Kim Akerman makes a Kimberley point

I have mentioned a few times that Kim Akerman is the preeminent scholar when it comes to these points, and that he has been very helpful in my research. He has kept in touch and answered some of my questions on the production process that have been sticking points for me. This post is his response to a couple of my general questions, about the correct order of work, and invasive flaking without losing too much width. To illustrate he produced a point and recorded the process. This post will be lengthy, but informative if this is a subject of interest. This body text is my interpretation, the photos with text are his explanations.

This is the piece of water worn period glass that Kim started with. We had discussed the differing ways of establishing a platform and this was the issue he dealt with first of all.

He used the margin of the convex outer surface as a natural platform and a small hard hammer along one edge, and a pressure flaker along the second to begin invasive flaking. As can be seen both methods achieved similar results.

He then continued to take more invasive flakes and establish in his mind the shape of the point he was aiming for. All this flaking was aimed at flattening the inner concave surface of the glass.

Here we can see that whilst the inner concave face is now heavily worked and being flattened, the outer convex face is as yet un-flaked. Shaping in plan has also begun.

5c. Lateral edge showing unifacial pressure flaking on interior concave faceSame story in that the concave inner surface is now almost completely flaked apart from an intermittent central ridge of original surface. Kim has a problem with this later. The curved outer surface still remains un-flaked and you can see the edge of the original outer glass surface curving up at the forefront of the photo.

And at this point flaking of the easier convex outer surface begins. What follows is a process of flaking and shaping to achieve the approximate form required.

At the above stage the easier to flake curved outer surface is used only to create platforms so that invasive flakes can be removed from (what was) the curved inner surface. The aim here was to remove the intermittent central ridge of original surface that remained on the inner face.

9b. Removal of margin by overshot flake

The aim was to get flakes to penetrate across the centre in order to remove the problematic ridge and it is at this stage that a flake overshoots and takes off too much material.

the central ridge has been removed and the task now is to bring the reduced piece back into shape, and this is done by working both faces.

11a. Final form. Concave face

11b. Final form Convex face.

This is the end result, what Kim calls a rose-leaf shaped point. I commented in the previous post how my points need to be called ‘Manchester’ points. I think this is not the case for Kim’s. He was trained by aboriginals, uses the same bodily methods, materials, tools and reduction sequences. When aboriginal tool making lapsed, Kim carried the process on, and I believe this is why he has gone to the trouble of sharing the process here. He cares about sharing this knowledge with other people who value it. Perhaps the process of sharing a valued knowledge was one part of what Kimberley points were about.

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Wow

Yesterday Paul sent me this photograph. I emailed him back to say “not just us then!”. I assumed it was a ceramics magazine with an article on the Dolni Vestonice figurine.

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I asked him if there was a relevant article and he said that he hadn’t explained clearly.

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This was the figurine he had made on Sunday, simply photographed on a ceramics text book. I struggled to comprehend as this figurine looked formally different to the one I had seen and photographed on Sunday.

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Plus which, the finish was very different. Apparently, after our Sunday session Paul took his figurine home and removed probably one third of its mass to make it correspond formally and size wise to that of the original.

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He then burnished the complete thing using a small smooth pebble. The back of a teaspoon was used for the hard to reach bits.

Above is a photo of my fired figurine, and Paul’s burnished pre-fired version. I am really blown away by Paul’s rendition, it is brilliant. Again, my intuition was right, that Paul and Juan have the skills and aesthetic to do justice to the Dolni Vestonice figurine. I wasn’t prepared though for the impact of the results. Perhaps it is because I made one myself and know and understand the degree of skilled practice that is involved. Really great stuff. They are both helping us out at Manchester next week with an experimental archaeology session. They need to bring these in as well. Chantal Conneller, who is organising the session, and a Palaeolithic specialist, will be really excited to see these figurines.

 

 

Thoughts on Kimberley Points, teaching and learning

Last Saturday afternoon I spent four and a half hours with Rob Fulton, Rob Howarth and Sunny Lum testing out a Kimberley Point workshop idea. Rob Howarth is pretty experienced in that we tend to meet up most weeks to knap. Rob Fulton and Sunny Lum however were knapping novices, and as such, ideal for my experiment. I wanted to see if I could lead a novice knapper through the process of producing a Kimberley Point in one session. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

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I had used a glass cutter and hard hammer to make some preforms from the old plate glass that we have. Rob Howarth works at the University of Salford Centre for Applied Archaeology and had kindly contributed some samples of 20th Century industrial plate glass for us to use. There are real qualitative differences between differing glass types, and one of Rob H’s samples in particular was excellent to work. By using these samples I tried to make the preforms formally (shape) and materially (type of glass) conducive to working into Kimberley Points. I also had outlined a clear and idealised reduction sequence.

reduction sequence

Having introduced them to the rich and interesting background to the points we started on the preforms. I had realised when putting together the idealised reduction sequence that they needed to grasp two basic types of retouch: steep; and deep invasive. We started with steep, and it took a while. I had underestimated how long it takes to get a feel for a new process, and for Rob F and Sunny it was a very new process. The first hour and a half perhaps was taken up with producing steep retouch on a series of blanks. Ultimately, Sunny got it but Rob F was unable to consistently apply it. This was frustrating for both of us and obviously had implications for the next phase, because the steep retouch was in fact producing the necessary platforms for applying the deep retouch. Rob Howarth was able to produce a number of steep edged blanks ready for the next phase, and perhaps this emphasised the value of previous experience.

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By moving on I was hoping to allow them to experience the practical value of the good platforms they had produced through steep retouch. The experience of using the platforms would perhaps provide them with a different understanding that could be used to refine their process. Sunny picked this up pretty well and was able to concentrate on increasing the depth of his flaking. Rob H produced a fully surface flaked example, the best he has yet made. I think for Rob H the clearly outlined reduction sequence was really helpful as it allowed him to apply the skills he had already developed in a structured way. For Rob F it was more difficult. I was able to clean up his edges so that he had good platforms but his ability to get deep removals consistently was the problem. Some worked really well and some didn’t at all and this became increasingly frustrating. I know this feeling well and I found it difficult to help. We worked closely together, but a transition gradually occurred, leading ultimately to me doing most of Rob F’s retouch. He had run out of steam. This experience has reiterated to me the value of the glass bottle arrowhead workshop as an introductory tool. He would have fared much better with that one, but this session was more like the ‘deep end’ so to speak.

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Rob H ran into problems with the later phases of my idealised reduction sequence, mainly losing width with each subsequent round of steep retouch and invasive reduction. Consequently his beautifully surface flaked blank was becoming narrower but remaining relatively thick. This has to be to do with the angle of the invasive removals. As I said earlier, Rob H, Nick Overton and myself sit down together most weeks to knap. I think we each have a slightly different style and approach, and indeed Sunny commented on the differences between my own and Rob H’s physical approach in this session. I think Rob H’s flaking style is more similar to Nick’s than my own in that it is more invasive but shallower. This results in less thickness reduction. My flaking is not ideal but I think I aim for a steeper angle of removal to reduce depth. This is the punchy retouch I have discussed elsewhere. This is something for myself and Rob H to work on in our Thursday sessions.

So conclusions. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at the end. Rob F was kind enough to volunteer and it turned out to be a frustrating experience for him. Rob H produced his best surface flaking yet, but depth reduction has emerged as the next key phase to get on top off. Sunny seemed to enjoy it and got the processes. I have worked with Sunny a lot in other contexts and I know he is an efficient learner (and good teacher). He was also happy to go away with the conceptual outcome of understanding and also being able to practice steep and invasive retouch. Rob F had to get home for babysitting and the remaining three of us worked through Kolb’s reflective phase in the pub afterwards. I have since had a week to digest what went on. I actually really enjoyed the day, working together to develop skills and solve problems. I have also gained a new appreciation for the complexities underlying apparently simple tasks such as applying steep retouch. I now think there is almost a (very un-sexy) session on simply applying retouch, perhaps linking it platform preparation, and the platform categorisation systems that are used in archaeological analysis (linear, punctiform, etc.). I like the idea of workshop participants going away with something they have produced. Rob H seems to be the same in that each of his artefacts has a story behind it: where and when it was produced; the material it is made from; the issues it raised. The artefact contains the story which contains the experience. I realise for me that these blog posts are becoming the more tangible outcomes of my ideas and experiences. Sunny seems to be content to go away with a grasp of the experiential and conceptual understanding. Rob F is going to give me some written feedback, and Sunny is going to produce a ‘guest post’, and Rob H too if he is up for it. But let me here thank all three of them for giving me the time and providing me with some real food for thought. The photos used in this post are all Sunny’s.

 

The morning after the night before

This morning Paul sent me some photos of the results of the firing. As I said in the previous post, this process can be seen as an experiment with both Nacho and Paul getting to know their materials.

The morning after 5

This is true, and the results here are obviously part of that process. Describing it in this way though, removes the human element and turns them into production scientists dispassionately gathering data.

The morning after 4

This is obviously not the case. As I also said in the previous post, both Nacho and Paul devoted a lot of time, energy and skill to produce this cohort of pots for firing. They both put a lot of themselves into the process. I cannot help but share their disappointment in the results.

Disappointing or not, the results do seem to confirm that the above described methods work for the Athol Rd clay. The figurine made from this same material and with a bone temper seems to have survived. An alternate firing arrangement, or tempering process is perhaps needed for the Frodsham clay.

I have had my fair share of setbacks on the flintknapping front, and on a regular basis. It feels however, as though the investment I make is less in terms of time and complexity of process. Probably the worst experience I have had is destroying a number of good flint nodules with no tangible output or outcome. This somehow seems less sad than waiting for the fire to die down and after many weeks of work, finding out that the pots have not withstood the process. I believe that inevitably this same process must have occurred in the past. An archaeology of disappointment. I suppose I too have my box in the back yard for the points I produce that do not make the grade. I wonder if someone were to excavate my backyard, or Nacho’s fire pit, would they recognise these things for what they were: data rich, but ultimately sad, past events?

 

 

 

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.

nacho turning and placing

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!

On quartering a glass bottle using a stone (again)

I had an enjoyable knapping session with Nick Overton this week and it has been a while since both of us sat down together. I want to organise a Kimberley Point workshop, and so my theme for the evening was to consciously work through the production process. My aim was to grasp what is practical to work through in a three hours session with a potentially new knapper. I started with a green glass bottle base and side panel from the usual source. The first step was to separate the side panel from the base.

To do so I used a length of no.8 wire to attack the inner junction of the basal section and the side of the bottle. It worked pretty well in that it took out three big sections weakening the overall integrity of the bottle. So far so good. There is absolutely an auditory component to this process and that is something I am going to explore in more detail. After the third removal the increasing thickness of the remaining glass meant that the base snapped off, taking with it a section of the side panel. The break followed a path of least resistance (and thickness) and left me with a base and curved side panel.

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I then flipped the side panel over with the dorsal (convex) surface uppermost in order to produce my blank. I used the hard hammer to produce a line of weakness and this again had aural and visual clues as to how well it was working. When I had the required line I flipped it over to expose the inner (concave) surface and struck the inside of the same line once. As you can see, it worked pretty well.

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On the close up below it is possible to see the hard hammer impact marks. The no.8 wire tool used to remove the base is in the background.

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I then proceeded to do the same thing on the other side, but with less success as it split into four pieces.

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This process is intriguing and I need more practice to get consistent results. Consequently I will probably discuss this process, but start other people off with preforms.

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Above is the resulting point from the lower section of the side panel, and below is the aboriginal example from the Manchester Museum.

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The main difference is flatness. Mine is lens shaped whilst the museum example is plano-convex, and a little more refined. The difference is subtle and qualitative, but I think boils down to the length of the removals and resultant edge angle. I am able to systematically produce points and the main areas for my own improvement are: getting longer removals; systematic hard hammer quartering. In relation to the workshop idea, I think if we use preforms then I can probably lead someone through the process in three hours.

Reports of my one point per day have been greatly exaggerated

My plan of making one point per day has not gone well, however, I have had some tangential and enjoyable making activities going on. A friend, Nacho, who is a potter asked me about prehistoric urns and beakers, a subject I know little about. He is interested in following the archaeologically understood methods in order to produce his urns, from gathering the clay locally, through to a social open firing event. We have spent a couple of days together now, sharing ideas and I have learnt a lot about ceramic technology in that time. As I am not an urn or beaker person (currently!) I wanted to make a ‘Venus’ figurine, an example of the first known ceramic technology. My muse was a black figurine from a site called Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic. The original was made from yellow clay and burnt mammoth bone around 25,000 years ago. What follows is a not so short photo essay.

The ‘clay mine’, a soil pipe trench on Athol Road in Whalley Range, Manchester. The clay is really plastic and the photograph was taken after inclusions had been removed.

Nacho making a small pit fire to burn the bone. Not a mammoth bone but taken off the dog, source unknown.

Using a hammer-stone to crush the bone and make a horrible smelling bone powder.

Estimating the clay to bone ratio, and Nacho ‘wedging’ the two together. The aim is to get an even dispersal and consistency.

The clay and bone mixed together, and my first attempt at a ‘Venus’ of Dolni Vestonice.

 

venus and ruler

The figurine has to now slowly dry before it will be fired in the open pit in a couple of weeks. I have plenty of clay left and can in theory have a bit more of a play. I am both pleased with my first attempt and surprised at how crude it is. Nacho had a little go whilst I was at his house and it was clear he had much better control over the material even though he was only demonstrating. I think as well as his skill, he also had the materials at a wetter consistency than I did this evening. I suspect the clay has dried out a little over the two days I have had it sitting here in its unsealed plastic bag. I am going to ask Nacho to make one as well as I think he may be able to do justice to the original.