Mancunian exotica

As is usual here in Manchester, the weather has been absolutely fantastic. Consequently I have been outdoors a lot and the dog and myself spent an hour or so having a root around Chorlton Ees. I am still amazed at the amount of treasure there is to find just lying on the surface.

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Some material has been unearthed by burrowing animals, and some has just been lying around for many decades. I was particularly pleased coming home with a carrier bag full of 1900s thick broken bottle bases. This glut of material reminded me that I am indebted to three people and I have not made any effort yet to repay their kindness. It would seem that now is the time.

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This Kimberley point, or more accurately Mancunian point is made from the flat piece of glass on the left. A scratch on the surface caused a little step fracturing but ultimately it was no problem.

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I am really loving flint knapping at the moment and I have lots of material to play with. The sun coming out is just the icing on the cake and if it stays like this I can look forward to getting the other two done in the next day or so. In the meantime I will enjoy posting this one off tomorrow morning.

 

 

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Bronze Age arrowhead workshop: the sequel

Rachel at The Old Abbey Taphouse has been kind enough to give me the space to run a second workshop with them. Drawing upon my Pop Up Business School experience, videos attract more attention than posts with just photos, or text only. Consequently, here is my promotional video.

My friend Brian Madden edited this video for me, and pointed out how about half way through (1.09 seconds) one of my neighbours shouts out “I can’t find the chocolate“. Soon after (1.23 seconds) I can be seen eating some chocolate. Who said subliminal advertising doesn’t work.

Material worlds again

I have been a little obsessed by knapping both yesterday and today. I made another hard hammer handaxe, which then became a Middle Palaeolithic Leafpoint, before ending up as a non period specific spear point. Hard hammer and soft hammer with a little pressure flaking. What is good as well is that I can identify the technology that produced each removal, not because I remember, but because of the shape and form of the scar.

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Next up is a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead. The following example is from the museum at Whitby, and I have tried to reproduce it before with little success.

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It was obviously still on my mind as this is a much better attempt, although when I now view them together I can see the original is much more refined. The glass used here was amazing and I have to thank the guy in Oddbins last night who gave me four empty spirit bottles to play with. I may give this to him in return for more bottles. He seemed enthusiastic about the prospect, as I would be in his shoes.

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I then gravitated towards ‘Johnstone’ or bathroom ceramic, kindly collected for me by my friend David Thompson. His block of flats was having new bathrooms fitted and I now have all the old cisterns. These have been added to the ones I collected from Mansfield Cooper building when the toilets there were replaced.

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I forgot how nice this material is to work. I am pleased with all of them, and all of them indicate to me the way to proceed. The flint is great and I am concentrating on being as consistent with a soft hammer as I am now with a hard hammer. The glass worked beautifully, and making them thinner and more refined is the next step. The ceramic is really difficult to keep long. In other words it is very easy for it to break when in big pieces. Paradoxically it is really robust at arrowhead size. I can do a better job of the notching but I need a different tool. I used my soft iron nail pressure flaker with all these materials, and so they are not technically correct. I have ordered a long Red Deer antler tine today and when that arrives I am going to see how that works. My aim with the bathroom ceramic is a Solutrean point. That is uncharacteristically ambitious of me, but hey, I have about seventeen cisterns, plus lids, and I am only 56.

 

I am getting the hang of hard hammer handaxes

 

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This was one of the flat nodules found on the beach at East Runton. Today I spent this morning applying the methods I picked up from John Lord with ultimately some success.

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I used up five of my flat nodules and came away with this handaxe. It was almost all hard hammer flaking and I learned a few things on the way. I made a real focus on preparing the platforms and then then taking the removal, and this gave me a very high success rate on all the nodules. I followed John’s lead and used the abrading stone to sculpt the platform area above a ridge to the ideal shape. I think I was also hitting more confidently as well. The first nodule was looking good until it split in half, because I failed to support it on my leg. That was a useful reminder. By the second nodule my hard hammer (left) was starting to show signs of wear and tear and I shifted over to a new one (right).

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This was a good move and my hits became cleaner. However, I really struggled thinning with my soft antler hammer. It has worked really well in the past, but I kept getting step fractures. I shifted over to a new one kindly given to me by a colleague Ellon Souter. This one was better but I was doing something wrong, however my hard hammer work was going really well and so by the fifth one I was almost exclusively using that.

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The handaxe in the centre in today’s. The one on the left is ‘my ugly handaxe‘ that has been reworked for a third time to a shape I can live with! This was a very enjoyable and interesting morning and as my friend Sunny Lum has put it “I can see why this process is highly addictive”. Four hours flew by.

 

Making opposed platform blade-points

This is the third and final post from my day with John Lord, and it may be the longest. The primary aim of going to see John was to get his perspective on how to make opposed platform blade-points. Karl Lee produced around 20 blade-points for my doctoral research, and whilst formally pretty similar to archaeological examples there were differences. This is the archetypal example of a blade-point from a site in Sussex called Beedings.

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The main difference between Karl’s points and the archaeological examples was to do with how they were made. When a flake is removed it leaves a scar. Tracing these scars on tools can indicate the direction of impact and order of flake removal. In this way a blade-point’s production process is recorded on itself. This next photograph is the smallest complete blade-point found in Britain, from a site called Glaston in Leicestershire.

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70% of Karl’s blade-points had scars running only one way. He explained that it takes time to produce a platform on a core, and once produced it makes sense to use it until you run into problems. When you run into problems flip the core over and use the second platform. Karl believed this was why there was an opposed scar pattern on some blade-points. This explanation made total sense, and reflected his primary use of one platform. However, when I was able to contrast the experimental and archaeological examples 70% of the archaeological blade-points had scars running two ways, almost the opposite proportion to Karl’s examples. Something else was happening in the past. I wanted to see how John Lord would approach and explain this process.

The answer to that question was that he saw it in almost exactly the same way as Karl. John had two goes in the morning and both times had difficulty with the flint quality. We had lunch and then he had another go. He had more success this time, but like Karl was using a single platform to generate the blades. He worked hard to produce a couple with an opposed signature but these were the exception. Over lunch we were talking about Levallois points, where the point is shaped on the core, and then simply removed and ready to be used. John suggested this same idea may be at work here, with the base of the core being worked simply to shape the points before removal. this is an intriguing idea, and the ball is firmly back in my court. I need to review the archaeological examples used within my analysis in order to see if the scar pattern pattern reflects this explanation.

I find it intriguing as well that John’s approach would be the same as Karl’s, and it made me think about the lineage of flint-knappers in this country. I know Karl has worked with John in the past and so perhaps it is not surprising that they approached the same problem in the same way. I think it would be a really nice, and enjoyable research paper to establish the lineage of British knappers, because it seems to predict particular ways of doing things. It is apparent that these ways do not necessarily correspond with how things were done in the past, and so it would seem important and useful to pick apart how and why things are done as they are in the present, almost ethnographically. This as a precursor to exploring any past production practice. These are my current thoughts. If this post is of interest to anyone then chapter three of my thesis outlines Karl’s approach in detail.

My ugly handaxe

This is a second post from my day in John Lord’s polytunnel.

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After attempting blade production (next post) we had a half hour left. I suggested a quick handaxe, and so John selected a flat nodule with a chunk missing, and then guided me through the process. I have made them before, but don’t have a particular or systematic approach so I am inconsistent. For expediency we decided upon a pointy handaxe with some cortex remaining. In an approximate order these are the points I took away from this experience. Firstly the scar from the missing chunk provides the platform for the next removal. In this way alternate removals can be taken from each face, as illustrated here┬áby Karl Lee.

I made removals up to the cortex ‘handle’ using a hard stone hammer and this resulted in each face having a series of ‘ridges’ and ‘valleys’. We then focused upon facetting the platforms. Facetting removes weak ‘sticky out bits’ from the striking platform as they can act as shock absorbers and compromise the blow. John uses facetting and abrasion to sculpt an ideal platform, and an ideal platform is slightly concave presumably to collect the energy of the blow. It also needs to have a nice prominent ridge underlying it for the energy to follow. With a platform prepared thinning the handaxe could begin.

Thinning was done with a large moose antler billet and used in a similar manner to the stone, i.e. punching into the flint. This is different to how I have seen Karl Lee working with an antler hammer. Interestingly, rather than change the angle of the blow, John changes the angle of the nodule receiving the blow. This is a useful distinction for me because in many ways it reduces the variables, although I am currently used to doing it the ‘Karl’ way. This involves variation in angle of the blow and angle of the nodule simultaneously. Karl’s way seems more intuitive.

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It took me a little while to get used to John’s billet because it had uneven wear and so I had to be careful how it made contact, but it thinned the handaxe pretty well. After the first round of thinning I needed to shape it by targeting protruding sections. A smaller antler hammer was used and no platform preparation was necessary. I used the Karl method for this, but was aware that short removals were required and so kept the handaxe fairly flat. In this way the pointed shape was produced.

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And then it was finished. It took about 20 minutes or so and John likened it to those handaxes found at the site of Swanscombe and produced by Homo heidelbergensis. As stated in the title, I find it ugly. I really like these pointy handaxes, but this feels to me unfinished. Within a Palaeolithic context of needing to rapidly quarter a dead animal before other predators arrived, this ugliness would probably not have been a concern. Without wishing to compare her to a predator, Karen was picking me up at five o’clock and so I too had my deadline. In terms of expediency this handaxe worked really well. However, I am a modern knapper and rightly or wrongly aesthetics are important to me.

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It took less about 20 minutes and I learned a lot from John whilst making this. In fact I have found John Lord to be a very patient teacher. However, now I am back in Manchester I will probably be spending some time ‘refining’ this so that I like the look of it. I also spent yesterday morning at East Runton collecting flat nodules on the beach and so I now have some material to practice on as well. I feel I am entering my pointy handaxe phase!

Addendum. I like it a little better now!

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John Lord knapping rock crystal

Today I spent the day with John Lord in a polytunnel in Norfolk. I had a number of things on my shopping list, one of which was some rock crystal to be worked. Nick Overton is looking at some debitage recovered from a Neolithic site and wanted John to see how the material knapped.

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Nick had given me some pieces of crystal for John to test, but as it transpired, he had already tried it out. Someone had left him some larger pieces and these were of a more usable size. Nick’s pieces are on the top row, John’s on the bottom.

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John used an antler hammer to take off a largish flake, and then a Red Deer antler tine to start pressure flaking. Because of its crystalline nature it was unclear if as a material it would knap. The Neolithic material did indeed contain micro debatage, but the crystals Nick had obtained were small and difficult to work, hence the request.

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The larger flake proved to be workable and John was able to produce a nice leaf shaped arrowhead. The majority of the pressure flaking was done with a Roe Deer tine. For people in the past I imagine this would have been an amazing material. For me it is very similar to the bases of beer bottles that I am used to working. Some of the magic has therefore been lost on me. I collected all the debatage for Nick so he is going to be busy. The outcome for me is the following photograph of John Lord’s hands.

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