I had the opportunity to have a wander around Chorlton Ees one morning last week and came home with quite a few pieces of old glass recovered from the roots of fallen trees.
This lovely blue piece in particular caught my eye and I like to think it is the base of an old Milk of Magnesia bottle.
As you can see it is chunky and I wasn’t quite sure how well I could reduce it. This is because it is both narrow and thick and I was worried that I may run out of width before it was adequately thinned. Anyway, today has been a beautiful day here in Manchester and I got to spend a couple of hours outside playing with it.
I am pleased with the result. It has become a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead, similar in proportion to some of the stone examples I have seen. The edges are sharp, the tip is good and it is fairly symmetrical. What really makes it stand out though is the lovely blue colour. When Nick Overton sees this photograph he will immediately focus upon the very, very small section of original surface left in the middle. All I can say Nick, is: “when a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees is pockets!”.
I am very interested in the story of Ishi, not just from a lithic technology perspective, but also the tragedy of it. For anyone else interested there is a documentary on Youtube, Ishi, The Last Yahi. In our knapping session tonight we had an Ishi focus, Nick has made an Ishi stick, which he tested out (I will get him to post about this), I used my Ishi style flaker to make a point. For the later part of his life Ishi lived and worked (as a ‘Stone Age remnant’) within the University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Anthropology demonstrating his Stone Age skills to the public. He adapted to new materials and used a glass cutter to produce blanks, and nails within his pressure flaker. This is my first attempt at this kind of point. It is made on a flat slab of fishtank glass supplied by Rob Howarth. The size, and retouch has worked well, but I ran into problems with the notching. I am thinking that another nail, filed to a very thin point might work better. If I do this I can fit it onto the other end of my flaker.
I think I will be making a few more of these.
Today we had an experimental session at the University of Manchester with a range of lithics enthusiasts and experimenters. It brought home to me again the import of thinning, and difficulty explaining how it works. I have a better understanding of the problems of steep angles now, they are simply pressure flaking platforms waiting to be exploited. All good, but I was not able to get anyone to get a piece thinner than 6mm. This is effectively the original thickness without bifacial thinning. I know from my own experience, and actual Bronze Age arrowheads on the Portable Antiquities database, that 5mm is necessary to have a good chance of successful notching. I need to be able to do it consistently, and then explain how I am doing it. That is my next learning and teaching task, transitioning from doing to facilitating. I am going to see if anyone is interested in a thinning and notching session. On the plus side, drawing attention to the sound of the hits was indeed a useful strategy.
Last week I had the opportunity to run a workshop with the experimental archaeology group at the University of Chester (thanks Barry Taylor). The aim was for individuals to go from zero experience to producing a barb and tang arrowhead from a glass bottle. It went pretty well in that almost everyone (sorry Barry Taylor) came away with something approaching an arrowhead. Perhaps more usefully it introduced the participants to the joy of knapping, as well as the functions and effects of hard hammer, soft hammer, and pressure flaking. It brought home to me again, how difficult the thinning process is, and also, how difficult it is to teach. One thing that worked well was encouraging people to listen to the sound of their hits, and to identify the sound associated with the result they wanted. A second aspect that has occurred to me afterwards is perhaps to shift the focus onto producing the kind of flakes required. If someone understands how to consistently produce thinning flakes, then actually thinning a piece of glass should become easier. Easier perhaps than being focused upon the more complex goal of trying to make an arrowhead. I am running the same workshop in 2 weeks time at the University of Manchester with third year lithics students (thanks to Elizabeth Healey). I will test this idea to see if it helps a person to master the thinning process. Let’s see.
This is a development from the ‘johnstone’, or bathroom cistern knapped previously into a leaf-point form. It is a development because it has been completely bifacially retouched. It was made for the birthday of a friend of ours, Andrea, and has re-invigorated my enthusiasm for this material. It is harder to work than glass and most similar to ‘cherty’, coarse grained flint.
This has been my best Bronze Age arrowhead yet. Primarily because of the depth of the notches to produce the barbs and tang. I followed a method from a Youtube video by an American knapper. The key thing seems to be: have a very pointed pressure flaker. My flaker blunts very quickly, but if kept sharp I can keep the notches going. I am working on fully understanding the process so I can systematically reproduce them. It is made from the base of a beer bottle by the way.