Prehistory to Primary Schools

A good while ago I mentioned a project we were working on, trying to get our resources into primary schools. We have got a pilot project up and running and are now looking to the University of Manchester to see if we can roll out phase two. The folks at uni are very pleased with phase one, and so are we.


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.

Karl Lee pressure flaking glass

This is a link to a short video of Karl Lee pressure flaking glass . It is of interest to me because it illustrates how he uses his knee “like a vice” to remove the flake. The large piece of glass was modern, and probably a table top. This is the end result.

karl point

Ishi the last Yahi: a documentary history.

Ishi, the person 001

Many thanks to Elizabeth Healey for lending me two really interesting texts. This post is about one of these, the above book which as the sub title indicates, documents the recorded aspects of Ishi’s life. I like this photograph because it shows Ishi as a person, not simply “the last Aboriginal Savage“, and because of the focus of this blog, of particular interest here are the documents recording his toolkit.

ishi toolkit 002

The above inventory is presented on page 184. Number one is an Ishi stick, although from a differing culture group and earlier period than Ishi. The emphasis is on length and I haven’t fully grasped the bio-mechanics of how this might help with pressure flaking. Perhaps I will be able to explore this in a later post. Number two is a long piece of wire (3/16 ths of an inch / 4.8mm) that has been hafted and sharpened. This seems to be a very similar tool to the Australian aboriginal No 8 wire (see here)  used for making Kimbnerley Points. Number three is described as a slender nail hafted, sharpened and used for the finer work of notching (Heizer & Kroeber 1979: 170). Finally there are examples of Ishi’s work, with the longer pieces made as show pieces. Here again  is a parallel with the Australian aboriginal Kimberley Points, with the larger glass examples becoming media for trade and exchange, and particularly valued by European collectors. These pieces are really interesting in that they capture and embody a particular indigenous skillset, but it is a modified and abstracted version to take advantage of new materials that allow the marshalling of different qualities (size and transparency).

ishi pressure flaking

This final image shows Ishi’s pressure flaking method. Most modern knappers I have observed use their thighs in order to provide stability and generate power to remove the flake. I have some good footage of Karl Lee doing just this and I will edit and add this very soon. I wonder if this was Ishi’s actual knapping position, or staged for the photograph in order to show the position of pressure flaker in relation to margin? This choice of bodily positioning is fascinating in its own right and again needs more exploration. Finally, on Youtube I like Flintknapper Jimmy and his approach to understanding how Ishi actually knapped. From a museum visit he has looked at Ishi’s actual tools, preforms and points in order to interpret his process. He uses an indigenous toolkit as well as a glass cutter, because that is what Ishi did. Look at his pressure flaking tool in comparison to the photograph presented above  (Ishi’s knapping approach). See what you think.

Heizer, R.F. and Kroeber, T. eds., 1979. Ishi, the last Yahi: a documentary history. University of California Press.


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 ( 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.


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.

Hard Hammer Production


Hard Hammer Production

The above is a link to a short (one minute) video illustrating the relationships between hard hammer production and the stigmata present on the resultant flakes. It is designed for students to help explain the stigmata they are recording for analytical purposes in order to infer method of production within a debitage collection. The idea was from Elizabeth Healey and it was edited by Brian Madden.

Karl Lee making a handaxe

This is an edited video of Karl Lee making a handaxe. The handaxe making took around 20 minutes and it has been edited down to two minutes. The editing process was really interesting as it involved lots of watching and re-watching in order to discern exactly what was going on. My own knapping ability seemed to improve automatically after producing the video. I am definitely a visual learner but really surprised myself. The soil pipe handaxes were an unintended result of this process.

This is an edited video (two minutes only).