Exciting times

I had a very exciting day yesterday, when a number of different elements came together and opened my eyes to a particular phenomenon. This post is about this one particular phenomenon that I will term here ‘asymmetrical flaking’, something that I find myself doing with almost every handaxe. So, what is this ‘asymetrical flaking’ phenomenon? For me it has two facets (literally): on one face a high ridge will run the length of the object but will be off centre; on the reverse face exactly the same pattern occurs. I have observed it with my own products but was surprised to see it exemplified on this Neolithic Axe produced by John Lord for Elizabeth Healey’s teaching collection.

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If we ignore the refitted flakes, the key thing to note on the above photograph is the longer flake scars on the left hand side and shorter ones on the right. The result is an off centre raised ridge running longitudinally. This equates to a shallower angle from edge to ridge on the left, and a correspondingly steeper angle on the right.

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Flip it over and the same phenomena is reproduced, although here the ridge is more sinuous. What this results in is an artefact that has a cross section similar to the sketch below.

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Important to note that with this cross section, if you are holding it in your hand and then flip it over you are presented again with the same surface topography.

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Whilst discussing this with Elizabeth I held the axe in my hand in order to illustrate the phenomena from a production perspective. What occurred was that the shallow angled section accommodated my palm perfectly. This allowed me to offer up the steeper angled face to be worked by the antler hammer. The flakes are then removed from the lower face and the steep angle allows long invasive flakes to be removed.

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Flip if over and the freshly flaked area again accommodates the palm and again presents the steeper angle to start invasive flaking.

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It is worth looking in closer detail at the flake scars on the steeper face (see above). These scars are curtailed as the bulbar scar has been removed.

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On the same edge but opposing face the longer flake scars retain more of their bulbar section. This indicates that the steep side was produced first, and then the bulbar scars were worn down by the process of removing the longer invasive flakes on the opposite face. I need to look at this more closely when I have the axe in front of me.

So what does this all mean? I am not sure, but it does illustrate a really interesting relationship between the form of the human hand, platform angles, length of removals and the production process. I have not fully digested all this yet, and may have to return to this post. However, for now that is a summary of my observations on this phenomenon. It is however, part of a larger story…

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More on Solutrean points and ‘Johnstone’ or bathroom ceramic

I am still playing with my first batch of this lot of ‘Johnstone’, or bathroom ceramic, and am onto my second Solutrean point. As discussed earlier, I am familiarising myself with the background to these artefacts whilst exploring this particular material affordances of bathroom ceramic. There are lots of facets that are potentially of relevance, but essentially the archaeological points are bifacially worked, with some being very long and very thin. They were produced around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, in refugia in France, Spain and Portugal. The most impressive (and probably unusable) pieces are from a cache at a site called Volgu in France. Below is an image of actual Solutrean material from theĀ Musee d’Archeologie Nationale in France.

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By World Imaging [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons.

These points were thinned using a soft hammer and sometimes the tips were pressure flaked. Bruce Bradley, an experimental flint knapper at the University of Exeter, has emphasised the use of an ‘overshot’ technique in thinning. This involves establishing a spur (or sticky out bit) on the edge, and then hitting that to take off a long flake that travels completely across the face. Whilst very difficult to achieve it provides an efficient method for thinning a piece. When Kim Akerman made his Roseleaf Kimberley point he did exactly this by mistake.

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The bathroom ceramic is already pre-thinned and so effectively I am starting at a late soft hammer phase of reduction. This is my most recent example, using a soft antler hammer and pressure flaking. I have not attempted the overshot technique as yet but I grasp, conceptually, how it may work.

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This is the second face, with a little step fracture island towards the centre of the piece. This would be an ideal candidate for an overshot flake to remove the remaining glazed surface.

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So the next Solutrean / Johnstone instalment will be overshot flakes. Let’s see how that goes.

Do you ever find yourself…?

The full title of this post is ‘do you ever find yourself in the backyard at 6.30 am knapping a flake of bitumen?’

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Having got up early I started tidying up my office / room I keep everything in. This involved a sort out, and in the process I came across the above flake. It is a flake of bitumen, the kind that is melted down to produce a road surface. I found a block of it some time ago and recognised the characteristic fracture qualities that suggested it could be knapped. Having discovered the flake I unfortunately then had a choice: continue tidying up; or go out into the backyard and make an arrowhead.

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This was pretty quick, less than 15 minutes, which is good because it was cold outside. Having finished making the arrowhead I unfortunately then had a choice: continue tidying up; or do a blog post.