I’m back, and I’m getting thinner

johnstone plan

Well not me, but my points. My knapping has been intermittent recently, partly because of fieldwork, and partly other projects. However, term has now started and so have our weekly experimental sessions. We have a nice small group of enthusiastic knappers, and quite quickly I have been able to let them get on with it whilst I focus a little more on my own practice. This week we ran out of bottles and so I introduced the group to the joy of Johnstone, or bathroom ceramic, of which we still have plenty. I really like it as a material and produced a couple of neat and tidy, but thick points.

johnstone thin

And so, they were sat on my desk and by about 4.30pm yesterday I needed a break from head based stuff and so decided to play with thinning them. Anyway, they both went really well. My learning outcome from this successful process: the antler needs to do all the bifacial thinning before pressure flaking starts. On a thinned piece the pressure flaking is easier. This Johnstone point is still around 5mm so not massively thin, and it undulates a bit, however it is fully bifacially worked.

recycled glass

And then, this morning at breakfast Karen knocked a recycled glass glass onto the floor and it broke. At 11.30am today I needed a break from the head based stuff already, and coincidentally I had brought the remains of the unfortunate recycled glass glass with me.

thinning with antler

I followed the same method and after clearing off the prominent shards with a hard hammer started to thin the remaining thick glass base with the antler. I got it bifacial pretty quickly, however because it was a thick piece to start with I carried on with the antler to approximately shape it, before using my soft iron nail pressure flaker to finally shape and thin it.

leaf shaped

Anyway, I am pleased with it, and I am pleased with the learning process. Like so many things, being away from it for a while has allowed particular aspects to peculate. Coming back to glass knapping afresh has allowed new insights to emerge, and the continued thinning process is what has emerged here for me. This leaf shaped point is 4mm thick which is great, and formally it is a homage¬†to the artefact produced by John Lord here. This kind of thinning using the antler makes the flake scars less visually obvious. Consequently, subsequent pressure flaking removals tend not to travel as far because they can run into the previous scars. This means that the nice ripple flaking pattern that is possible on glass that has been predominantly pressure flaked (see here) is not present on this much flatter piece. Back to the head based stuff ūüė¶

Saturday night in the lab

three points

I ended up back in the lab on Saturday evening, inspired by the previous night’s results. I took in some undamaged cistern lids, but focused upon using larger fragments lying around from previous sessions. It was interesting because I could feel the enthusiasm taking over on this occasion, whereas the previous evening had been characterised by precise and controlled thinning. Consequently, the two new points are less refined, but are both long. I seem to be managing endshock well, and the main conscious strategy is to listen to the hits. When the point is sounding stressed I back off. I wont go into the sonic nuances but once you have destroyed a few you can begin to hear the material complain when misused. I now respond well to both sound and the visual clues available, and the reward is longer points.

banana-e1544961110966.jpg

Whilst both the new points are less refined, I can say that they both have ‘character’. The first one was on a large, but curved, piece of ceramic. This presented the very same problems encountered when flattening the bases of beer bottles and so I applied the same methods. I was largely successful in a brutalist kind of way. Largely, because it is the longest of the three points, brutalist because there is lots of original surface left on the dorsal. As the photo shows, it has still retained some curvature in spite of my efforts. Removing that curvature would have reduced the length and so I have accepted one to achieve the other. I think for a knife blade this curvature is not an issue, but it may be problematic for a spear head as the longitudinal strength would be compromised.

fav

I know you are not supposed to have favourites, however, this is my third one of the set. This one was both intuitive and remedial. I worked away, and then adjusted when it went off piste. Consequently the longitudinal mid-line edges are wavy and very much follow the flow of the process of making. It feels like the physical result of a human material dialogue. I like it because it reminds me of some of the Kimberley points from the Manchester Museum, where the person has worked with the form of the material, rather than attempting to mechanically impose a prerequisite shape. We have started to buy ‘wonky’ fruit and veg from the supermarket, and this my wonky bi-point: long, wide, off centre and still too thick, but an enjoyable interactive process and aesthetic result non the less.

Solutrean points from bathroom ceramic

It has been a while and that lack of knapping has taken me back a few stages, or so it feels. For unknown reasons, probably related to tidying up the back yard, I have started playing with the plenty of bathroom ceramic I have now neatly stacked on top of my wood store. I have said elsewhere how my soft hammer work is possibly my weakest area at the moment.

DSC_1541

Working with this material is therefore interesting. Using a hard hammer I have had lots of problems, but primarily endshock. I noticed on a Youtube video someone using antler to thin some of this material successfully, and so I have been playing with the same.

DSC_1539

I used a heavy and light antler hammer to bifacially work this piece. I was surprised at how well the material responded and worked with the heavy antler. Ultimately that was almost all I used. I have developed a new variation of the Metin Erin resting arm on knee method. I hold the piece of material being knapped out now, rather than resting it on my leg. This works better.

DSC_1540

You can see on the floor the two antler hammers used. I did a little hard hammer at the beginning before abandoning it. This is my second attempt and the heavy antler hammer has opened up new possibilities. I was sticking with the light hammer, partly because I like it, and partly because I was worried about endshock with a heavier hammer. However, the antler seems to work well with the ceramic and the heavy hammer is obviously the right tool. I should say that the ceramic is quite thick, over 12mm.

books-e1531332343208.jpg

I think I know about Solutrean points, but I am going to familiarise myself with them before I write the next post on these artefacts. Above are the reference books I keep on my shelf. There is also an excellent paper by Anthony Sinclair at Liverpool called Constellations of Knowledge (downloadable here) about the social implications of these points. I now have a new theme!

Material worlds

This post focuses upon the varying range of materials available to us for knapping practice. Each of these materials presents its own set of particular problems that need to be resolved in order to produce an artefact. They are in approximate chronological order in relation to my own discovery and use of them.

First of all then is an industrial ceramic used to make large diameter soil pipe. The soil pipe on the left is again from my friend Joe Curley. It may or may not be of a similar high quality to the material seen on the right that was used to make the handaxe. I will need to break into it to find out. The large fragments of the material used to make the handaxe were fantastic to work and I would love to find a source. I discovered a number of large broken fragments at Salford Quays near my home but I have now used all this found material ūüė¶ To produce the handaxe it was mainly hard hammer with a little soft hammer finishing. The main issue with this excellent material is managing the curve. The main benefit and drawback is that it is effectively pre-thinned. You can get good results quickly, but then have to get on top of thinning when you move onto flint nodules.

Second up is bathroom ceramic or Johnstone as it is called by north American knappers. I saw this being knapped on a Youtube video a long time ago, and as soon as the soil pipe worked I started seeking out and trying this material. I was fortunate in that the University of Manchester refurbished the toilets in our building at the same time as I was looking for material. Consequently I have lots of these cisterns waiting for my attention. Some hard hammer, mainly soft hammer up to now. It is a coarse material to work and I haven’t really explored pressure flaking with it yet.

Third up is glass, my current favourite material to work. This is old glass from a tip near where I live. I think most of it is early 1900s material, thick, uneven and with bubbles. However, great to work with and has really helped me develop my pressure flaking. Modern glass is good too, if you use bottle bases. Most of the side panels are too thin.

Porcelain or high quality ceramic also works. This piece of patterned vase was from approximately the same site as the above glass and the material pressure flaked beautifully. Modern China also works but is harder to flake.

And then flint, the material most commonly used by our ancestors in Britain, mainly available in the south and east of England. This is the material I have least experience of working with because I live in the north west. It comes in nodules of varying form and being able to quarter and optimise the nodule is something I want to learn and understand. I have made a number of handaxes, but currently they all turn out pretty small. Availability of material can almost correlate directly to my relevant skill level working that material. No surprise and a fact that emphasises the importance and value of practice.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive summary. It is meant to highlight the value of looking at materials differently, recognising the qualities they embody and thinking about how those qualities can be manipulated. Each of the above examples was a small exploratory experiment, to understand the qualities of the materials in question. The accumulative result is that I have developed some good abilities using hard and soft hammer and pressure flaking. When we look at a finished artefact, and then for the first time try our hand at knapping, the results can be disheartening. The breakthrough for me was finding materials that were abundant enough so that I could make lots of mistakes, again and again. Slowly but surely things started work, but most important was the pleasurable aspects of the process. With hindsight I realise that I was playing with it. Each little experiment was less like science, and more like playtime. I am currently reading about theories of learning and want to understand why I find it such an engaging experience. What is the nature of the relationship between me and the activity? Perhaps that will be the content of a future post.

Hard earned

bone china 1

We have been having regular Tuesday and Thursday evening ‘knapp-ins’ for the past few weeks. Between the three of us we each gravitated towards different materials. Nick focused upon the remainder of the thick microwave turntable. Rob brought in some Langdale Tuff, a volcanic material with a fantastic texture, and I brought in a bone china plate. This bone china is hard, and very difficult to get long removals from. It really does seem to be a case of heavy abrasion to get incrementally longer removals, only to abraid again to get a bit further. Each of the above removals was hard earned.

bone china 2

Both¬†Koalaboi¬†and Nick recommended having a look at Paleomanjim’s¬†Youtube channel. He uses a number of methods depending upon source material, but to maximise flake length he combined¬†two approaches. Firstly he used abrasion and removals to create a steep angle that can be used optimally for one face only. He also used a pad with a channel cut into it. He has identified that having this void below the flake being removed means that it has absolutely no support, and thus comes off cleanly. Even small amounts of support (contact) can lead to step fracturing. This makes sense, although it doesn’t seem to be reflected in the Kimberley Points literature. Once optimal length flakes have been removed from one face, the the margin in prepared so as to remove optimum flakes from the second face. This process is primarily aimed at thinning and creating a lens like cross section. I have a couple of fragments of this material left, and so I am going to test out this steep platform method¬†this Tuesday evening.

Foraging for early 20th Century glass and ceramics

tip

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.

porcelain

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.

An interesting learning experience

Continuing with fragments from the same porcelain cup I selected a side section and so again the curvature needed to be managed. A fair amount of material had to be removed and I found myself intuitively using a new technique when shaping the fragment using the hard hammer. Primarily I identify the area of the fragment that needs reduction. I then focus in to find bits that stick out. These points will be inherently weaker due to the lack of support on both sides. Consequently these points provide useful platforms with which to remove invasive flakes. If this platform sits above the centre-line of the edge I will flip the flake over and use it to remove a flake from the dorsal surface, if it sits below then I will use it to attack the ventral. The additional strategy I found myself using was to support the platform with my finger. This leads to me hitting first the platform and then my finger. The flake is removed but it remains in place (see photographs below). I think the finger acts as a shock absorber thus reducing the chance of the flake fracturing randomly. In any case, it worked really well. The interesting thing is that I know where this strategy came from. If you view the video of Karl Lee making a scraper he does exactly this action at 1 minute 36 seconds (https://vimeo.com/80064183). I produced that video well over a year ago and have only now found myself consciously doing this.

supported flake removal hard hammer method

Overall this means that my rough-outs are becoming more controlled even when the hard hammer is relatively large.

roughout

From there I used the copper pressure flaker again to start imposing more of the shape and thickness wanted. When I was happy with that I was able to notch the edges which as can be seen, are getting better. This material holds the notches well.

number three ventral

number 3

The red section is the remains of the transfer pattern that was originally decorating the outside of the cup. Also, I am starting to remove more of the dorsal surface with my invasive flakes. This example is 67mm long, 31mm wide and 7mm thick.