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.

 

 

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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.

 

SMART Archaeology glass arrowhead workshop

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On Sunday I was fortunate enough to run a workshop for the South Manchester Archaeology Research Team using bottle glass to produce an arrowhead. My aim from this session was to get photos and feedback on my teaching and how I am organising the process for the learner.

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I now have a very structured approach and clear outcomes for the session: use hard hammer, soft hammer and pressure flaker; produce something like a Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead; recognise that the equipment needed is all accessible and therefore personal practice can be developed (if desired).

 

smart 7All those boxes were ticked. I also added a feedback section that was designed to be useful to me, but also encourage some reflection by the participants on what they had learned. This is following Kolb’s learning cycle model and I think it is a valuable addition.

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Feedback from a previous participant has encouraged me to use a whiteboard, in particular to explain platform angles. Having a clearly established process allows me to punctuate it with whiteboard explanations before the participants have to do it. This too is really useful.

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Pressure flaking: it is not easy, and not easy to get people up and running with it in a three or so hour session. Consequently, the later stages involved a little interference by me to get rid of any difficult bits. I have a barb and tang flint arrowhead produced on a flake and made by me. One side of it has a nice row of deep invasive removals. They were produced by John Lord showing me how to pressure flake. The opposite side has an intermittent row of shallow flakes produced by me, not really getting it. I think if John Lord does a bit on his students arrowheads, then it is totally legit.

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And everyone did go home with something approaching a barb and tang Bronze Age arrowhead. I would like to thank Ellen McInnes for suggesting this and Andrea Grimshaw for the organisation and making it happen. Based upon the feedback I can say that we all got something from the day and I think we all enjoyed each others company, so a result!

The point of Tuesday

Today’s point went surprisingly well. I used the second end-shocked part of the same material. And I had a plan.

Reflecting upon the Concrete Experience of producing the last one I realised that Kim Akerman’s description focuses upon working the side panel of a bottle. This glass was plate and thick and so I couldn’t follow the idealised model described here. I decided to confidently approach this second piece with my plano-convex method described here. As discussed previously, the edge preparation process also works to shape the piece. Here you can see both the change in shape and the angled edge that is ideal for starting the long invasive surface removals.

Once prepared all round I started the invasive flaking. When preparing the platforms I followed the angle of the edge. This meant that my surface flaking occurred on either side rather than on one surface first and then the next as prescribed by Akerman for bottles. This seems to work quite well on plate glass and the maxim seems to be: work with the angles that you are given. As the flaking gets deeper it then becomes possible to prepare the edge and work the second face. In this way both faces get flaked ultimately.

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The point is nice and it was surprisingly quick (less than an hour). I have obviously been able to formulate a road-map or Abstract Conceptualisation for dealing effectively with plate glass. Following my (approximately!) one point per day approach, tomorrow I can address the larger piece I still have left. In doing so I will be engaging in Kolb’s Active Experimentation process.

Kolb’s categories are useful on a number of levels and they have given me some ideas about how to better structure my workshops. In particular I am thinking about how to integrate the Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualisation stages. Tomorrow we go on holiday for five days. I am taking my knapping equipment.

One point per day. I am an optimist

I have just finished an epic ‘negotiation’ with a lovely liquorice coloured, 10mm thick piece of period plate glass. I started it yesterday evening, and finished it this morning. The complete process falls within a 24 hour period, but that would be what is termed ‘special pleading’. I just want to do one point per session per day. The glass is really lovely and the thickness presented some real learning opportunities.

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This was the toolkit I started with. I wasn’t at home and forgot to bring my abrading stone (mistake). This morning at home I employed the abrading stone and a piece of leather to protect my hand as by then it was getting sore.

Glass cutter and hard hammer

Because the glass was exceptional I wanted to make the most of it. This meant splitting it, and to do so I used a glass cutter and then gently hard hammered along the ‘cut’. This strategic use of modern and traditional approaches resulted in two decent sized pieces. Trust in God, and tie your camel, so to speak.

Optimistic

I have been told that the experimental archaeologist Bruce Bradley draws onto the core an outline of the flake he is about to remove, and then goes on to remove it. I outlined the shape of the point I was aiming for, thereby identifying the material needing to be removed.

Actualistic

I started using the pressure flaker to remove this excess material. However, the bump visible on the bottom left was proving problematic and so I tried the hard hammer. This resulted in what is called end-shock or hitting it at one point (the bump) and it breaking at another (in the middle). On the plus side I now had two more halves to work with. I continued with the left-hand piece.

Edge preparation

This is an example of good edge preparation. The ultimate aim here is to apply deep invasive flakes to the upper face. In preparation to do so I worked along the edge of the upper face removing short flakes and creating a steep edge angle. This provides a good platform angle to then apply the desired deep invasive flakes to the upper surface. This platform preparation process can be used to simultaneously shape the piece.

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However, it is not as simple as it sounds. Here I ran into problems again where the angle didn’t work and I created a lump. Whilst not exactly at this point, it was with a couple of these problems that I left the piece last night. This morning I was able to re-address these issues more patiently. To do so I had to work back to the last point where I could get a good preparatory removal, and then edge along from there. When I could go no further I would move back a little along the edge and take a large deep invasive removal out. This effectively removes a lot of supporting material and provides a negative bulb that can again be worked. Complicated to explain, and I am learning on the job so to speak. Dealing with lumps like this involves losing width.

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Anyway, the net result is good. This piece embodies a lot of my learning and working out. The really beautiful museum examples are perhaps so because the working out had been done a long time before, a working out that translates into bodily understanding. Consequently, on the museum examples we see confident and systematic flaking which leads to a clean and aesthetic conclusion.

The one point per day may be a little optimistic for me. With hindsight, if I was really being goal focused  I could have chosen an easier piece of glass and started the process earlier in the day. However, this glass is beautiful and I have taken time to negotiate a lot of issues that in the past would have been the end of the road. Furthermore, the first thing I did this morning was to get outside and continue with this piece. The deadline presents a focus upon an end product, and the learning process becomes a by product of the action. However a conscious focus upon the process is where the learning and understanding occurs. I have been reading about learning theory and this ‘making’ process is what David Kolb (1984: 30) has classed as Concrete Experience. As I sit now writing this blog I am reflecting upon this Concrete Experience and engaging in Kolb’s opposing category of Reflective Observation. Reflective Observation allows me to upgrade my understanding based upon the new experiential ‘data’ acquired through paying attention within the process. Doing so allows me to develop a new Abstract Conceptualisation or road map of what I need to do in order to make a Kimberley Point. With the next Kimberley Point I make I will be able to test out the usefulness of this new and upgraded Abstract Conceptual road map to see if it helps. The testing out process Kolb terms Active Experimentation. This brief four stage description isolates what is in fact a dynamic and blurred process of human action. However, the idea and practice of producing one new point per day provides a nice 24 hour learning unit within which this four stage process can occur, again and again. A further benefit is that it seems to get me out of bed in the morning!

Kolb, D.A., 1984. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey. Prentice-Hall Inc.

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 😦 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.

My ‘Soft & Sumptuous’ leg protectors have arrived

Many thanks to my neighbour Ashif from L.L.C. Carpet and Laminate flooring.

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He fitted some carpet and laminate for us earlier this year and told me at the time that they had to pay to dispose of off-cuts. My ‘leg-protectors’ are made from exactly such carpet off-cuts and work really well. Having now done a few workshops it became clear that I could use a few more leg protectors. This week Ashif popped round with this ‘book’ of twelve carpet samples. I had told him what I needed and asked him for off-cuts, but he thought these may work better because of the stitched edges.car

These are carpet they no longer sell, and as well as being ‘soft and sumptuous‘ and made in Great Britain, they are absolutely free and rescued from landfill. Ashif may not fully comprehend my enthusiasm for free and recycled flintknapping equipment, however I do fully appreciate his excellent after sales customer service. Many thanks Ashif!