Mancunian exotica

As is usual here in Manchester, the weather has been absolutely fantastic. Consequently I have been outdoors a lot and the dog and myself spent an hour or so having a root around Chorlton Ees. I am still amazed at the amount of treasure there is to find just lying on the surface.

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Some material has been unearthed by burrowing animals, and some has just been lying around for many decades. I was particularly pleased coming home with a carrier bag full of 1900s thick broken bottle bases. This glut of material reminded me that I am indebted to three people and I have not made any effort yet to repay their kindness. It would seem that now is the time.

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This Kimberley point, or more accurately Mancunian point is made from the flat piece of glass on the left. A scratch on the surface caused a little step fracturing but ultimately it was no problem.

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I am really loving flint knapping at the moment and I have lots of material to play with. The sun coming out is just the icing on the cake and if it stays like this I can look forward to getting the other two done in the next day or so. In the meantime I will enjoy posting this one off tomorrow morning.

 

 

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Kim Akerman makes a Kimberley point

I have mentioned a few times that Kim Akerman is the preeminent scholar when it comes to these points, and that he has been very helpful in my research. He has kept in touch and answered some of my questions on the production process that have been sticking points for me. This post is his response to a couple of my general questions, about the correct order of work, and invasive flaking without losing too much width. To illustrate he produced a point and recorded the process. This post will be lengthy, but informative if this is a subject of interest. This body text is my interpretation, the photos with text are his explanations.

 

 

This is the piece of water worn period glass that Kim started with. We had discussed the differing ways of establishing a platform and this was the issue he dealt with first of all.

 

 

He used the margin of the convex outer surface as a natural platform and a small hard hammer along one edge, and a pressure flaker along the second to begin invasive flaking. As can be seen both methods achieved similar results.

 

 

He then continued to take more invasive flakes and establish in his mind the shape of the point he was aiming for. All this flaking was aimed at flattening the inner concave surface of the glass.

 

 

Here we can see that whilst the inner concave face is now heavily worked and being flattened, the outer convex face is as yet un-flaked. Shaping in plan has also begun.

 

 

5c. Lateral edge showing unifacial pressure flaking on interior concave faceSame story in that the concave inner surface is now almost completely flaked apart from an intermittent central ridge of original surface. Kim has a problem with this later. The curved outer surface still remains un-flaked and you can see the edge of the original outer glass surface curving up at the forefront of the photo.

 

 

And at this point flaking of the easier convex outer surface begins. What follows is a process of flaking and shaping to achieve the approximate form required.

 

 

At the above stage the easier to flake curved outer surface is used only to create platforms so that invasive flakes can be removed from (what was) the curved inner surface. The aim here was to remove the intermittent central ridge of original surface that remained on the inner face.

9b. Removal of margin by overshot flake

The aim was to get flakes to penetrate across the centre in order to remove the problematic ridge and it is at this stage that a flake overshoots and takes off too much material.

 

 

the central ridge has been removed and the task now is to bring the reduced piece back into shape, and this is done by working both faces.

11a. Final form. Concave face

11b. Final form Convex face.

This is the end result, what Kim calls a rose-leaf shaped point. I commented in the previous post how my points need to be called ‘Manchester’ points. I think this is not the case for Kim’s. He was trained by aboriginals, uses the same bodily methods, materials, tools and reduction sequences. When aboriginal tool making lapsed, Kim carried the process on, and I believe this is why he has gone to the trouble of sharing the process here. He cares about sharing this knowledge with other people who value it. Perhaps the process of sharing a valued knowledge was one part of what Kimberley points were about.

It has been a while

It has been a while since I posted anything, and that is most definitely not because I have nothing to share, but because I have not made the time to share it. Probably the most relevant thing to share currently is the small exhibition display I have made in the entrance to our Mansfield Cooper building. Kostas Arvanitis from the School of Museology has been kind enough to lend out his display case to some ‘lithics people’, and I have been entrepreneurial enough to take advantage of his kindness.

exhibition photo

The photograph is not great and there is a problem with reflected light. However, on the plus side it confronts anyone who enters the building, and it is next to the machine that sells crisps and Skittles so it should have good ‘footfall’. The exhibition started life as a discussion about the process of learning how to make Kimberley points. It changed half way through to an explanation of the social context of archaeological practice. It has ended up as being a temporary monument to Eleanor Casella who left the department just before Christmas, as she was actually a key player in my personal Kimberley point project.

The upper shelf is primarily concerned with the texts and information Kim Akerman gave me, and what I did with it (produce points from glass and ceramic). The lower shelf explains how…I will let the exhibition posters explain themselves.

What is this exhibition about

On the value of using period.jpg

On the value of a glass bottle

Replicating a

And so endeth shelf one. Shelf two on the other hand….

Kim Akerman is the preeminent scholar in this

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last slide

I wanted to use this space as an advert for my services showing beginners how to make stone tools, the leaflet I have produced will perhaps be my next post. However, I find it really interesting how the process itself has taken over my agenda. I certainly like my exhibition, even if I suspect it doesn’t quite say what I meant or intended. Still, perhaps that is a perk of being a peripheral part of a department that is too busy to worry about what is going on in its entrance display case. Eleanor and myself are going to go for a walk and explore around Chorlton Ees, the place where I collect my raw materials. Perhaps that can be post number three.

Thoughts on Kimberley Points, teaching and learning

Last Saturday afternoon I spent four and a half hours with Rob Fulton, Rob Howarth and Sunny Lum testing out a Kimberley Point workshop idea. Rob Howarth is pretty experienced in that we tend to meet up most weeks to knap. Rob Fulton and Sunny Lum however were knapping novices, and as such, ideal for my experiment. I wanted to see if I could lead a novice knapper through the process of producing a Kimberley Point in one session. Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

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I had used a glass cutter and hard hammer to make some preforms from the old plate glass that we have. Rob Howarth works at the University of Salford Centre for Applied Archaeology and had kindly contributed some samples of 20th Century industrial plate glass for us to use. There are real qualitative differences between differing glass types, and one of Rob H’s samples in particular was excellent to work. By using these samples I tried to make the preforms formally (shape) and materially (type of glass) conducive to working into Kimberley Points. I also had outlined a clear and idealised reduction sequence.

reduction sequence

Having introduced them to the rich and interesting background to the points we started on the preforms. I had realised when putting together the idealised reduction sequence that they needed to grasp two basic types of retouch: steep; and deep invasive. We started with steep, and it took a while. I had underestimated how long it takes to get a feel for a new process, and for Rob F and Sunny it was a very new process. The first hour and a half perhaps was taken up with producing steep retouch on a series of blanks. Ultimately, Sunny got it but Rob F was unable to consistently apply it. This was frustrating for both of us and obviously had implications for the next phase, because the steep retouch was in fact producing the necessary platforms for applying the deep retouch. Rob Howarth was able to produce a number of steep edged blanks ready for the next phase, and perhaps this emphasised the value of previous experience.

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By moving on I was hoping to allow them to experience the practical value of the good platforms they had produced through steep retouch. The experience of using the platforms would perhaps provide them with a different understanding that could be used to refine their process. Sunny picked this up pretty well and was able to concentrate on increasing the depth of his flaking. Rob H produced a fully surface flaked example, the best he has yet made. I think for Rob H the clearly outlined reduction sequence was really helpful as it allowed him to apply the skills he had already developed in a structured way. For Rob F it was more difficult. I was able to clean up his edges so that he had good platforms but his ability to get deep removals consistently was the problem. Some worked really well and some didn’t at all and this became increasingly frustrating. I know this feeling well and I found it difficult to help. We worked closely together, but a transition gradually occurred, leading ultimately to me doing most of Rob F’s retouch. He had run out of steam. This experience has reiterated to me the value of the glass bottle arrowhead workshop as an introductory tool. He would have fared much better with that one, but this session was more like the ‘deep end’ so to speak.

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Rob H ran into problems with the later phases of my idealised reduction sequence, mainly losing width with each subsequent round of steep retouch and invasive reduction. Consequently his beautifully surface flaked blank was becoming narrower but remaining relatively thick. This has to be to do with the angle of the invasive removals. As I said earlier, Rob H, Nick Overton and myself sit down together most weeks to knap. I think we each have a slightly different style and approach, and indeed Sunny commented on the differences between my own and Rob H’s physical approach in this session. I think Rob H’s flaking style is more similar to Nick’s than my own in that it is more invasive but shallower. This results in less thickness reduction. My flaking is not ideal but I think I aim for a steeper angle of removal to reduce depth. This is the punchy retouch I have discussed elsewhere. This is something for myself and Rob H to work on in our Thursday sessions.

So conclusions. I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at the end. Rob F was kind enough to volunteer and it turned out to be a frustrating experience for him. Rob H produced his best surface flaking yet, but depth reduction has emerged as the next key phase to get on top off. Sunny seemed to enjoy it and got the processes. I have worked with Sunny a lot in other contexts and I know he is an efficient learner (and good teacher). He was also happy to go away with the conceptual outcome of understanding and also being able to practice steep and invasive retouch. Rob F had to get home for babysitting and the remaining three of us worked through Kolb’s reflective phase in the pub afterwards. I have since had a week to digest what went on. I actually really enjoyed the day, working together to develop skills and solve problems. I have also gained a new appreciation for the complexities underlying apparently simple tasks such as applying steep retouch. I now think there is almost a (very un-sexy) session on simply applying retouch, perhaps linking it platform preparation, and the platform categorisation systems that are used in archaeological analysis (linear, punctiform, etc.). I like the idea of workshop participants going away with something they have produced. Rob H seems to be the same in that each of his artefacts has a story behind it: where and when it was produced; the material it is made from; the issues it raised. The artefact contains the story which contains the experience. I realise for me that these blog posts are becoming the more tangible outcomes of my ideas and experiences. Sunny seems to be content to go away with a grasp of the experiential and conceptual understanding. Rob F is going to give me some written feedback, and Sunny is going to produce a ‘guest post’, and Rob H too if he is up for it. But let me here thank all three of them for giving me the time and providing me with some real food for thought. The photos used in this post are all Sunny’s.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

The point of Tuesday

Today’s point went surprisingly well. I used the second end-shocked part of the same material. And I had a plan.

Reflecting upon the Concrete Experience of producing the last one I realised that Kim Akerman’s description focuses upon working the side panel of a bottle. This glass was plate and thick and so I couldn’t follow the idealised model described here. I decided to confidently approach this second piece with my plano-convex method described here. As discussed previously, the edge preparation process also works to shape the piece. Here you can see both the change in shape and the angled edge that is ideal for starting the long invasive surface removals.

Once prepared all round I started the invasive flaking. When preparing the platforms I followed the angle of the edge. This meant that my surface flaking occurred on either side rather than on one surface first and then the next as prescribed by Akerman for bottles. This seems to work quite well on plate glass and the maxim seems to be: work with the angles that you are given. As the flaking gets deeper it then becomes possible to prepare the edge and work the second face. In this way both faces get flaked ultimately.

Tuesday 4

The point is nice and it was surprisingly quick (less than an hour). I have obviously been able to formulate a road-map or Abstract Conceptualisation for dealing effectively with plate glass. Following my (approximately!) one point per day approach, tomorrow I can address the larger piece I still have left. In doing so I will be engaging in Kolb’s Active Experimentation process.

Kolb’s categories are useful on a number of levels and they have given me some ideas about how to better structure my workshops. In particular I am thinking about how to integrate the Reflective Observation and Abstract Conceptualisation stages. Tomorrow we go on holiday for five days. I am taking my knapping equipment.

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.

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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.