The crunch of crushing platforms

Overnight I have gained some insight. As I said in the last post I have now mastered the production of leaf shaped arrowheads on flint flakes and can make them relatively quickly. I have also gone on in previous posts about the function of platforms for avoiding crushing and shock absorption, which compromise the blow or pressure. The crunching sound associated with that is what the title of this post refers to. These particular insights have come from working predominantly bottle bases, where systematic thinning is necessary throughout, and a crushed platform leads to thick edges that resist flaking. In the ‘bottle bottom world’ crushed platforms are a pain.

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When I visited John Lord he made a leaf shaped point from a flake of rock crystal. The flake he struck had quite a large bulb and didn’t look ideal for much to my amateur eye. The main thing to emphasise is that the flake had a largish bulb and was overall relatively thin.

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As you can see from the photograph above, from where I was sitting you couldn’t see much. What I heard was two things: some good pressure flaked removals; but also a lot of crunching. This is the sound I associate with crushed platforms, and consequently I didn’t hold out much hope for the end result.

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I was however proved entirely wrong. As I said at the beginning, and if I were to review the order of my posts, my focus and progress on leaf shaped points has been good since sitting down with John. I also semi-observed myself making that same crunching sound when working flakes yesterday. Flakes are formally different to bottle bases in that much of the flake is thin and I now understand needs ‘crunching’ into shape. The crunching sound relates to the crushing of thin sections of flint, but with a flake this can be a useful strategy for rapid shaping when the flake is already thin enough. The really interesting thing is that I learnt that in Norfolk some weeks ago, and applied it yesterday in Manchester. However, this process occurred unconsciously. I was provided with the audio data by John and it was duly logged and interpreted (incorrectly). However, through a process of making on flakes that same data was marshalled unconsciously into an experiment I didn’t even know I was doing. The results were incorporated into my new method, and then overnight I gained an insight into the process that had been going on all along below the surface.

There is a whole field of philosophy that rejects the mind body dualism, one that I definitely subscribe to. However, it is easy to ‘think’ about what needs doing (my piles of paper and jobs that still need doing!) and in the process override the more subtle processes that are going on under the surface. I suppose what I am drawing out here is that whilst I intellectually agree with the idea that we should reject the idea of a separate intellect, putting that idea into practice involves creating space to let ourselves process what is happening. Perhaps the term or concept of idea is unhelpful? In a social world which values ‘efficiency’ a process of allowing things to percolate, and giving time to play with things can sometimes be difficult. It can run counter to what our family, friends and colleagues expect from us. Anyway, it is now 9.40am and I need to be getting on 🙂

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Reflecting upon my Bronze Age arrowhead workshop

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The title suggests that my workshop is about producing a Bronze Age arrowhead, but upon reflection I realise it is actually about people. The workshop went really well, so much so that I am keen to do another one soon. I received good feedback but most importantly I really enjoyed it, and I think the participants did as well. In total there were ten and a half of us. Rachele, from The Old Abbey dipped in and out, in between other pub related tasks. Of the nine participants I knew six already and three people were new to me. Interestingly, three of the participants were engineers. The day was sunny and everyone was in a good mood and the group mix was good.

I had them for four hours and I had integrated a half hour introduction explaining how stone tools have been used to structure our understanding of prehistory. This is a compressed summary of around 850,000 years of British prehistory in 30 minutes. Highlights include an Acheulean handaxe (made by me), a Bout-coupe handaxe (made by me), a blade core and blades (made by John Lord), a bladelet (made by me), Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead and Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead (both by me). The idea is that they can ‘handle’ their way through prehistory and it worked well. I have a day-school coming up in September and I am going to develop this section so that it is two hours and includes a Powerpoint and activity. I feel really pleased that I have produced an almost complete teaching collection in line with the historical discussion. After the main lecture bit we explored how can we develop an understanding of the stone tools themselves. One approach is through experimental archaeology, or Learning Through Making, and off we went. I introduced them to a Kimberley point (made by me) to provide a linkage between archaeological stone tool production and the ethnographic use of glass. This provided a segue into beer bottles.

Removing the base of the beer bottle using a length of wire is great, because people are amazed at how easy it is. After everyone had obtained their base I led them through hard hammer, soft hammer and pressure flaking. Without providing a blow by blow account, some people got it and others didn’t. In the middle of that bell curve sat seven people. I worked through the process in a linear sequential way starting with hard hammer and ending with pressure flaking. I may change this a little as really they need to move between the three tools on their journey through the process. The linear approach may not therefore be that useful.

It was a four hour session and based upon feedback I am going to instigate an official break in proceedings, meaning everyone would have a break at the same time. There are actually many advantages to this. First of all it gives people the chance to get to know each other a little. Secondly it provides a respite from the intense concentration that is required. Thirdly it will provide some business for the venue who kindly hosted my event free of charge. Along the same lines, a mini ‘icebreaker’ at the beginning has been suggested.

This feedback is really useful because it has highlighted to me the point mentioned at the beginning of this post. The workshop is actually about people, people who have come together in order to make a Bronze Age arrowhead. It is a social, as much as a technological process. Getting their feedback is a great reminder of this, and great way for me to think about how I can craft future workshops around the people taking part.

The best bit of feedback I received on the day was “that was really interesting. I am never going to do it again!

My thanks to Rachele for encouragement and hosting, and Brian Madden for these excellent photographs.

My best barb and tang arrowhead made from a flint flake

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I am really pleased with this one. It is the culmination of a series of themes, including the belief that flint is harder to work than glass. This is still true, but I had a very different experience of working this flint than I did with the Kilmarnock type arrowhead I made a few days ago. They were two very different kinds of flint, and this was made from a flake I had lying around in the back yard so I have no recollection as to which nodule it came from.

Anyway, I now have a set of Bronze Age arrowheads for my workshop on Saturday showing the different materials that can be used for personal practice. For me it legitimises my idea that it is not just possible, but actual, to develop knapping skills on one material and then migrate over to other ‘more archaeological’ materials. As you can see a small section of the left hand barb broke off the flint example. Whilst that should diminish the pleasure I got from making it, it doesn’t. It was simply part of the making and learning process, learning that I have reached a place that I am very happy with. I have a skill and an aesthetic that I can systematically apply to a series of materials. I also have a method to enable other people to do the same. Bringing those two aspects together is immensely satisfying for me.

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Bronze Age arrowhead workshop: the sequel

Rachel at The Old Abbey Taphouse has been kind enough to give me the space to run a second workshop with them. Drawing upon my Pop Up Business School experience, videos attract more attention than posts with just photos, or text only. Consequently, here is my promotional video.

My friend Brian Madden edited this video for me, and pointed out how about half way through (1.09 seconds) one of my neighbours shouts out “I can’t find the chocolate“. Soon after (1.23 seconds) I can be seen eating some chocolate. Who said subliminal advertising doesn’t work.

A shameless attempt to ‘drive traffic’ or vaguely on topic?

I have just produced my own website! It is a tool to promote a formalised version of a ‘beginners’ knapping workshop as discussed in this blog previously  My university teaching quota has now officially finished and making a website has been on my list of things to do for a while now. My sister in law, Sue Lorkins, set me on the path by producing a prototype and introducing me to the free Weebly website software.

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However, because of the teaching I didn’t do anything with it. Sue also pointed me in the direction of a free training workshop designed for social enterprises and individuals wanting to be self employed. That sort of describes me and it started one week after my marking finished so the timing was perfect. It ran over five days and was facilitated by Simon Paine from the Pop Up Business School. It was excellent and made me feel as though wanting to teach people about how to make stone tools in 2018 is not such a mad idea!

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Anyway, learning through making, to stay on topic. One day of the workshop was devoted to using Weebly to build a website and getting it online. The technical support was provided by Jack Aling and with him to hold my hand (metaphorically) it was surprisingly easy. It has taken a week or so of messing about with different versions to get to something I am happy with, but all in all I am happy with it. The course was good for keeping a focus and this distillation process has been difficult but really useful. They pointed out, and so should I, that there are many free website platforms available, but in their experience Weebly is the easiest to use for non-techies (like me).

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I also learned that having a website is not enough, and the following days session was devoted to using social media to ‘drive traffic’ (as I now say!) to your website. My overall professional function is being an ‘educator’ within the University sector, and I have qualifications and feedback which tells me I am good at my role. I observed and experienced really good teaching on this five day course. Simon has a good depth of experience and is a great communicator, Jack has strong technical knowledge and a sense of humour. The sessions were delivered with warmth and patience, and the occasional dollop of inspiration and/or confidence building as necessary. I hadn’t planned on going to all five days, but I did in the end and it was all worth it. The five days is useful for getting people to work through all aspects of their ideas, and in my instance getting a website online. I would recommend this organisation and course to anyone who has a business idea, but especially if it is a left-field idea, and double especially if they have no money to start it up with and no clue how to go about it. And now in a shameless attempt to ‘drive traffic’, this is a link to my website 😮 https://johnpiprani.weebly.com/

 

 

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.

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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.