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:

On glass quartering and pressure flaking


Following the advice of Kim Akerman I bought a copy of the above book, as it details the process of quartering a bottle using hot wires. However my book was a later edition to Kim’s and the page numbers differed. Anyway, the section relevant to this enquiry is at the beginning of chapter eight, regardless of edition. Apparently a long wire was heated in a fire and when ‘red hot’ twisted around a bottle base. This resulted in the base dropping off. The same procedure was then applied to the neck resulting in a glass tube. Finally the red hot wire was used to quarter the tube resulting in four equal sized glass preforms. In a previous post I discussed my hard hammer technique. Obviously, if this hot wire method is used no hard hammer work is necessary.

This section of the book also has useful details on the bodily approach to pressure flaking. An anvil stone is used and the knapper is seated with one leg tucked behind, and the other leg stretched out along the anvil. Some paperbark is placed upon the anvil to act as a cushion. The lengths of no.8 fencing wire used had both diamond and chisel tips, and these tips were regularly sharpened on the anvil stone. The wire was held “as we might hold a stick tight in the hand” (Idriess 1951: 47) with the fingers facing uppermost and the business end of the pressure flaker facing into the body. Leverage was generated by the “thumb and palm and arm” (ibid).

pressure flaking position

The glass would be held flat on the cushioned anvil stone whilst the pressure flaker was placed “firmly against one-half the width of the edge” (ibid). This would seem to be an important detail in that the edge is at approximately 90 degrees, as opposed to bevelled. This 90 degree approach allows flaking to be applied to each face equally. I need to play with this in order to understand it better. The knapper then “levered downward with a quick, short thrust, and a long, deep flake of glass flew out” (ibid). The longer flakes came from the convex (dorsal) face, whilst smaller removals were taken from the concave (ventral) face. Each edge was worked in turn. Through this process the piece was first flattened and then shaped and then finished. There is plenty to play with here and it has stimulated some thoughts upon ‘pulling’ as opposed to ‘pushing’ flakes off, and also on the relevance of ‘impulse’ versus slow and steady pressure. Ion Idriess has given me some ideas to test out.

Glass Kimberley Points held by the Manchester Museum

MM pointer 2

This morning Elizabeth Healey and myself popped over to the museum to have a look at their Kimberley Points. There were two boxes with nine or so aboriginal points and a similar quantity of copies (some of which had been painted to resemble stone). The aboriginal points are very impressive and two stood out for me. The above example can be seen as archetypal in shape with the needle like tip. It is 83mm long, 30mm wide and 8mm thick, being thickest at the proximal end.

MM pointer 1

Not all the points had this kind of tip. These tips are produced by reduction on one side, and then flipping over the point and reducing the other. The result is a rhomboidal cross section. The overall impression of these aboriginal pieces is one of systematic and controlled flaking. On this one it has resulted in a lens like cross section for the main body of the piece. The second piece that stood out was a small green glass point.

MM twister

This one is 79mm long, 24mm wide and 6mm thick with a serrated edge. It has been made from a side panel of a bottle but with its longitudinal axis at a slight angle to that of the bottle. The result is a longitudinal twist. The systematic and controlled flaking applied to this twisted blank has resulted in an idiosyncratic and impressive point. It feels to me that the knappers have a real creative engagement with the particularities of the glass fragment being worked. An acceptance of shape and skilled application of flaking to bring the point into some kind of form. This is in contrast to a need to force symmetry onto an unsymmetrical fragment. I need to up my game and play with this systematic and controlled flaking pattern.