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!

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Bronze Age pot firing and social!

Last night I spent the evening with Nacho and Paul, families and friends, taking part in their pot firing ceremony. It was a lovely evening and again I learned a lot about the ceramic process. Below is a picture of Paul and Nacho, the proud parents! These pots have been air drying for two weeks with the aim of reducing the moisture content before firing. This concern with the amount of moisture is a theme that ran through most of the activities throughout the evening.

After getting the fire going the pots were laid out around the fire, mouth facing the fire. This is because the base can contain a lot of moisture and a rapid change in temperature can lead to the water cracking the base. This placement is to acclimatise the pots to the heat gently. The sawdust is to stop damp from the ground leaching into the pots, and it also allows a precise placement of the pot.

Once in place the pots are turned regularly in order to make sure drying is even.

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At the critical stage (when Nacho says so!) the pots are reversed and the now warm pots can have their bases exposed to the heat more directly.

warming the bases

As the evening progressed the pots were frequently rotated and moved closer to the fire. At the same time the ashes were dragged outwards from the fire and moved closer to the pots. These were all strategies to gradually increase the temperature and ensure that all aspects of the pot are exposed to the heat. The underlying fear was ‘thermal shock’, the pot experiencing a sharp increase in temperature and then cracking. Gradually the pots were moved into the hot ashes. Second photograph bottom right you can see my ‘Venus’ figurine nestled in its bed of ashes.

And then we placed wood atop the pots and ashes. This part caused both Nacho and Paul a lot of stress because the fire caught quite quickly and the temperature seemed to increase rapidly. They were fearing that the pots would ‘pop’, which would have been bad. All the actions were aimed at facilitating a smooth evaporation of the water within the pots.

Pots plus more wood

We started at 6pm and I left at 11pm with Paul and Nacho still sitting around the fire, monitoring. There were nine pots and my figurine and they had both invested a lot of time, effort and skill in these nine urns and beakers. Consequently, they paid due care and concern to try and ensure that this stage of the process progressed smoothly. Nacho said how prehistoric ceramicists would have known their materials intimately and therefore would have been able to act more confidently and directly. This experiment was however the process whereby these two were getting to know their materials. I had an email this evening to say that they had mixed results: the red marl from Frodsham didn’t cope well and the pots cracked; the clay from Athol Rd on the other hand came out well. Apparently the ‘Venus’ looks great. Photos soon then!

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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

The art of thinning and notching

Learning through making

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.