Exploring the concept and practice of ‘overshot’ flaking

This point was reduced in the same way as the previous example, using a heavy-ish soft hammer. Once it was approximately the right shape I started using my pressure flaker to isolate protruding points. Isolating the protuberances weakens them, whilst at the same time improving the chances that all the energy from the blow will be absorbed by that small area. The result is an increased chance that the blow will take off a longer flake. On the photo below I wanted to attack the ceramic gloss surface to the left of upper centre.


After isolating the platform I took off a good flake that travelled half way across the face and removed a significant portion of the gloss surface. The method works, as I knew it would but the angle of the surface is also a factor that needs consideration.


The process here is the same as the one John Lord introduced me to when making a handaxe. Essentially you use the abrading stone or pressure flaker to sculpt the ideal platform so that all the energy from the hit is concentrated in one place. What this means in effect is that each platform has to be systematically sculpted before each blow. For me this means two things: firstly I need to be more systematic and less intuitive in my reduction process; secondly I need a really good and finely shaped abrading stone to really pick out the platforms.


This is the finished artefact and the better of the two faces. As you can see, one of the removals has travelled two thirds of the way across. That in many ways is an ideal removal as it has changed the angle of the face. I think that is the process in essence, deep removals that reduce the thickness of the piece, and by default the angle of the face. The overshot flaking I think is an earlier stage phenomenon that, when using flint tablets, allows you to get to the thinned stage that I am starting at. I wonder if the results of overshot flaking leave a face that is easier to flake than this artificially tabular bathroom material. I need to do a few more, and generate some more data. I can then move onto flint and compare and contrast. So expect a few more of these.

More on Solutrean points and ‘Johnstone’ or bathroom ceramic

I am still playing with my first batch of this lot of ‘Johnstone’, or bathroom ceramic, and am onto my second Solutrean point. As discussed earlier, I am familiarising myself with the background to these artefacts whilst exploring this particular material affordances of bathroom ceramic. There are lots of facets that are potentially of relevance, but essentially the archaeological points are bifacially worked, with some being very long and very thin. They were produced around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, in refugia in France, Spain and Portugal. The most impressive (and probably unusable) pieces are from a cache at a site called Volgu in France. Below is an image of actual Solutrean material from theĀ Musee d’Archeologie Nationale in France.


By World Imaging [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons.

These points were thinned using a soft hammer and sometimes the tips were pressure flaked. Bruce Bradley, an experimental flint knapper at the University of Exeter, has emphasised the use of an ‘overshot’ technique in thinning. This involves establishing a spur (or sticky out bit) on the edge, and then hitting that to take off a long flake that travels completely across the face. Whilst very difficult to achieve it provides an efficient method for thinning a piece. When Kim Akerman made his Roseleaf Kimberley point he did exactly this by mistake.

9b-removal-of-margin-by-overshot-flake (1)

The bathroom ceramic is already pre-thinned and so effectively I am starting at a late soft hammer phase of reduction. This is my most recent example, using a soft antler hammer and pressure flaking. I have not attempted the overshot technique as yet but I grasp, conceptually, how it may work.

Solutrean 1

This is the second face, with a little step fracture island towards the centre of the piece. This would be an ideal candidate for an overshot flake to remove the remaining glazed surface.

Solutrean 2

So the next Solutrean / Johnstone instalment will be overshot flakes. Let’s see how that goes.

Solutrean points from bathroom ceramic

It has been a while and that lack of knapping has taken me back a few stages, or so it feels. For unknown reasons, probably related to tidying up the back yard, I have started playing with the plenty of bathroom ceramic I have now neatly stacked on top of my wood store. I have said elsewhere how my soft hammer work is possibly my weakest area at the moment.


Working with this material is therefore interesting. Using a hard hammer I have had lots of problems, but primarily endshock. I noticed on a Youtube video someone using antler to thin some of this material successfully, and so I have been playing with the same.


I used a heavy and light antler hammer to bifacially work this piece. I was surprised at how well the material responded and worked with the heavy antler. Ultimately that was almost all I used. I have developed a new variation of the Metin Erin resting arm on knee method. I hold the piece of material being knapped out now, rather than resting it on my leg. This works better.


You can see on the floor the two antler hammers used. I did a little hard hammer at the beginning before abandoning it. This is my second attempt and the heavy antler hammer has opened up new possibilities. I was sticking with the light hammer, partly because I like it, and partly because I was worried about endshock with a heavier hammer. However, the antler seems to work well with the ceramic and the heavy hammer is obviously the right tool. I should say that the ceramic is quite thick, over 12mm.


I think I know about Solutrean points, but I am going to familiarise myself with them before I write the next post on these artefacts. Above are the reference books I keep on my shelf. There is also an excellent paper by Anthony Sinclair at Liverpool called Constellations of Knowledge (downloadable here) about the social implications of these points. I now have a new theme!

Material worlds again

I have been a little obsessed by knapping both yesterday and today. I made another hard hammer handaxe, which then became a Middle Palaeolithic Leafpoint, before ending up as a non period specific spear point. Hard hammer and soft hammer with a little pressure flaking. What is good as well is that I can identify the technology that produced each removal, not because I remember, but because of the shape and form of the scar.


Next up is a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead. The following example is from the museum at Whitby, and I have tried to reproduce it before with little success.

Neolithic leaf point

It was obviously still on my mind as this is a much better attempt, although when I now view them together I can see the original is much more refined. The glass used here was amazing and I have to thank the guy in Oddbins last night who gave me four empty spirit bottles to play with. I may give this to him in return for more bottles. He seemed enthusiastic about the prospect, as I would be in his shoes.


I then gravitated towards ‘Johnstone’ or bathroom ceramic, kindly collected for me by my friend David Thompson. His block of flats was having new bathrooms fitted and I now have all the old cisterns. These have been added to the ones I collected from Mansfield Cooper building when the toilets there were replaced.


I forgot how nice this material is to work. I am pleased with all of them, and all of them indicate to me the way to proceed. The flint is great and I am concentrating on being as consistent with a soft hammer as I am now with a hard hammer. The glass worked beautifully, and making them thinner and more refined is the next step. The ceramic is really difficult to keep long. In other words it is very easy for it to break when in big pieces. Paradoxically it is really robust at arrowhead size. I can do a better job of the notching but I need a different tool. I used my soft iron nail pressure flaker with all these materials, and so they are not technically correct. I have ordered a long Red Deer antler tine today and when that arrives I am going to see how that works. My aim with the bathroom ceramic is a Solutrean point. That is uncharacteristically ambitious of me, but hey, I have about seventeen cisterns, plus lids, and I am only 56.


Bathroom ceramic (Johnstone) bifacial leaf point

This is a rendition of a Middle Palaeolithic leafpoint. It is made from a toilet cistern, what Americans call ‘Johnstone’. It is obviously flat, and as such similar to tabular flint, or ‘platensilex’. Consequently, it is primarily useful for learning how to shape tools. I think this used to say ‘Haddon’ on the cistern and quite like the way it is still present on this Neanderthal spear point. It is an interesting material to work and very prone to ‘end-shock’. I have five more toilet cisterns stored in our back yard, much to Karen’s chagrin.