Guest post by Sunny Lum on his first experience of glass knapping

In October last year I attended John’s experimental workshop for creating Kimberley Points. As a complete novice knapper, I only had a vague idea of what would be involved, and had only prepared myself by watching a couple of quick flint knapping tutorials on Youtube beforehand, although these turned out to be almost completely irrelevant to what we ended up doing! At the start, John introduced us to what Kimberley points were and we had a short talk about the origins, uses and evolution of their creation, and also discussed the overall aim of the workshop, which was to try to end up with our own points after about 4 hours of work. He also showed us the tools the Australian aborigines originally used, namely a piece of number 8 wire, which was commonly used by the Australian sheep farming community to fence in their sheep. He also introduced us to our tools which we’d be using, which he’d created himself, adapting the wire by adding a wooden birch handle to allow better control. Other necessary equipment; huge tarpaulin to cover the floor and collect up all the glass shards, glass bottle blanks (rough cut to manageable size), a section of deep pile carpet (to protect our legs from self-inflicted damage) which was very thoughtful, protective goggles / glasses (plus coffee and plasters!)

Glass, plasters and coffee
Then there was the introduction to the process we would be using to create these points. This was explained very clearly through the use of a series of diagrams drawn onto the whiteboard, showing 2 distinct methods that created 2 different effects.
Sunny ignoring the view
The first step was to create a platform, which involved applying pressure with the wire almost orthogonal to the glass shard then changing the angle to create a pressure point, which breaks off a piece of the glass at an angle. This technique was used to create an angled platform on the side of the glass, which is used for the next step. Additionally, this step also is used to shape the glass into the correct shape.

Sunny, Rob and Rob

The second step was to use the platform created to apply pressure along the breadth of the glass shard in order to thin the edges. The process then repeats itself until you have reached the desired shape and thickness. John demonstrated the technique for the first step, and we tried to replicate it. It took about 50 mins or so before I became comfortable in creating a platform consistently. This was down to several factors; time to develop a feel for the correct angle and pressure required both to apply to the glass and also to hold the glass and tool in place to exert it, time to develop trust in the carpet to protect me from stabbing myself in the thigh, time to understand and get a feel for how the glass samples behaved when pressure flaking them.
sunnys-neat-and-tidy-steep-retouch.jpg
As part of this process, you had to adapt to the edges and shape of the glass. Depending on which way the edge slanted it was easier to create the platform from one side or from the other. This resulted in distinctive fracture patterns in the glass which was easily readable by John when he came to examine our handiwork. Once we had 2-3 blanks roughly platformed, John then demonstrated the second step to thin the edges. The technique was in essence the same as the first step, difference being the angle is now along the width of the glass instead of in step 1 where it was through the depth. This creates flaking across the width of the shard and removes material in order to thin the edge.

Sunny and his steep retouch

This similarity of technique allowed us to jump straight into step 2 quite quickly, although again it took time to develop a good feel for the amount of pressure required, angling of the tool and glass and again familiarisation with the fracture qualities of the glass in this different plane. We used some more modern glass and also some older turn of the century glass, which better replicated the aboriginal raw materials. This was particularly useful as it showed the difference in fracture characteristics. Modern glass was easier to create the platform, but was harder to thin, the older glass was harder to create the platform, but was easier to thin.

Rob Howarth and Rob Fulton

This phase was quite tricky because the process of thinning the edges destroys part of the platform, so if you didn’t create enough material removal from across the width of the shard to thin it, you ended up with a broken platform which was hard to re-use without resorting to step 1 again. It took some experience to realise this and frustrated progress when you really should have moved on. Rob Howarth, who had more experience knapping, ended up producing a pretty impressively shaped and thinned piece at the end, going through the two steps multiple times.

Rob Howarth's slim point

Time passed very quickly, and I enjoyed the challenge of working out how and where to apply the pressure to flake off and shape the glass. It helped immensely to have a file at hand to resharpen the points on the wire tool. The blunt end dissipates the force, requiring you to exert more and results in less controlled fracturing.
The biggest challenges I faced:
* developing a feel for how to hold the glass securely and safely
* developing a feel for how to apply the pressure into the glass securely and safely
* developing a feel for the angle and pressure required to create the pressure flake for step 1
* developing a feel for the angle and position and pressure required to create the thinning for step 2
In the end, I ended up with 3 half finished pieces. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have a finished piece, however I was very happy with the progress I’d made and the skills acquired that I could continue to work on those pieces if I wanted to. Overall, a very good well run and guided workshop. Helpful if you have some prior experience, but not necessary. 

Sunny smiling, Rob F inspecting
Many thanks to Rob Fulton for being one of the guinea pigs, Rob Howarth for providing the cleaned period glass and these photographs, and Sunny Lum taking the time to put his reflections down on paper for me.
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It has been a while

It has been a while since I posted anything, and that is most definitely not because I have nothing to share, but because I have not made the time to share it. Probably the most relevant thing to share currently is the small exhibition display I have made in the entrance to our Mansfield Cooper building. Kostas Arvanitis from the School of Museology has been kind enough to lend out his display case to some ‘lithics people’, and I have been entrepreneurial enough to take advantage of his kindness.

exhibition photo

The photograph is not great and there is a problem with reflected light. However, on the plus side it confronts anyone who enters the building, and it is next to the machine that sells crisps and Skittles so it should have good ‘footfall’. The exhibition started life as a discussion about the process of learning how to make Kimberley points. It changed half way through to an explanation of the social context of archaeological practice. It has ended up as being a temporary monument to Eleanor Casella who left the department just before Christmas, as she was actually a key player in my personal Kimberley point project.

The upper shelf is primarily concerned with the texts and information Kim Akerman gave me, and what I did with it (produce points from glass and ceramic). The lower shelf explains how…I will let the exhibition posters explain themselves.

What is this exhibition about

On the value of using period.jpg

On the value of a glass bottle

Replicating a

And so endeth shelf one. Shelf two on the other hand….

Kim Akerman is the preeminent scholar in this

Presentation1

last slide

I wanted to use this space as an advert for my services showing beginners how to make stone tools, the leaflet I have produced will perhaps be my next post. However, I find it really interesting how the process itself has taken over my agenda. I certainly like my exhibition, even if I suspect it doesn’t quite say what I meant or intended. Still, perhaps that is a perk of being a peripheral part of a department that is too busy to worry about what is going on in its entrance display case. Eleanor and myself are going to go for a walk and explore around Chorlton Ees, the place where I collect my raw materials. Perhaps that can be post number three.

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.

venus 1

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

venus 2

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.

venus 3

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.

venus 4

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.