Today I spent the day with John Lord in a polytunnel in Norfolk. I had a number of things on my shopping list, one of which was some rock crystal to be worked. Nick Overton is looking at some debitage recovered from a Neolithic site and wanted John to see how the material knapped.
Nick had given me some pieces of crystal for John to test, but as it transpired, he had already tried it out. Someone had left him some larger pieces and these were of a more usable size. Nick’s pieces are on the top row, John’s on the bottom.
John used an antler hammer to take off a largish flake, and then a Red Deer antler tine to start pressure flaking. Because of its crystalline nature it was unclear if as a material it would knap. The Neolithic material did indeed contain micro debatage, but the crystals Nick had obtained were small and difficult to work, hence the request.
The larger flake proved to be workable and John was able to produce a nice leaf shaped arrowhead. The majority of the pressure flaking was done with a Roe Deer tine. For people in the past I imagine this would have been an amazing material. For me it is very similar to the bases of beer bottles that I am used to working. Some of the magic has therefore been lost on me. I collected all the debatage for Nick so he is going to be busy. The outcome for me is the following photograph of John Lord’s hands.
Whilst away on holiday I paid a visit to the Whitby Museum, well worth it if you should get the chance.
Inside there is lots of treasure, and this is a photograph of a lovely Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead found locally.
This, by contrast, is my point from today (and yesterday) made from a really thick piece of glass given to me by a friend, Stephen Poole.
It started out as an exercise in exploring the differing functions of hard and soft hammer in the process of reduction. In this respect it was successful as I now have some nice flakes for reference purposes.
However, the striking difference between the flakes produced by the different methods was also useful for me in deepening my understanding. Thinning a nodule to produce a handaxe is a process that I have observed (and filmed) a number of times. Karl Lee always emphasises the import of understanding angles. The stark contrast between these flakes is allowing something to fall into place for me (conceptually, not yet practically!) The hard hammer is perhaps more about producing angles to work with. The soft hammer more about exploiting those angles to thin the piece effectively.
I don’t like this arrowhead. It is too thick and lumpy and will probably go into the box in my back yard where my not quite resolved experiments end up. However, I have made it my point for today (made yesterday, finished today) which keeps the process, and therefore learning opportunities, going. What is intriguing for me is how the actual flakes themselves are helping me understand the process differently. Learning from the materials seems to encourage me to think about something I already know about in a different way. This thinking through objects is obviously something we do a lot within archaeology. It will be interesting to pick apart how the objects have added to my understanding in a way that observation and explanation have not. Perhaps the theme for another post.
I had the opportunity to have a wander around Chorlton Ees one morning last week and came home with quite a few pieces of old glass recovered from the roots of fallen trees.
This lovely blue piece in particular caught my eye and I like to think it is the base of an old Milk of Magnesia bottle.
As you can see it is chunky and I wasn’t quite sure how well I could reduce it. This is because it is both narrow and thick and I was worried that I may run out of width before it was adequately thinned. Anyway, today has been a beautiful day here in Manchester and I got to spend a couple of hours outside playing with it.
I am pleased with the result. It has become a Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead, similar in proportion to some of the stone examples I have seen. The edges are sharp, the tip is good and it is fairly symmetrical. What really makes it stand out though is the lovely blue colour. When Nick Overton sees this photograph he will immediately focus upon the very, very small section of original surface left in the middle. All I can say Nick, is: “when a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees is pockets!”.