Another one headed for the backyard

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It took me a long time to get this wrong. The glass was tough and it wore out one complete nail on my pressure flaker. However the problem was me and my angle management. It is narrow because I persisted but rather than getting flatter deeper flakes they became steeper. I don’t like it and it is headed for the box in the back yard. I am not sure what I have learned from this one, although it is the second on the trot where my thinning has been inadequate. Perhaps I have learned that I need to improve my flat invasive flaking.

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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.

Toolkit

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.

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.

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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.

Optimistic

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.

Actualistic

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.

Stack

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.

Material worlds

This post focuses upon the varying range of materials available to us for knapping practice. Each of these materials presents its own set of particular problems that need to be resolved in order to produce an artefact. They are in approximate chronological order in relation to my own discovery and use of them.

First of all then is an industrial ceramic used to make large diameter soil pipe. The soil pipe on the left is again from my friend Joe Curley. It may or may not be of a similar high quality to the material seen on the right that was used to make the handaxe. I will need to break into it to find out. The large fragments of the material used to make the handaxe were fantastic to work and I would love to find a source. I discovered a number of large broken fragments at Salford Quays near my home but I have now used all this found material 😦 To produce the handaxe it was mainly hard hammer with a little soft hammer finishing. The main issue with this excellent material is managing the curve. The main benefit and drawback is that it is effectively pre-thinned. You can get good results quickly, but then have to get on top of thinning when you move onto flint nodules.

Second up is bathroom ceramic or Johnstone as it is called by north American knappers. I saw this being knapped on a Youtube video a long time ago, and as soon as the soil pipe worked I started seeking out and trying this material. I was fortunate in that the University of Manchester refurbished the toilets in our building at the same time as I was looking for material. Consequently I have lots of these cisterns waiting for my attention. Some hard hammer, mainly soft hammer up to now. It is a coarse material to work and I haven’t really explored pressure flaking with it yet.

Third up is glass, my current favourite material to work. This is old glass from a tip near where I live. I think most of it is early 1900s material, thick, uneven and with bubbles. However, great to work with and has really helped me develop my pressure flaking. Modern glass is good too, if you use bottle bases. Most of the side panels are too thin.

Porcelain or high quality ceramic also works. This piece of patterned vase was from approximately the same site as the above glass and the material pressure flaked beautifully. Modern China also works but is harder to flake.

And then flint, the material most commonly used by our ancestors in Britain, mainly available in the south and east of England. This is the material I have least experience of working with because I live in the north west. It comes in nodules of varying form and being able to quarter and optimise the nodule is something I want to learn and understand. I have made a number of handaxes, but currently they all turn out pretty small. Availability of material can almost correlate directly to my relevant skill level working that material. No surprise and a fact that emphasises the importance and value of practice.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive summary. It is meant to highlight the value of looking at materials differently, recognising the qualities they embody and thinking about how those qualities can be manipulated. Each of the above examples was a small exploratory experiment, to understand the qualities of the materials in question. The accumulative result is that I have developed some good abilities using hard and soft hammer and pressure flaking. When we look at a finished artefact, and then for the first time try our hand at knapping, the results can be disheartening. The breakthrough for me was finding materials that were abundant enough so that I could make lots of mistakes, again and again. Slowly but surely things started work, but most important was the pleasurable aspects of the process. With hindsight I realise that I was playing with it. Each little experiment was less like science, and more like playtime. I am currently reading about theories of learning and want to understand why I find it such an engaging experience. What is the nature of the relationship between me and the activity? Perhaps that will be the content of a future post.

Glasgow Kimberley Point

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After quartering the Camp Coffee bottle yesterday I roughed out the first Kimberley Point. This morning I finished it (I think).

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The ASGO are useful landmarks for recognising how much material has been lost.

glasgow point 2

However, I am not quite sure if I like it. It is not quite plano-convex, and not quite lens shaped. This is partly an artefact of design as I was aiming to keep on some of the lettering. However it also doesn’t have the consistent deep invasive removals that have characterised the museum points I have seen. It does have some, especially forming the tip, but not enough to give the overall impression that the museum pieces do. Perhaps it is not finished. Perhaps I need to handle and play with it for a while to know. I am pleased with the serrated edges for which I used a flattened end of a number eight wire. I will report the results of my deliberations…soonish.

Quartering a Patterson’s Camp Coffee bottle

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Yesterday we had a knapping session in the department lab. The above is an old Patterson’s Camp Coffee bottle base recovered from Chorlton Ees, and as can be seen, the glass is thick, uneven and with bubbles. Because of its square form I decided to try quartering it following the method described by Stanley Porteus (1931: 111-112) recorded after observing an aboriginal knapper producing blanks for Kimberley Points. The first step is to use a number eight wire to remove the base, and in this I was unsuccessful. The thickness of the base (~9mm) made it too strong, however during the process one of the side panels fractured nicely. I shifted to a small hard hammer and worked along the second longitudinal edge of of the fractured panel and I was able to remove it cleanly. Perhaps the subject of another post, but there were clear sonic signals as to how thick the glass was at each point, and I responded to that iteratively with the amount of ‘umf’ I applied.

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This gave me confidence and I continued working along the remaining longitudinal edges. Voila, bottle quartered into four usable blanks using a small hammerstone.

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I have tried this process before with a modern Bombay Sapphire bottle and it didn’t work. That I believe is because of the thickness of the glass being used. Like most modern glass bottles the Bombay Sapphire is well engineered presumably to optimise strength and minimise materials used, therefore weight. Consequently the Bombay Sapphire fractured unpredictably. The quality of the glass is everything here. Whilst the uneven thickness and bubbles on old glass present their own set of problems, the actual thickness provides some internal cohesion that makes it relatively forgiving to manipulation and modification. This suggests to me that Kimberley Points were ‘of their time’, in that the uneven thickness of early glass gave it qualities akin to a stone flake, and these were recognised as such by aboriginals. This similarity has diminished over time as glass has become more engineered. Aboriginals continued knapping materials such as Pyrex and window glass into the 1980s (Akerman pers. com.), and the methods would seem to have adapted as materials developed. Within this relatively short historical period a really interesting dialogue between human skilled practice and material development has played out. This was in tandem with an aboriginal recognition of the new qualities such as size, colour and transparency that could be marshalled into the traditional production process. In my own modest way I am, following in this tradition, and currently working on a ‘Glasgow’ Kimberley Point, which I am sure will be the subject of a post soon.

Porteus, S.D. 1931. The psychology of a primitive people. London. Butler and Tanner Ltd.

Meet the flintstones

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We have just returned from eight days in Sussex, and one of my aims was to get hold of some flint with which to practice. I know from experience that because nodules come in irregular shapes the quartering process can be complicated. Quartering is simply breaking the nodule up into pieces useful for the task at hand. Currently I do not have a systematic method for dealing with a nodule when I want to produce a handaxe. Less hit and miss, more hit and destroy. The flint nodules and cobbles I collected in Sussex came from two main sources: Birling Gap; and Selsey Bill. Birling Gap has nodules eroding from the chalk cliff face and so both smaller nodules and rounded flint pebbles were freely available at the foot of the cliff. I collected a small rucksack full. Selsey Bill offered a range of damaged pebbles of flint and other materials that look knappable. Again, I collected a sac full. I want to use the cobbles to learn how to systematically produce pebble chopper toolscobble chopper tool

The above is the best cobble chopper I have made to date, and it is the systematic production of these that I want to master. There is a really nice small example within the Brice Collection in our own department, and the aesthetic examples seem to be so because of their simplicity. A minimal series of removals to produce a useful tool. With the four or five small and flat flint nodules I want to produce four or five small handaxes. Let’s see how that goes.