Wow

Yesterday Paul sent me this photograph. I emailed him back to say “not just us then!”. I assumed it was a ceramics magazine with an article on the Dolni Vestonice figurine.

venus 1

I asked him if there was a relevant article and he said that he hadn’t explained clearly.

venus 2

This was the figurine he had made on Sunday, simply photographed on a ceramics text book. I struggled to comprehend as this figurine looked formally different to the one I had seen and photographed on Sunday.

venus 3

Plus which, the finish was very different. Apparently, after our Sunday session Paul took his figurine home and removed probably one third of its mass to make it correspond formally and size wise to that of the original.

venus 4

He then burnished the complete thing using a small smooth pebble. The back of a teaspoon was used for the hard to reach bits.

Above is a photo of my fired figurine, and Paul’s burnished pre-fired version. I am really blown away by Paul’s rendition, it is brilliant. Again, my intuition was right, that Paul and Juan have the skills and aesthetic to do justice to the Dolni Vestonice figurine. I wasn’t prepared though for the impact of the results. Perhaps it is because I made one myself and know and understand the degree of skilled practice that is involved. Really great stuff. They are both helping us out at Manchester next week with an experimental archaeology session. They need to bring these in as well. Chantal Conneller, who is organising the session, and a Palaeolithic specialist, will be really excited to see these figurines.

 

 

Advertisements

Paul and Juan produce two new ‘Venus’ figurines

I asked both Juan and Paul if they would apply themselves to the task of producing a ‘Venus’ figurine each, as I thought they would be able to do it more justice than I had. My figurine came out well from the firing and we had some clay and bone mix left, and so I went round on Sunday and both Paul and Juan had a go.

DSC_0655

The photographs and measurements we used for reference purposes are from the Don’s Maps website, and below is the lovely figurine produced by Juan.

DSC_0672

Correspondingly, this is the example produced by Paul. My intuition was correct in that they have both produced skillful and beautiful interpretations. Juan has suggested burnishing the figurines before firing in order to emulate the shiny surface seen on the archaeological example.

All in all it took about one hour. As we have used the same clay and bone mix these figurines should fare well within the fire pit. This leads to the logical conclusion that we need to have another fire pit social at some point in the near future. C’est la guerre.

 

A Community of Hope

Today I had a meeting with Eleanor Casella. She had returned from Australia bearing gifts, in particular some wire, wood and bone for me. I have outlined in a previous post the networks I had inadvertently tapped into whilst investigating the production processes associated with Kimberley Points. Today I received the following precise inventory from John Pickard along with the associated materials.

Letter

The selection of wire ranges between 2mm and 4mm, has both oval and round profiles made from both steel and iron. All are from New South Wales and are provenanced, dated to within 10 years and described for my benefit.

wire.jpg

Next is two pieces of wood. The larger of the two is Yarran (Accacia homophylla) that has been burned and has therefore hardened. The second smaller piece is a non-burned piece of Mulga (Acacia aneura), also a hardwood.

Wood

Finally the forearm bones from an adult male Eastern Grey Kangaroo, skinned, de-fleshed, and then boiled to remove remaining materials. The thing that brings these disparate materials together is the aboriginal use of them to make Kimberley Points.

bone.jpg

The people who have brought these things together for me are Denis Gojak, John Pickard and Eleanor Casella. This material was collected by John mainly on his last fieldtrip into New South Wales in August of this year. The kangaroo had been shot in the head and left by the side of the road. John found it probably the day after its death.

The coordination and distribution element was organised by Denis Gojak and, after being responsible for making initial introductions, the ‘mule’ function was fulfilled by Eleanor on her way home. Whilst obviously a stickler for detail (see packing order) Denis also personalised the whole process with this fridge magnet.

KangarooI am a little stuck for what to say. The title of this post is taken from a track by the artist Polly Jean Harvey and seems appropriate. Last Monday and Tuesday here in Manchester there was strike action in response to the ongoing economic rationalisation of our Archaeology department. Inevitably a number of my colleagues will be losing their jobs due to this restructuring process. As a consequence, the overall mood here is pretty sombre. The arrival of these materials at this moment seems to shine a light upon a different set of values. To remind me that there is indeed an alternate way of operating within the world beyond that of economic rationality. It is not just the kindness and coordination, but the willingness to go to this effort for someone that neither Denis or John have ever met. Their time has not been measured in currency, and the quality of their work remains un-compromised by the fact that no money has changed hands.

Receiving this parcel truly gives me hope. I am low down on the food chain at Manchester. The restructuring will not affect me directly as my contract is temporary anyway. It will however affect the people who I have worked with through my Masters and Doctorate. It is the people who have provided me with the majority my education and experience within the subject of archaeology, they are being ‘re-structured’. I don’t really know where I am going with this post. I am very grateful to the above individuals for going to this effort on my behalf to provide me with authentic materials. However, my gratitude is not really about the materials, their actions have warmed my heart. Eleanor, Denis and John have reminded me of the importance of values, and of operating in the world in accord with your values. Even when, and perhaps most importantly when, an alternate set of values is being actively imposed from above. So in summary, thank you to Denis, Eleanor and John for reminding me what it is to be a sentient human being, as opposed to a calculating machine.

This is a link to the membership page of the University and College Union

This is a link to the Facebook Resist Restructuring Manchester page

 

Thoughts on Kimberley Points, teaching and learning

Last Saturday afternoon I spent four and a half hours with Rob Fulton, Rob Howarth and Sunny Lum testing out a Kimberley Point workshop idea. Rob Howarth is pretty experienced in that we tend to meet up most weeks to knap. Rob Fulton and Sunny Lum however were knapping novices, and as such, ideal for my experiment. I wanted to see if I could lead a novice knapper through the process of producing a Kimberley Point in one session. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

IMG_20171021_143354

I had used a glass cutter and hard hammer to make some preforms from the old plate glass that we have. Rob Howarth works at the University of Salford Centre for Applied Archaeology and had kindly contributed some samples of 20th Century industrial plate glass for us to use. There are real qualitative differences between differing glass types, and one of Rob H’s samples in particular was excellent to work. By using these samples I tried to make the preforms formally (shape) and materially (type of glass) conducive to working into Kimberley Points. I also had outlined a clear and idealised reduction sequence.

reduction sequence

Having introduced them to the rich and interesting background to the points we started on the preforms. I had realised when putting together the idealised reduction sequence that they needed to grasp two basic types of retouch: steep; and deep invasive. We started with steep, and it took a while. I had underestimated how long it takes to get a feel for a new process, and for Rob F and Sunny it was a very new process. The first hour and a half perhaps was taken up with producing steep retouch on a series of blanks. Ultimately, Sunny got it but Rob F was unable to consistently apply it. This was frustrating for both of us and obviously had implications for the next phase, because the steep retouch was in fact producing the necessary platforms for applying the deep retouch. Rob Howarth was able to produce a number of steep edged blanks ready for the next phase, and perhaps this emphasised the value of previous experience.

IMG_20171021_161118

By moving on I was hoping to allow them to experience the practical value of the good platforms they had produced through steep retouch. The experience of using the platforms would perhaps provide them with a different understanding that could be used to refine their process. Sunny picked this up pretty well and was able to concentrate on increasing the depth of his flaking. Rob H produced a fully surface flaked example, the best he has yet made. I think for Rob H the clearly outlined reduction sequence was really helpful as it allowed him to apply the skills he had already developed in a structured way. For Rob F it was more difficult. I was able to clean up his edges so that he had good platforms but his ability to get deep removals consistently was the problem. Some worked really well and some didn’t at all and this became increasingly frustrating. I know this feeling well and I found it difficult to help. We worked closely together, but a transition gradually occurred, leading ultimately to me doing most of Rob F’s retouch. He had run out of steam. This experience has reiterated to me the value of the glass bottle arrowhead workshop as an introductory tool. He would have fared much better with that one, but this session was more like the ‘deep end’ so to speak.

IMG_20171021_184458

Rob H ran into problems with the later phases of my idealised reduction sequence, mainly losing width with each subsequent round of steep retouch and invasive reduction. Consequently his beautifully surface flaked blank was becoming narrower but remaining relatively thick. This has to be to do with the angle of the invasive removals. As I said earlier, Rob H, Nick Overton and myself sit down together most weeks to knap. I think we each have a slightly different style and approach, and indeed Sunny commented on the differences between my own and Rob H’s physical approach in this session. I think Rob H’s flaking style is more similar to Nick’s than my own in that it is more invasive but shallower. This results in less thickness reduction. My flaking is not ideal but I think I aim for a steeper angle of removal to reduce depth. This is the punchy retouch I have discussed elsewhere. This is something for myself and Rob H to work on in our Thursday sessions.

So conclusions. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at the end. Rob F was kind enough to volunteer and it turned out to be a frustrating experience for him. Rob H produced his best surface flaking yet, but depth reduction has emerged as the next key phase to get on top off. Sunny seemed to enjoy it and got the processes. I have worked with Sunny a lot in other contexts and I know he is an efficient learner (and good teacher). He was also happy to go away with the conceptual outcome of understanding and also being able to practice steep and invasive retouch. Rob F had to get home for babysitting and the remaining three of us worked through Kolb’s reflective phase in the pub afterwards. I have since had a week to digest what went on. I actually really enjoyed the day, working together to develop skills and solve problems. I have also gained a new appreciation for the complexities underlying apparently simple tasks such as applying steep retouch. I now think there is almost a (very un-sexy) session on simply applying retouch, perhaps linking it platform preparation, and the platform categorisation systems that are used in archaeological analysis (linear, punctiform, etc.). I like the idea of workshop participants going away with something they have produced. Rob H seems to be the same in that each of his artefacts has a story behind it: where and when it was produced; the material it is made from; the issues it raised. The artefact contains the story which contains the experience. I realise for me that these blog posts are becoming the more tangible outcomes of my ideas and experiences. Sunny seems to be content to go away with a grasp of the experiential and conceptual understanding. Rob F is going to give me some written feedback, and Sunny is going to produce a ‘guest post’, and Rob H too if he is up for it. But let me here thank all three of them for giving me the time and providing me with some real food for thought. The photos used in this post are all Sunny’s.

 

SMART Archaeology glass arrowhead workshop

smart 2

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to run a workshop for the South Manchester Archaeology Research Team using bottle glass to produce an arrowhead. My aim from this session was to get photos and feedback on my teaching and how I am organising the process for the learner.

smart 5

I now have a very structured approach and clear outcomes for the session: use hard hammer, soft hammer and pressure flaker; produce something like a Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead; recognise that the equipment needed is all accessible and therefore personal practice can be developed (if desired).

 

smart 7All those boxes were ticked. I also added a feedback section that was designed to be useful to me, but also encourage some reflection by the participants on what they had learned. This is following Kolb’s learning cycle model and I think it is a valuable addition.

smart 6

Feedback from a previous participant has encouraged me to use a whiteboard, in particular to explain platform angles. Having a clearly established process allows me to punctuate it with whiteboard explanations before the participants have to do it. This too is really useful.

smart 3

Pressure flaking: it is not easy, and not easy to get people up and running with it in a three or so hour session. Consequently, the later stages involved a little interference by me to get rid of any difficult bits. I have a barb and tang flint arrowhead produced on a flake and made by me. One side of it has a nice row of deep invasive removals. They were produced by John Lord showing me how to pressure flake. The opposite side has an intermittent row of shallow flakes produced by me, not really getting it. I think if John Lord does a bit on his students arrowheads, then it is totally legit.

smart 8

And everyone did go home with something approaching a barb and tang Bronze Age arrowhead. I would like to thank Ellen McInnes for suggesting this and Andrea Grimshaw for the organisation and making it happen. Based upon the feedback I can say that we all got something from the day and I think we all enjoyed each others company, so a result!

The morning after the night before

This morning Paul sent me some photos of the results of the firing. As I said in the previous post, this process can be seen as an experiment with both Nacho and Paul getting to know their materials.

The morning after 5

This is true, and the results here are obviously part of that process. Describing it in this way though, removes the human element and turns them into production scientists dispassionately gathering data.

The morning after 4

This is obviously not the case. As I also said in the previous post, both Nacho and Paul devoted a lot of time, energy and skill to produce this cohort of pots for firing. They both put a lot of themselves into the process. I cannot help but share their disappointment in the results.

Disappointing or not, the results do seem to confirm that the above described methods work for the Athol Rd clay. The figurine made from this same material and with a bone temper seems to have survived. An alternate firing arrangement, or tempering process is perhaps needed for the Frodsham clay.

I have had my fair share of setbacks on the flintknapping front, and on a regular basis. It feels however, as though the investment I make is less in terms of time and complexity of process. Probably the worst experience I have had is destroying a number of good flint nodules with no tangible output or outcome. This somehow seems less sad than waiting for the fire to die down and after many weeks of work, finding out that the pots have not withstood the process. I believe that inevitably this same process must have occurred in the past. An archaeology of disappointment. I suppose I too have my box in the back yard for the points I produce that do not make the grade. I wonder if someone were to excavate my backyard, or Nacho’s fire pit, would they recognise these things for what they were: data rich, but ultimately sad, past events?

 

 

 

Bronze Age pot firing and social!

Last night I spent the evening with Nacho and Paul, families and friends, taking part in their pot firing ceremony. It was a lovely evening and again I learned a lot about the ceramic process. Below is a picture of Paul and Nacho, the proud parents! These pots have been air drying for two weeks with the aim of reducing the moisture content before firing. This concern with the amount of moisture is a theme that ran through most of the activities throughout the evening.

After getting the fire going the pots were laid out around the fire, mouth facing the fire. This is because the base can contain a lot of moisture and a rapid change in temperature can lead to the water cracking the base. This placement is to acclimatise the pots to the heat gently. The sawdust is to stop damp from the ground leaching into the pots, and it also allows a precise placement of the pot.

Once in place the pots are turned regularly in order to make sure drying is even.

nacho turning and placing

At the critical stage (when Nacho says so!) the pots are reversed and the now warm pots can have their bases exposed to the heat more directly.

warming the bases

As the evening progressed the pots were frequently rotated and moved closer to the fire. At the same time the ashes were dragged outwards from the fire and moved closer to the pots. These were all strategies to gradually increase the temperature and ensure that all aspects of the pot are exposed to the heat. The underlying fear was ‘thermal shock’, the pot experiencing a sharp increase in temperature and then cracking. Gradually the pots were moved into the hot ashes. Second photograph bottom right you can see my ‘Venus’ figurine nestled in its bed of ashes.

And then we placed wood atop the pots and ashes. This part caused both Nacho and Paul a lot of stress because the fire caught quite quickly and the temperature seemed to increase rapidly. They were fearing that the pots would ‘pop’, which would have been bad. All the actions were aimed at facilitating a smooth evaporation of the water within the pots.

Pots plus more wood

We started at 6pm and I left at 11pm with Paul and Nacho still sitting around the fire, monitoring. There were nine pots and my figurine and they had both invested a lot of time, effort and skill in these nine urns and beakers. Consequently, they paid due care and concern to try and ensure that this stage of the process progressed smoothly. Nacho said how prehistoric ceramicists would have known their materials intimately and therefore would have been able to act more confidently and directly. This experiment was however the process whereby these two were getting to know their materials. I had an email this evening to say that they had mixed results: the red marl from Frodsham didn’t cope well and the pots cracked; the clay from Athol Rd on the other hand came out well. Apparently the ‘Venus’ looks great. Photos soon then!