Fourth time lucky

Yesterday evening Nick Overton and myself had ourselves a marathon 4 hour knapping session. I was interested in making two more points from the remaining Camp Coffee preforms and whilst doing so we had some stimulating conversation about the nature of retouch. It has been a theme in this blog that I seem to struggle to replicate the character of the retouch seen on the museum pieces. By the time I got to my last point I think I recognised why. I produced my four points and as can be seen from the photographs below it has made a really nice narrative sequence. Finding the period material; using a stone to make the preforms; using the preforms to make the points.

nest of pointsNick is using a different Bombay Sapphire bottle glass and is focusing upon  getting a series of fully invasive removals on his first sweep. To achieve this he is taking very ‘flat’ removals off the surface of the glass by placing his pressure flaker close to the top of the platform and pushing straight in. He then uses his knee to provide the transverse force necessary to remove the flake, like this.  Although my pressure flaking method is different I am doing something similar, in that we are ending up with similar results. On my last point I started to place my pressure flaker lower on the platform and changed the angle of pressure. This allowed me to work in a more systematic and aggressive manner punching off the removals. I started to get concavity on both ventral and dorsal surfaces and the final point is more similar in character to the museum examples. I am chasing a characteristic method of applying retouch, which in turn produces a characteristic feel to the finished piece. I think the thicker glass allows this kind of work. I am pleased with my nest of points all from the one half bottle. I am really pleased with this punchy approach to flake removal. The next one I think will be an experiment in platforms and pressure flaker angles.

 

 

Glasgow Kimberley Point

bottle 2

After quartering the Camp Coffee bottle yesterday I roughed out the first Kimberley Point. This morning I finished it (I think).

glasgow point 1

The ASGO are useful landmarks for recognising how much material has been lost.

glasgow point 2

However, I am not quite sure if I like it. It is not quite plano-convex, and not quite lens shaped. This is partly an artefact of design as I was aiming to keep on some of the lettering. However it also doesn’t have the consistent deep invasive removals that have characterised the museum points I have seen. It does have some, especially forming the tip, but not enough to give the overall impression that the museum pieces do. Perhaps it is not finished. Perhaps I need to handle and play with it for a while to know. I am pleased with the serrated edges for which I used a flattened end of a number eight wire. I will report the results of my deliberations…soonish.

Quartering a Patterson’s Camp Coffee bottle

bottle

Yesterday we had a knapping session in the department lab. The above is an old Patterson’s Camp Coffee bottle base recovered from Chorlton Ees, and as can be seen, the glass is thick, uneven and with bubbles. Because of its square form I decided to try quartering it following the method described by Stanley Porteus (1931: 111-112) recorded after observing an aboriginal knapper producing blanks for Kimberley Points. The first step is to use a number eight wire to remove the base, and in this I was unsuccessful. The thickness of the base (~9mm) made it too strong, however during the process one of the side panels fractured nicely. I shifted to a small hard hammer and worked along the second longitudinal edge of of the fractured panel and I was able to remove it cleanly. Perhaps the subject of another post, but there were clear sonic signals as to how thick the glass was at each point, and I responded to that iteratively with the amount of ‘umf’ I applied.

bottle 2

This gave me confidence and I continued working along the remaining longitudinal edges. Voila, bottle quartered into four usable blanks using a small hammerstone.

bottle 3

I have tried this process before with a modern Bombay Sapphire bottle and it didn’t work. That I believe is because of the thickness of the glass being used. Like most modern glass bottles the Bombay Sapphire is well engineered presumably to optimise strength and minimise materials used, therefore weight. Consequently the Bombay Sapphire fractured unpredictably. The quality of the glass is everything here. Whilst the uneven thickness and bubbles on old glass present their own set of problems, the actual thickness provides some internal cohesion that makes it relatively forgiving to manipulation and modification. This suggests to me that Kimberley Points were ‘of their time’, in that the uneven thickness of early glass gave it qualities akin to a stone flake, and these were recognised as such by aboriginals. This similarity has diminished over time as glass has become more engineered. Aboriginals continued knapping materials such as Pyrex and window glass into the 1980s (Akerman pers. com.), and the methods would seem to have adapted as materials developed. Within this relatively short historical period a really interesting dialogue between human skilled practice and material development has played out. This was in tandem with an aboriginal recognition of the new qualities such as size, colour and transparency that could be marshalled into the traditional production process. In my own modest way I am, following in this tradition, and currently working on a ‘Glasgow’ Kimberley Point, which I am sure will be the subject of a post soon.

Porteus, S.D. 1931. The psychology of a primitive people. London. Butler and Tanner Ltd.

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!

IMG_2071

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.

Karl Lee pressure flaking glass

This is a link to a short video of Karl Lee pressure flaking glass . It is of interest to me because it illustrates how he uses his knee “like a vice” to remove the flake. The large piece of glass was modern, and probably a table top. This is the end result.

karl point

Manchester, rain, three Kimberley Points.

Today has been miserable in Manchester, an ideal day for being sat behind a desk, sorting out all those jobs that need doing. I found myself in the backyard, in the rain. I have been inspired since my visit to the museum earlier in the week, and think I am getting it. Consequently, I took three points made previously and reworked them, or refined them to bring them more in line with the museum examples.

June 28.2

I know you shouldn’t have favourites, but it’s the middle one. Then the one on the right and then the one on the far left. I actually learned the most from working on the one on the far left, and then was able to apply that learning to the other two. Essentially my edge control is getting good. This is allowing me to get flatter points, and in turn serrate the margins more subtly.

MM

This is one of the museum examples with a broken tip, angled to show the degree of retouch. You can see how the flaking really penetrates up to half way in creating a ridge or spine.

fb version

This is my version. Shape and size and margins are all good. The needle like tip is needle like, the area to improve is fully invasive retouch. It needs to penetrate further in. I therefore need to take a leaf out of Nick Overton’s book and sort that out on my first pass, then bingo!

 

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.

ishi toolkit 002

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.