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.

A second point from the second preform.

9.6.17 1

I was more cautious with this one and it turned out longer. I tried to stick to my method, ventral first, then dorsal, then the point, however the angle of the edge face made me improvise a bit. I am pleased with the needle like point, and am going to arrange to go back into the Manchester Museum to compare and contrast. I think the key difference between mine and the actual points may be thickness and edge angle. Let’s see. 9-6-17-2.jpg

The next post will be about home made pressure flaking tools, as we have been innovating in our twice weekly knapping get-togethers.

Period bottle glass number two

This is one half of a piece of period bottle glass recovered from Chorlton Ees. My aim this time was to make a larger point and maintain some of the lettering on the dorsal surface (see Foraging for early 20th Century glass and ceramics).  I used a glass cutter to score the inner concave ventral surface of the larger piece of glass, and then tapped the dorsal convex surace with a hard hammer. The large piece split cleanly into two useful preforms, one of which you see here. I then started to work on the ventral surface of the margins to produce a steep edge angle. This would allow me to flip it over and start using the newly created steep edge as a platform for penetrative flakes. The aim of this penetrative flaking was to flatten the convex curvature on the ventral face. I was able to straigten and steepen the margins but was not as systematic as I could have been. Working around a thick area semi-disaster struck! break.png

I called it a day in the lab and took both pieces home, and the following day finished it off. The ‘A’ is a useful landmark on all three photos and gives an insight into the degree of reduction. I am getting a feel for this thicker and uneven material and was able to avoid a large internal bubble, which is why the base has remained relatively unworked. The end result isapproximately 76x26x7mm and pretty well flattened on the ventral side.


After the above photograph was taken I serrated the margins. My main learning from this piece is to be systematic in my reduction sequence. If my edge steepening had been more consistent I would have achieved a longer point. I am making some points for Eleanor Casella’s teaching collection and I think this can be one of them as it has an interesting provenance and biography, as well as being an aestheically pleasing example.

A more detailed reduction sequence.

mm ventral

I am currently revisiting the literature before we start on our collection of antique bottle fragments. In particular a 2002 paper called “Weapons and wunan: production and exchange of Kimberley points” (Akerman, Fullager and van Gijn) as on page 22 it outlines a very detailed but concise reduction sequence. Essentially, for bottle fragments the most energy is spent flattening the curved inner surface. Consequently this inner face is flaked from either side, in turn, until flat. The above photo is of a point within the Manchester Museum collection and illustrates this description excellently. This process ‘sets up’ the upper or dorsal surface for the next phase of removals. This involves a single series of flakes being taken from each edge.

mm dorsal

This is what we see on the dorsal face above, and I think this is one facet that gives these points their characteristic look. Only then is the edge serrated or notched and the tip worked. This example doesn’t have the needle like tip and is what gave me the notion that larger ones may have been used as knives. Returning again to the ventral surface, what we can see in the photo is an almost plano-convex cross section as opposed to lens shaped. Finally, it would take an aboriginal knapper about 45 minutes to make a 200mm long point. This would be a very large point indeed. The overall approach outlined above is the one I am going to take with our period materials, although it may take me a little longer than 45 minutes 🙂

Akerman, K., Fullagar, R. and van Gijn, A., 2002. Weapons and wunan: production, function and exchange of Kimberley points. Australian Aboriginal Studies, (1), pp.13-42

Foraging for early 20th Century glass and ceramics


Yesterday I had a foraging expedition with Nick Overton, Kelsey Lindstrom, two disinterested teenagers and dog. It was an eventful trip to Chorlton Ees in that we met a couple of guys dismantling a really well made shelter they had constructed in the woods. To add to the Australian Kimberley Points theme, we then saw some wild parrots! But the main event was an area close the the River Mersey where a tremendous amount of early 20th Century material had been exposed.

broken bottle

Kim Akerman advised me that early glass Kimberley Points (1880s onward) were made on beer bottles, Lea and Perrin sauce bottles, blue poison bottles and milk glass from medicine bottles. Eleanor Casella is a historic period archaeologist and has a good knowledge of bottle types and periods. She highlighted how the differing early production methods resulted in bottles with thicker bases and walls. Modern bottles certainly have thinner walls, probably to reduce weight and transport costs. The bottles recovered here are really useful because many can be dated, and because they are already broken we can use them with a clear conscience. We came away with over 20 of these thick and heavy bottles and many useful fragments. If the dates correspond then we will be using analogue materials with similar, if not the same, problems and opportunities dealt with by the aboriginals themselves. Nick and myself have a preliminary experimental session booked in for Tuesday evening.


Obviously I was not able to wait until Tuesday and so had a go with a largish piece of curved and patterned porcelain. The resulting point is good in that it has the needle like tip and serrated margins. Size wise it is 87mm long, 30mm wide and 7mm thick. An interesting phenomenon that is emerging seems to be that all the original dorsal or ventral surface is not necessarily obliterated. Wayne Harris on the Australian Antique Bottle Forum told me that:

many years ago I saw some large [Kimberley Points] from the N.T. in the Melbourne Museum.  Parts of the embossing on both made identification certain.  One was from the side of an A. van Hoboken gin & one was from the front of a Hartwig Kantorowicz milk glass Bitters bottle”.

This remnant lettering allowed him to date the points to between late 1880s and 1900. I wonder if this leaving on some embossing was ‘expedient’, or ‘aesthetic’? Or perhaps allowing the point to retain a connection to the material source, an aspect that seems to have been important for the stone points.

I need to stop this

I am aware that I am becoming obsessed with this little project and probably need to stop posting these things. However, before I do I need to discuss my most recent one. At Chorlton Water Park a tree was blown over last year. within its roots a number of antique bottles were revealed. We collected the complete bottles last year, but went back this morning for some knappable antique fragments, of which I found many.

Victorian fragment

When I started flaking I stuck pretty strictly to the one edge, one face protocol described in the literature. I feel that I understand how to use it functionally and systematically now. Vigorous edge grinding is vital to create and rectify platforms otherwise it doesn’t work for me.

VF working along one edge

And so I worked along each edge in turn to shape and thin this thick curved piece of bottle glass, and it worked. I produced my best one yet, using the correct method and period glass. Most importantly though, I think I have grasped how to make formally correct glass Kimberley Points systematically.

VG point

This one is 91mm long, 26mm wide and 6mm thick. Shape wise it is similar to the green glass point at Manchester Museum discussed in a previous post. I am particularly pleased with the rhomboidal tip, and the edges are good. There is still a little more dorsal and ventral surface left on this than on the museum examples, and better thinning would have allowed cleaner serrations. However it is good enough. There is still plenty for me to chew over, and I have plenty of material (including a Pyrex oven dish) to play with. Primarily though, I have learned a lot through this process, know I can make these points well, and I have really enjoyed myself. The next post will not be about Kimberley Points.

More on aboriginal glass Kimberley Point production

Today I received my second book purchase, the unfortunately named ‘Psychology of a Primitive People’ by the clinical psychologist Stanley Porteus. It was published in 1931 and is very much of its time, preoccupied with situating differing human groups into a progressive developmental paradigm. It does however have good descriptions of the production process that is the focus here, and photographs. The first one illustrates well the bodily method I described in the previous post. Having tried it myself I was reminded of a paper: ‘Techniques of the Body‘ by Marcel Mauss (1973). In it he describes his own observations during WW1 of how French soldiers could not use English spades, and English soldiers struggled with French versions. He concluded that digging is a culturally learned technique. This aboriginal ‘pulling’ the flake off certainly feels alien to me and I seem unable to develop any real pressure. I wonder if any of the formal attributes of the artefacts are a direct consequence of this culturally learned bodily method?

aboriginal knapping

Porteus (1931: 111) also describes a differing method of bottle quartering using a long piece of wire and a small stone. The base is removed by inserting a nine inch long piece of no.8  fencing wire into the bottle and shaking. I have used this same method with a large nail and it works well (see link below). The stone was then used to give the bottle a series of sharp taps along its length from the neck to the base. The bottle was then turned over and the same process occurred on this opposite side. The bottle fractured into two halves, and the process repeated again to quarter it. All good. The second picture I have included is one of an individuals body modification which was done using a ‘glass bottle knife’. bod mod

Porteus focused upon these objects as indicators of psychological development, whilst the image above indicates they had some further meanings, beyond a simple functionality, for the aboriginals themselves. Rodney Harrison (2006: 63) has described these artefacts as a ‘Technology of Enchantment’, and indeed I am sat here at 9.46 p.m. writing about my experience of learning about them, as well as spending many (fulfilling) daytime hours exploring how to make them. I understand where he is coming from 🙂

Harrison, R., Bowdler, S., Kchler, S., Redmond, A., Russell, L., Silliman, S., Torrence, R. and Harrison, R., 2006. An artefact of colonial desire? Kimberley points and the technologies of enchantment. Current Anthropology, 47(1), pp.63-88.

Mauss, M., 1973. Techniques of the Body. Economy and Society, 2(1), pp.70-88.

Porteus, S.D., 1931. The Psychology of a Primitive People. London. Butler and Tanner Ltd.

For removing a bottle base using a nail: