  Wet antler makes a significant difference in how easily antler can be worked, especially with stone tools (not to imply that I used stone tools to carve these - I used a combination of metal tools and rotary sanders and saws for most of the shaping).  The antler was still wet when I began fitting the microblades and because it was still so soft, I could press the blades into the side-slot and they would stick in place.  This let me plan out the position of the microblades and I could roughly assemble the point with all of the microblade fragments stuck in sequence.  Hide glue is gelatin mixed with warm water, so it seemed like a natural adhesive to use to bind the stone blades to the wet antler.  It was very simple to remove the blades and glue them back in place and by working with the damp antler I could also press the sharp backs of the blades into the slot or used the microblades to cut and carve the slot to a perfect fit.  Then the glue and the antler could dry together.  The drying turned out to be the biggest downside to gluing the microblades in place while the antler was still wet.  Sometimes when antler dries it will take on a curve or bend that wasn't there initially.  That happened in a couple of the points.  The curve was slight, but noticeable and difficult to correct with the blades in place.  If I re-soak the antler to straighten it, then the hide glue will loosen as well and the blades will become loose.  I could also re-carve the antler while it is dry to remove the curve, but now the blades are in the way.  It's a small problem, and it's something that I probably could have avoided by clamping the points to a board or something while they dried.

On this one, the microblades form a leaf-shaped
cutting edge.
Using pine pitch as the adhesive meant that I was working with dry, solid antler that won't change shape after the microblades were glued in place.  When the antler is dry the slot is stronger than the microblade, so it's not really practical to cut and change the shape of the slot to fit the microblade.  The individual blades don't stick in the dry side-slot the same as they do in wet antler either, which meant I couldn't really plan out the whole sequence of blades.  Instead I started at the tip and glued the first two blades (one on the left and one on the right) into place, then moved on to the next two and so on.  I changed how I planned the project, but in the end I was just as happy with the results and it removed the possibility of unexpected warping from drying.  As an added bonus, the pitch is also waterproof, which makes the points less susceptible to damage from rain or snow and means that they could be used for different activities, like fishing.  For bigger game, the individual blades are also more likely to stay in place in the point inside the wound cavity.  There would be pros and cons to that.  Blades that fall out in the wound would cause more damage, but blades that remain in place would make it easier to re-use the point without repair.

An antler point and a matching wood arrow shaft

Using a pair of sandstone
shaft smoothers
The last step is to haft two of the points onto arrows.  The base of the points have a simple scarf joint, so I'm carving the wood arrow shafts with a matching wedge shaped scarf.  Working the arrow shafts also gives me an excuse to test out the shaft smoothers.  They do their job.  The sandstone acts as a sandpaper to smooth the arrow shafts and it also polishes and burnishes the shaft to a clean, shiny finish.  A couple of the reference artifacts have grooves cut in the ends or the sides.  They look like they may have been carved there so two stones could be tied to together.  That logic sounds good, but in practice, tying the two halves together seems pretty unnecessary.  The pair of stones work just fine when they are held together in your hand and adding extra lashing seems redundant.  The stones in these photos have the grooves on the sides (where the wheels of a car go) but the most complete reference shaft smoother that I saw had the grooves on the ends (where the headlights and tail lights go).

Some of the shaft smoothers have grooves on the edges of the ends that appear to be designed to accept some sort of cordage or lashing.

Here the microblades are arranged to create a barbed point.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Slotted Antler Points

Microblades in an antler point
Today, I'm working on slotted antler points with inset microblades.  I made most of the microblades a few days ago and now I'm trimming and fitting them into the side slots on antler points.   Two of these points will then be hafted onto arrows.  

Slotted antler points in the foreground and
rejected microblades in the background
 The microblades are all chert, with the exception of a few Texas flint blades.  Despite having a couple hundred microblades to choose from, I'm starting to run low, so I think I'll return to the workshop tomorrow and knock off a few more.  These reproductions are based on artifacts from Alaska.  Microblades are found associated with the antler points, but I've been told that there aren't any in tact examples to get a sense of the arrangement of blades in the slot or adhesives that may have been used to secure them in place.  Slotted points like this begin to appear during the Upper Palaeolithic and composite microlith tools spread around the globe.  Some styles of slotted points or harpoon heads will have blades protruding like jagged barbs that look like shark's teeth with gaps between the microliths.  However, the microblades found associated with this style of point seem to be prepared to create a continuous edge, so I'm trying to arrange the blades to create a leaf shaped blade, with a clean, sinuous cutting edge on each side of the point.  

I avoided using mis-matched material types in the beginning, but once I started running low on suitable blades, I began mixing and matching.  I kind of like the look.  I think mis-matched stone gives the pieces a more random, real world look.

To create the initial fits and plan out the positioning of the blades, I worked with soaking wet antler.  Water makes the antler soft and pliable enough that I can press the blades into the slots without crushing the thin, sharp edges.

The base of the points end with a scarf joint.  Two of them will be secured to arrows.

So far, so good.

Microblades will have a platform and small bulb of percussion at the proximal end and curve, like the end of a ski at the distal end.  To get the maximum, straight cutting edge, the distal and proximal end need to be trimmed off.
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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