Learning about human flint interactions

This is a summary of a session last week at the University of Chester. I am a Visiting Lecturer at Chester and the students I was working with last week had all been in previous workshops or lectures in the past couple of years. Consequently it was lovely to catch up with them again.

The session had been organised by Barry Taylor and I had the relatively simple task of introducing everybody to the process of using a hard hammer on a nodule of flint to generate useable flakes. Everyone had a nodule, and so after a little explanation about platforms we were off.

I thought, from an instructor point of view, this may be a little simplistic and not fill out the time we had together, but I was wrong. Making platforms work for you actually involves a bit more than a conceptual understanding of them. It takes practice, conscious trial and error, and this takes time. It is and was time well spent. In fact, simply learning how to hit something in a relaxed manner is something most people are not taught, and so freeing up our bodies to hit effectively, and then accurately, was a large part of the process for many people.

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We were successful in that everyone generated some flakes. They also got an idea of how flint works, and how they need to work in order to work flint. Barry has some larger nodules on order, and the students are going to use these to generate flakes, use the flakes to work different materials, and then do use wear analysis to recognise relationships between actions, resultant use wear patterns, and different materials. As Barry pointed out, most people were modest when it came to summarising what they had learned, but this review process was useful to me.

I learned that this kind of human material interaction actually made for a very valuable and enjoyable session. The learning is packaged within an exercise that has apparently simple outcomes. Everyone was able to generate useful flakes and in doing so demonstrated a practical grasp of using platforms to break down a nodule and then generate useful flakes. I am going to run this same workshop at Manchester as I think it makes a great and enjoyable introduction. My thanks to Barry for coming up with, and organising a really enjoyable session.

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Thinking about materials differently: workshop at the National Permaculture Convergence in Manchester, September 2018

This is a short review of my workshop for the people at the National Permaculture Convergence last weekend. What follows is the abstract from the event, some feedback from participants, and my own acknowledgements.

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We live in a material world that is structured around the consumption of resources. Being brought up in a modern and western society means it can be difficult to see how this could ever have been different. However, there were, and still are, many different and more sustainable world views and ways of life on offer. Choosing to view the world differently inevitably leads to experiencing the commonplace differently. Things, their meanings and value can then change before our very eyes. It is possible to find excitement, creativity and meaning within the previously mundane.

 

 

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Australian aboriginal Kimberley points are glass spearheads and knives produced from the mid 1800s to the 1980s from old glass and ceramic bottles. They are the direct result of an interaction between western homestead building and sheep farming colonisers and the mobile and indigenous population. The aboriginals adapted coloniser rubbish to develop their own material culture in occult and incredible ways. One example of this is the Kimberley point. In turn the colonisers began to desire these aboriginal artefacts as new and exotic commodities. Consequently, most large British museums have collections of Kimberley points within their stores.

 

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These glass points are more than commodities, and the skilled practice of making them is part of a transformatory process, not just of the glass bottle, but of the individual doing the producing. The making of them opens us up to a new understanding of the potentialities of our material worlds. Commoditisation of the end product literally misses the point. This workshop is designed to lead you through ethnographically recorded processes used by aboriginals to make Kimberley points. Making a glass point like these is a highly skilled practice and four hours is a short amount of time. However, four hours is enough time to grasp how the application of a skilled practice can open up a new world of excitement, creativity and meanings through the repurposing of what could be seen as rubbish. As I am not Australian, aboriginal or from the Kimberley region the points we will be making should be termed Manchester points. We do however have the Kimberley folk to thanks for providing us with a way of exploring and understanding our own world differently.

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Amazing, best workshop I have done in ages and I have done a lot. Great pace and knowledge. Thanks so much“.

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Loved your attention to each of us, your positive encouragement and practical support

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Brilliant workshop, well explained and really enjoyable. Thank you“.

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My thanks to everyone who took part in this four hour workshop. I really enjoyed it and I think everyone else did as well. Thanks as well to Dan who organised the convergence for giving me the space to run the workshop.

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And a special thanks to my friend Keith Reynolds. He selflessly helped me set up, took all the photographs, garnered the feedback, and then helped me pack it all away again. Much appreciated mate.

 

 

 

August 2018 Bronze Age arrowhead workshop: a short photo essay

This was the latest workshop at the brilliant Old Abbey Taphouse. I think we all had a lovely afternoon and I get the feeling these workshops have some mileage. In other words, it’s not just me who is interested in these things.

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Mark, Paul and Eve’s arrowheads in that order. These are all first attempts, but the main take home is not the arrowhead, but an understanding of the complexity of apparently primitive technologies. Next month is our Neolithic Day.

‘Endshock’ and flake analysis

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We are back from our weeks holiday in Mid-Wales and knapping wise I didn’t have much more Johnstone Solutrean success. Ultimately from the two large sheets of Johnstone I took with me I produced the previously discussed Solutrean point, and lots of smaller blanks that will be suitable for arrowheads. The arrowhead blanks are a bi-product and so not relevant to this discussion, however I think it is interesting to explore where my problems lie. One problem that happened more than once was ‘endshock’ (see above image). When this piece snapped in the middle I was actually working on thinning one of the ends. This is how I ended up with the arrowhead blanks.

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A second issue that deserves attention was how I was effectively thinning the pieces. Above are five useful penetrative thinning flakes that successfully removed the original surface, however, I couldn’t produce these consistently.  The above photograph shows the ventral, or inner surface of flakes I preserved for reference, to see what was going on when it worked.

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The above image is of the first three flakes but the dorsal, or outer face, showing the amount of flat original surface successfully removed. They are organised in size order with the first being the largest and therefore most successful. This first flake is 49 mm in length and the platform, or the part of the flake that received the impact is 9 mm in length and 4 mm in width. So all the energy from the blow was transferred into the body of the blank being worked through that small area. The platform can be considered ‘plain’ in that it has not been worked in any way. Another useful analytical aspect is the ‘Platform Angle’. If the angle between the face of the platform and the dorsal surface on any flake is measured it will usually be 90 degrees or less. At any greater angle the energy of the blow would not be concentrated and therefore ineffective. The platform angle on this piece is about 70 degrees. This tells us that the energy imparted from the heavy soft hammer blow entered the piece at 70 degrees to the dorsal surface through a plain small platform. Onto the second longest flake.

 

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The second longest flake is 42 mm in length and the platform seems to be a small plain section some 4 mm by 2 mm. Emerging from the platform on the ventral surface we can see what is called an ‘Eraillure Scar’. This scar illustrates that a mini flake was removed from the main flake at the same time as the main flake was removed from the blank. For my purposes it acts as a signpost to the point of impact. Platform angle is more like 90 degrees on this one. On to the third flake.

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This one is 35 mm in length and the large erailiure scar indicates a single raised point of impact. This kind of platform is termed ‘Punctiform’, or point like, probably 2mm x 2mm, and the platform angle is again close to 90 degrees.

So how can this help us, or help me? The endshock I think is in many ways simply a symptom of a lack of attention. Firstly, the sound of a hit tells me if the platform has been correctly produced because I can hear the sound of the flake being taken off. Alternatively, if I can hear the dull thud of unstoppable antler against immovable blank then there is a potential problem. This can be exacerbated if the blank is not supported by the knapper’s body. I was guilty of both these ‘crimes’ when the above example occurred. So prepare a good platform; support the blank (perhaps by resting it on my thigh); listen for problems when I hit it. Regarding the flake analysis, it seems to confirm that a platform angle of between 70 and 90 degrees, and a sticky out point in these instances have led to long removals taking off decent flakes.

It has been busy since we came home and it has taken me a while to finish this blog post. I think I understood most of this stuff already before analysing these flakes, and so what this highlights is my movement between systematic preparation and a more intuitive percussion. Sometimes I pay attention, and sometimes I don’t, and the result is inconsistent flaking. If I can stay focused on the above points then in theory I should be able to move on a stage. I think if I can pay attention and get a better result, then my intuitive percussion will also improve.

This can be described usefully by a four stage learning model. The four stages of learning a new skill are:

  1. Unconsciously incompetent (it looks easy because you don’t know you can’t do it).
  2. Consciously incompetent (you try it and realise you can’t do it).
  3. Consciously competent (you progress by maintaining intense concentration).
  4. Unconsciously competent (you have got it and are in the zone!)

When it comes to Johnstone Solutrean points I am currently just past ‘Consciously incompetent’ and approaching ‘Consciously competent’. I was however in the zone on Saturday, but that is a different blog post!

 

Solutrean, Johnstone, Holiday

We are on holiday in mid-Wales and I have brought my knapping gear, some bathroom ceramic, and am busy testing out the ‘thinning then shaping’ approach discussed in the previous post. This was yesterdays effort and I like it.

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Complete bifacial thinning with no original surface left. I didn’t bring my calipers but my best estimate using a ruler is that it is maximum width 35mm and maximum thickness 10mm which makes the ratio 3.5, and therefore Early.

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The profile view below shows how it has been thinned more effectively in the lower section than in upper. If I were to use the lower minimum thickness then it would be 35mm divided by 8mm making a ratio of around 4.4, and therefore approaching a Middle.

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The lesson here then is consistency, and whilst there is some way to go, I have my next attempt waiting for me outside, so I better stop typing!