My thanks to Stephen and Richard for the help today.
My thanks to Stephen and Richard for the help today.
I have said in a previous post that I have some very talented friends. Pete Yankowski has taken part in, and photographed a number of our workshops, and on the back of that invited Nacho, Paul and myself to contribute to his (excellent) Ancestors Awakening exhibition. The exhibition was hosted at the Water Street Gallery in Todmorden and I displayed a number of artefacts illustrating the theme of exploring materials.
Rosemary, the gallery owner, was kind enough to invite myself, and medical herbalist, Edwina Staniforth, to each give a talk providing some context to the works in the exhibition. Edwina’s talk was about the Birch tree, and as a pioneer species, the properties and qualities that may have been valued by people in the past.
My own talk was in two parts. The first part looked at the history of archaeology, examining how stone tools have been used to shape a series of different narratives about the past, and therefore a series of different pasts.
The second part was reflective, exploring how learning to make stone tools has shaped me and my experience of the world. From one of commodities and things, towards a world of materials and their agency.
When organising any kind of activity, I make sure it is the kind of thing I would love to go to. Consequently, I took with me two items from our teaching / handling collection: a Lower Palaeolithic handaxe and Middle Palaeolithic Levallois core and flake.
I never underestimate the value and privilege of being able to handle artefacts from our deep past. The audience was actively engaged throughout, and based upon feedback, both talks went well. However, I think that for most participants having the opportunity to handle actual Palaeolithic artefacts was the real highlight. As it would have been for me.
This is a short review of my workshop for the people at the National Permaculture Convergence last weekend. What follows is the abstract from the event, some feedback from participants, and my own acknowledgements.
We live in a material world that is structured around the consumption of resources. Being brought up in a modern and western society means it can be difficult to see how this could ever have been different. However, there were, and still are, many different and more sustainable world views and ways of life on offer. Choosing to view the world differently inevitably leads to experiencing the commonplace differently. Things, their meanings and value can then change before our very eyes. It is possible to find excitement, creativity and meaning within the previously mundane.
Australian aboriginal Kimberley points are glass spearheads and knives produced from the mid 1800s to the 1980s from old glass and ceramic bottles. They are the direct result of an interaction between western homestead building and sheep farming colonisers and the mobile and indigenous population. The aboriginals adapted coloniser rubbish to develop their own material culture in occult and incredible ways. One example of this is the Kimberley point. In turn the colonisers began to desire these aboriginal artefacts as new and exotic commodities. Consequently, most large British museums have collections of Kimberley points within their stores.
These glass points are more than commodities, and the skilled practice of making them is part of a transformatory process, not just of the glass bottle, but of the individual doing the producing. The making of them opens us up to a new understanding of the potentialities of our material worlds. Commoditisation of the end product literally misses the point. This workshop is designed to lead you through ethnographically recorded processes used by aboriginals to make Kimberley points. Making a glass point like these is a highly skilled practice and four hours is a short amount of time. However, four hours is enough time to grasp how the application of a skilled practice can open up a new world of excitement, creativity and meanings through the repurposing of what could be seen as rubbish. As I am not Australian, aboriginal or from the Kimberley region the points we will be making should be termed Manchester points. We do however have the Kimberley folk to thanks for providing us with a way of exploring and understanding our own world differently.
“Amazing, best workshop I have done in ages and I have done a lot. Great pace and knowledge. Thanks so much“.
“Loved your attention to each of us, your positive encouragement and practical support”
“Brilliant workshop, well explained and really enjoyable. Thank you“.
My thanks to everyone who took part in this four hour workshop. I really enjoyed it and I think everyone else did as well. Thanks as well to Dan who organised the convergence for giving me the space to run the workshop.
And a special thanks to my friend Keith Reynolds. He selflessly helped me set up, took all the photographs, garnered the feedback, and then helped me pack it all away again. Much appreciated mate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.