On quartering a glass bottle using a stone (again)

I had an enjoyable knapping session with Nick Overton this week and it has been a while since both of us sat down together. I want to organise a Kimberley Point workshop, and so my theme for the evening was to consciously work through the production process. My aim was to grasp what is practical to work through in a three hours session with a potentially new knapper. I started with a green glass bottle base and side panel from the usual source. The first step was to separate the side panel from the base.

To do so I used a length of no.8 wire to attack the inner junction of the basal section and the side of the bottle. It worked pretty well in that it took out three big sections weakening the overall integrity of the bottle. So far so good. There is absolutely an auditory component to this process and that is something I am going to explore in more detail. After the third removal the increasing thickness of the remaining glass meant that the base snapped off, taking with it a section of the side panel. The break followed a path of least resistance (and thickness) and left me with a base and curved side panel.

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I then flipped the side panel over with the dorsal (convex) surface uppermost in order to produce my blank. I used the hard hammer to produce a line of weakness and this again had aural and visual clues as to how well it was working. When I had the required line I flipped it over to expose the inner (concave) surface and struck the inside of the same line once. As you can see, it worked pretty well.

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On the close up below it is possible to see the hard hammer impact marks. The no.8 wire tool used to remove the base is in the background.

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I then proceeded to do the same thing on the other side, but with less success as it split into four pieces.


This process is intriguing and I need more practice to get consistent results. Consequently I will probably discuss this process, but start other people off with preforms.

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Above is the resulting point from the lower section of the side panel, and below is the aboriginal example from the Manchester Museum.

MM twister

The main difference is flatness. Mine is lens shaped whilst the museum example is plano-convex, and a little more refined. The difference is subtle and qualitative, but I think boils down to the length of the removals and resultant edge angle. I am able to systematically produce points and the main areas for my own improvement are: getting longer removals; systematic hard hammer quartering. In relation to the workshop idea, I think if we use preforms then I can probably lead someone through the process in three hours.


A ‘lack of progress’ update

My one point per day is working out at one every couple of days. However, I am getting real value out of this lovely piece of glass.


The third point has just been finished and it is the longest. Having got two small points from the first half I split the second large fragment in two using the glass cutter and hammerstone method. It worked perfectly.

I then got work on the third point. We are on holiday and it was roughed out in a glorious 40 minutes sat in the sand dunes at Lindisfarne (Holy Island) yesterday. I spent about 40 minutes on it this morning and have just finished it this evening in the lovely garden of the youth hostel in Whitby.


Again not perfect but I was losing width and so contented myself with symmetry in plan. Current state of play: three points and still one preform left. Last day of holiday tomorrow.

On the social aspects of Archaeology

This is a post regarding an interesting story that is currently unfolding. It has made me think about the social aspects of archaeology, especially in relation to what has been termed ‘Stone Age Economics’. My own general interest in stone tools developed into a particular interest in Kimberley Points because many were made from glass, and I had access to glass.

The literature review led me to the work of Kim Akerman, who is clearly the preeminent scholar when it comes to Kimberley Points and how they are made. On Academia.edu it is possible to download Kim’s papers, and the site provides the opportunity to let the author know why you are downloading. I explained why I wanted them and Kim got back to me directing me to two particular papers, and two good historical texts. After a brief email interaction Kim had answered my immediate questions and sent me a couple of his Powerpoints on the subject for good measure.

This set me off on my journey, and closer to home I contacted Eleanor Casella in our own University of Manchester Archaeology department. Eleanor is a historical Archaeologist who has worked in Australia and it transpired that she had excavated and found some Kimberley Points. She was really helpful explaining to me the ins and outs of the period glass that was used, and really interested in getting a couple of replicas off me for her teaching collection. I have discussed these before, but to break up the text here is a picture of a museum example and my own interpretation in green.


A couple of weeks ago Eleanor emailed to say a friend and colleague from Australia, Denis Gojak, was visiting the department and she could furnish introductions. We couldn’t meet up as it happens but he liked the points I had made for Eleanor and offered me some Australian period glass if I wanted it. Whilst it seems illogical to ship discarded glass fragments from Australia to the UK, Denis explained that his finds were sorted into: Special Finds; Reference Finds; and Discard. This was the discard material and he had financial provision to dispose of it. Kindly Denis has agreed to dispose of it in my direction.

With a 10 KG box coming I asked Denis if it would be possible to throw in a couple of other items if ‘lying around’, such as a Kangaroo ulna, Number 8 wire, and some Calytrix microphylla, a hardwood from a scrubby tree in the northern territories. All items used by aboriginals for pressure flaking. Denis rose to the challenge and put me in touch with his friend John Pickard, a botanist who…studies rural fences! John is now on the case and has a field trip planned (starting tomorrow) to western New South Wales and has offered to collect the above items on my behalf.

What is going on here? No money is changing hands for these services, but people I have never met are buying into the idea of me producing these artefacts using authentic materials. And they are going to some trouble to help me to do so. Through these objects I seem to have tapped into a network of like minded and like hearted individuals who are prepared to share their expertise and resources freely.

I teach one workshop titled ‘Stone Age Economics’ and one part of it discusses Bronislaw Malinowski’s (1922) work on the Kula Ring and gift exchange. Through the exchange of gifts social relationships are forged. The gift facilitates the relationship. Whilst preparing the workshop for that session I also read Debt: the first 5000 years by David Graeber. In it he talks about how the current way of thinking about exchange mathematically and financially is a relatively new phenomenon. Underlying this relatively new mode of financial operation is the innate human approach of swapping favours, without precisely equating six of these with one of those. It feels as though something akin to this is unfolding here. We are apparently a shared community who all invest some value in Kimberley Points and their production. Or at least we know and value our relationship with someone else who does. These favours are not being measured precisely, but being given whole heatedly from either the intellectual or practical estate from which the individual can give. Perhaps the process of giving and receiving is how we construct and reconstruct ourselves within the various communities we operate within. This is an open-ended post in that I have no conclusions on the topic. I will be delivering the Stone Age Economics lecture again this coming semester and would like to include these exchanges in it. Let’s see.

Graeber, D. 2009. Debt: the first five thousand years. New York. Mellville House Publishing.

Malinowski, B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: EP Dutton & Co.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

finished point

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.

Scotch Whisky Lize Bard

I have been impressed by another blogger recently. Lize Bard is a poet and photographer, and if you follow Lize’s blog you receive a haiku every day. It has become the first thing I read of a morning and it is a lovely way to start the day. The most impressive aspect to me though is the discipline Lize demonstrates producing a new piece on a daily basis. It has inspired me to up my game and produce a new point everyday. I am not sure what I am letting myself in for here, but this is today’s.

Scotch whisky

This is the original fragment from a Scotch Whisky bottle.

Scotch WhiskeyIt is period glass again and this time a different set of problems. Although ostensibly a flat side panel it was in fact of uneven thickness. I went for length and in doing so had to manage both unusually thin and thick sections  at different points along the length of the piece. It would have perhaps been better to have gone for a shorter point with a thick base and thin tip. But I didn’t. It has worked out OK, although because of the thinness the flaking is not as punchy as on the previous point. I have also not fully removed a longitudinal curve, and to continue trying would have really reduced the width of the piece. That said I am happy with the different styles of retouch I can bring to bear to resolve the various problems encountered. So a little like myself, it is not perfect but fairly presentable. In the right light. See you tomorrow.

Fourth time lucky

Yesterday evening Nick Overton and myself had ourselves a marathon 4 hour knapping session. I was interested in making two more points from the remaining Camp Coffee preforms and whilst doing so we had some stimulating conversation about the nature of retouch. It has been a theme in this blog that I seem to struggle to replicate the character of the retouch seen on the museum pieces. By the time I got to my last point I think I recognised why. I produced my four points and as can be seen from the photographs below it has made a really nice narrative sequence. Finding the period material; using a stone to make the preforms; using the preforms to make the points.

nest of pointsNick is using a different Bombay Sapphire bottle glass and is focusing upon  getting a series of fully invasive removals on his first sweep. To achieve this he is taking very ‘flat’ removals off the surface of the glass by placing his pressure flaker close to the top of the platform and pushing straight in. He then uses his knee to provide the transverse force necessary to remove the flake, like this.  Although my pressure flaking method is different I am doing something similar, in that we are ending up with similar results. On my last point I started to place my pressure flaker lower on the platform and changed the angle of pressure. This allowed me to work in a more systematic and aggressive manner punching off the removals. I started to get concavity on both ventral and dorsal surfaces and the final point is more similar in character to the museum examples. I am chasing a characteristic method of applying retouch, which in turn produces a characteristic feel to the finished piece. I think the thicker glass allows this kind of work. I am pleased with my nest of points all from the one half bottle. I am really pleased with this punchy approach to flake removal. The next one I think will be an experiment in platforms and pressure flaker angles.



& Chicory Kimberley Point

And the process continues. I still do not like the Glasgow point, and all I can say really is that it doesn’t feel right. As so after playing with it for a while I decided to opt for an overtly plano-convex approach with my next attempt. The rationale behind this was to make the process simple. Rough out the shape by attacking one surface only. This would also create a platform all around the preform. I could then use this platform to punch out large flakes making the plano-convex cross section and giving the piece the characteristic look.


For this second point I selected another blank from the Camp Coffee bottle, this one from the ‘& Chicory’ section. In theory the plano-convex approach would leave on the lettering.


In practice, it didn’t. I like this point, although it is difficult to explain exactly why it looks and feels more correct. It is approximating a lens shaped profile, and I was able to be more confident in how I worked this piece. It may simply be that in plan this piece looks similar to the museum examples I have seen. All I can say is that I am pleased with it. The ‘&’ is a useful landmark to show how much material has been removed.

& point

Whilst it didn’t work out exactly as expected, I enjoyed the process of working through an idea. The emerging goal seems to be to get four points from the four blanks produced from the Patterson’s Coffee bottle. That would be a satisfying result 🙂