SMART Archaeology glass arrowhead workshop

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead

Whilst away on holiday I paid a visit to the Whitby Museum, well worth it if you should get the chance.

Whitby art gallery.JPG

Inside there is lots of treasure, and this is a photograph of a lovely Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead found locally.

Neolithic leaf point

This, by contrast, is my point from today (and yesterday) made from a really thick piece of glass given to me by a friend, Stephen Poole.

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It started out as an exercise in exploring the differing functions of hard and soft hammer in the process of reduction. In this respect it was successful as I now have some nice flakes for reference purposes.

However, the striking difference between the flakes produced by the different methods was also useful for me in deepening my understanding. Thinning a nodule to produce a handaxe is a process that I have observed (and filmed) a number of times. Karl Lee always emphasises the import of understanding angles. The stark contrast between these flakes is allowing something to fall into place for me (conceptually, not yet practically!) The hard hammer is perhaps more about producing angles to work with. The soft hammer more about exploiting those angles to thin the piece effectively.

I don’t like this arrowhead. It is too thick and lumpy and will probably go into the box in my back yard where my not quite resolved experiments end up. However, I have made it my point for today (made yesterday, finished today) which keeps the process, and therefore learning opportunities, going. What is intriguing for me is how the actual flakes themselves are helping me understand  the process differently. Learning from the materials seems to encourage me to think about something I already know about in a different way. This thinking through objects is obviously something we do a lot within archaeology. It will be interesting to pick apart how the objects have added to my understanding in a way that observation and explanation have not. Perhaps the theme for another post.

Hulme STEAM maker faire

Learning through making

On a sunny Saturday afternoon two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to run the above workshop at the Hulme STEAM maker faire in the garden of the Old Abbey Taphouse. Running this workshop in a pub is a double edged sword (so to speak). We had almost unlimited access to empty beer bottles. We also had almost unlimited access to full beer bottles. Health and safety issues aside, STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths and the thrust of the event was to explore how the Arts and Sciences overlap. We had three hours and I ran two consecutive sessions with a fair degree of overlap. My overall aim was to introduce people to the complexity of an apparently ‘primitive’ technology through the process of making a Bronze Age arrowhead. The session was successful on a number of levels!

First of all both sessions were well attended, and it is therefore reassuring that other people also find these things interesting, and it is not just me. It was really rewarding being able to share my enthusiasm (obsession).

Secondly, it was open to everyone and so two younger knappers were able to take part. I was surprised (although I have no idea why I should have been) at the degree of concentration and their results. This opens up the whole area of at what age in the past children started knapping?

Thirdly, everyone seemed to get something from it and some people made really good arrowheads, fantastic examples for first attempts. We also had some interesting discussions about the different effects of the different tools, and on a personal level I can now clearly hear when someone is hitting the glass incorrectly.

Everyone seemed to love the initial stage of removing the beer bottle base using a nail and cork, and because the session overall was an enjoyable and engaging experience I was awarded £200 seed corn funding to develop the workshop. And as I have already said, it was sunny!


Many thanks to Jana Wendler and Sam Illingworth for organising a brilliant event, and Ellie Mycock for taking the great photographs. Also, please check out this link: Hulme STEAM maker faire to see the other great ideas and innovative projects exploring this art and science overlap. My thanks to Hannah Cobb in the University of Manchester Archaeology Department for the loan of the safety goggles.

Flint knapping, 3D printing and primary school workshops

I have some workshops planned aimed at primary school children studying the prehistory of Britain. Following the theme of this blog, one of the activities is to bring together the components necessary for the kids to make a Bronze Age arrow. Rightly or wrongly, I am a little cautious about letting small children loose with flint or glass arrowheads so I thought I would get some 3D prints. The flint originals were a Neolithic leaf shaped example and a Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead both produced by John Lord for Elizabeth Healey’s teaching collection . These originals were scanned in by a colleague Tom O’Mahoney.



Tom also scanned one of my glass barb and tang arrowheads to see how the scanner would cope with a reflective and transparent material. This example had to be covered in talcum powder before scanning.


After scanning, two prints of each of the flint versions was produced for me by Ed Keefe from the print unit at Manchester Metropolitan University (ManMet).


The first two examples on the left have some horizontal lines running across. Ed described this as similar to when a photocopier is running low on toner. Consequently he printed them again in the more transparent material. The second two are excellent ‘plastic’ reproductions of ‘original’ flint reproductions. However, the most impressive aspect is the price. Because prints are priced by the cubic centimetre each arrowhead worked out at £2.50. Full colour versions would have cost £3.50. My scans can be uploaded to sites such as Sketchfab or Thingiverse and therefore downloaded free of charge by teachers with the print costs being minimal.

The workshops are still at the planning stage, but I have been impressed by the results and the prices for this process. I would certainly recommend the 3D print facility at ManMet to anyone who thinks the process may be useful to them. Ultimately though, it depends what the kids think!

Ishi the last Yahi: a documentary history.

Ishi, the person 001

Many thanks to Elizabeth Healey for lending me two really interesting texts. This post is about one of these, the above book which as the sub title indicates, documents the recorded aspects of Ishi’s life. I like this photograph because it shows Ishi as a person, not simply “the last Aboriginal Savage“, and because of the focus of this blog, of particular interest here are the documents recording his toolkit.

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The above inventory is presented on page 184. Number one is an Ishi stick, although from a differing culture group and earlier period than Ishi. The emphasis is on length and I haven’t fully grasped the bio-mechanics of how this might help with pressure flaking. Perhaps I will be able to explore this in a later post. Number two is a long piece of wire (3/16 ths of an inch / 4.8mm) that has been hafted and sharpened. This seems to be a very similar tool to the Australian aboriginal No 8 wire (see here)  used for making Kimbnerley Points. Number three is described as a slender nail hafted, sharpened and used for the finer work of notching (Heizer & Kroeber 1979: 170). Finally there are examples of Ishi’s work, with the longer pieces made as show pieces. Here again  is a parallel with the Australian aboriginal Kimberley Points, with the larger glass examples becoming media for trade and exchange, and particularly valued by European collectors. These pieces are really interesting in that they capture and embody a particular indigenous skillset, but it is a modified and abstracted version to take advantage of new materials that allow the marshalling of different qualities (size and transparency).

ishi pressure flaking

This final image shows Ishi’s pressure flaking method. Most modern knappers I have observed use their thighs in order to provide stability and generate power to remove the flake. I have some good footage of Karl Lee doing just this and I will edit and add this very soon. I wonder if this was Ishi’s actual knapping position, or staged for the photograph in order to show the position of pressure flaker in relation to margin? This choice of bodily positioning is fascinating in its own right and again needs more exploration. Finally, on Youtube I like Flintknapper Jimmy and his approach to understanding how Ishi actually knapped. From a museum visit he has looked at Ishi’s actual tools, preforms and points in order to interpret his process. He uses an indigenous toolkit as well as a glass cutter, because that is what Ishi did. Look at his pressure flaking tool in comparison to the photograph presented above  (Ishi’s knapping approach). See what you think.

Heizer, R.F. and Kroeber, T. eds., 1979. Ishi, the last Yahi: a documentary history. University of California Press.


Neolithic Milk of Magnesia interlude.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”.


First Ishi point.

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.

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I think I will be making a few more of these.