This post is about pressure flaking, what I am learning about the process, and how this learning is helping me to improve. The main learning outcome currently is summarised above: you need to be able to trust your platforms. So what does this mean in practice? To explain, it is useful to reiterate my own understanding of what constitutes a platform from a previous post (An interesting learning experience):
“Primarily, I identify the area of the fragment that needs reduction. I then focus in to find bits that stick out. These points will be inherently weaker due to the lack of support on both sides. Consequently these points provide useful platforms with which to remove invasive flakes. If this platform sits above the centre-line of the edge I will flip the flake over and use it to remove a flake from the dorsal surface, if it sits below then I will use it to attack the ventral“.
So fundamentally I am identifying an inherently weaker area to target with the aim of thinning the piece. The platform is simply the area to be pushed into with the point of the pressure flaker. Heavy abrasion of the margin effectively removes any weak areas and establishes a strong platform. This seems tautologous in that I am identifying a weaker area to exploit, only to then strengthen it. However, it needs to be strong enough for me to apply pressure effectively in order to achieve the aim of removing a flake. Failure to prepare the platform can lead to crushing of weaker zones when the pressure is applied. This acts as a shock absorber dissipating the energy being applied and compromising the flake production process. I am therefore learning that the issue is not me becoming stronger, but applying my strength more accurately and cleanly into a prepared area of structural weakness. The connection between the pressure flaker point and the platform needs to complement the angle through which the pressure is to be applied. So far so good.
However, how I began to understand this is of interest. I am currently using glass and aiming to ‘push’ flakes across to the centreline of the artefact. An inhibitor to pushing into the margin with real strength is the possibility of the pressure flaker slipping and shards of broken glass being pushed into your thumb. This second possible outcome inhibits the confident application of as much pressure as possible into the platform. Conversely, the recognition of a constellation of factors under my control: recognising an area of overall structural weakness; preparing a strong platform; using a sharp pressure flaker; understanding the required angle; all of these control opportunities are giving me confidence that I will now achieve the former, rather than the latter, outcome. This confidence is now allowing me to really apply pressure and begin to push off longer flakes. The above understanding of how to make it work is giving me confidence to push in hard, and to make it work. A virtuous cycle is emerging. I already had these conceptual knowledge components, but I realised today that my bodily confidence has increased along with the knowledge that my platforms (through preparation) will behave predictably under increasing pressure. I am learning to trust my platforms.