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.

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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/

 

 

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.
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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.

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 tools I use

This is a reference page to illustrate the free availability of materials that can be re-purposed for the production of stone tools. I really began to improve when I had tools and materials with which to practice and make mistakes. That is why I now love working with glass, and I value the process of re-purposing everyday objects to facilitate stone tool making. I see it as a test of my own ingenuity and understanding (e.g. will it work?). I also enjoy the minimal costs associated with re-purposing, as it makes this activity freely available to anyone prepared to invest the time and effort. Onto my toolkit.

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Carpet off-cuts. As discussed here I have found carpet off-cuts to be ideal leg protector material. Their free availability means that they are great for workshops as I can make lots for absolutely no financial cost, and minimal time and effort. The above ‘book’ was given to me by my neighbour, Ashif the carpet fitter. Carpet off-cuts receive a 10/10 in my imaginary marking regime.

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Hammerstones. Let’s go to the beach. I have a selection of hammerstones of many different materials and sizes and they serve a number of functions. The big ones are useful for breaking up large flint nodules as illustrated here. The first example in the above picture has seen a lot of service and its elongated shape makes it also good for abrading edges as well. The third stone is not a hammerstone, but my abrading stone. Smaller hammerstones can also be used for tasks such as quartering glass bottles as discussed here. Hammerstones receive a 10/10 in my imaginary marking regime.

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Antler hammers. Also known as soft hammers, or even dog chews. This is my favourite and was bought from a pet shop, sold as a dog chew and cost I think about £6. I have since bought a slightly bigger ‘real’ one from Scotland for £9. That is also pretty good. These are useful tools for thinning a piece of flint or glass as they almost peel off layers of material. I have some example soft hammer flakes that I show when teaching someone how to use a soft hammer. If they can master producing nice thinning flakes, the end result is a nicely thinned piece. Antler hammers receive only an 8/10 in my imaginary marking regime, mainly because they cost me money. I will be trying wood at some point soon. Free wood.

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Copper pressure flakers. This helps if you have builder friends, of which I have one. I have acquired a pipe cutter and have been given waste copper pipe. Copper is now quite valuable and these would have been cashed in for scrap, so they do have a financial value attached. However, Joe Curley was good enough to furnish me with enough to make twelve pressure flakers of two different diameters. Enough to run a workshop. I flatten the ends and use the point for pressure flaking glass and they work well. They do need regular re-sharpening with a hacksaw and file. I have used a ‘proper’ copper pressure flaker as owned by a colleague and it does work better. Because of this performance issue these re-purposed copper pipes get 8/10.

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Soft iron pressure flakers. This is based upon an Ishi type pressure flaker and its production method is detailed here and here. This type also needs regular sharpening with a file, but it is easy to replace the nail when it has worn down. It is now my favourite tool and although there is a cost attached to the production it still gets 10/10 because I like using it so much.

I love these tools because they have allowed me to practice and get better. The free availability of these materials has also allowed me to share my enjoyment and my equipment with others who have made the mistake of expressing an interest. In turn, I now learn a lot from the other people I practice with. We get real excitement from sharing a new revelation, or a newly recognised free source of materials. I could at this point segue onto the social aspects of flintknapping in the present and past. However, the next post will be an accompaniment to this one and discussing freely available materials. Probably.