Learning about human flint interactions

This is a summary of a session last week at the University of Chester. I am a Visiting Lecturer at Chester and the students I was working with last week had all been in previous workshops or lectures in the past couple of years. Consequently it was lovely to catch up with them again.

The session had been organised by Barry Taylor and I had the relatively simple task of introducing everybody to the process of using a hard hammer on a nodule of flint to generate useable flakes. Everyone had a nodule, and so after a little explanation about platforms we were off.

I thought, from an instructor point of view, this may be a little simplistic and not fill out the time we had together, but I was wrong. Making platforms work for you actually involves a bit more than a conceptual understanding of them. It takes practice, conscious trial and error, and this takes time. It is and was time well spent. In fact, simply learning how to hit something in a relaxed manner is something most people are not taught, and so freeing up our bodies to hit effectively, and then accurately, was a large part of the process for many people.

IMG_9143

We were successful in that everyone generated some flakes. They also got an idea of how flint works, and how they need to work in order to work flint. Barry has some larger nodules on order, and the students are going to use these to generate flakes, use the flakes to work different materials, and then do use wear analysis to recognise relationships between actions, resultant use wear patterns, and different materials. As Barry pointed out, most people were modest when it came to summarising what they had learned, but this review process was useful to me.

I learned that this kind of human material interaction actually made for a very valuable and enjoyable session. The learning is packaged within an exercise that has apparently simple outcomes. Everyone was able to generate useful flakes and in doing so demonstrated a practical grasp of using platforms to break down a nodule and then generate useful flakes. I am going to run this same workshop at Manchester as I think it makes a great and enjoyable introduction. My thanks to Barry for coming up with, and organising a really enjoyable session.

Advertisements

September 2018 Neolithic Day: a short photo essay.

 

other womanFB_IMG_1537297437915

 

 

FB_IMG_1537297638693

flint

 

Many thanks to Irene Garcia Rovira and Pete Yankowski for the brilliant photographs, and to the Old Abbey for facilitating the event.

August 2018 Bronze Age arrowhead workshop: a short photo essay

This was the latest workshop at the brilliant Old Abbey Taphouse. I think we all had a lovely afternoon and I get the feeling these workshops have some mileage. In other words, it’s not just me who is interested in these things.

IMG_1165

Mark, Paul and Eve’s arrowheads in that order. These are all first attempts, but the main take home is not the arrowhead, but an understanding of the complexity of apparently primitive technologies. Next month is our Neolithic Day.

Reflecting upon my Bronze Age arrowhead workshop

screenshot-2018-05-15-22-32-32.png

The title suggests that my workshop is about producing a Bronze Age arrowhead, but upon reflection I realise it is actually about people. The workshop went really well, so much so that I am keen to do another one soon. I received good feedback but most importantly I really enjoyed it, and I think the participants did as well. In total there were ten and a half of us. Rachele, from The Old Abbey dipped in and out, in between other pub related tasks. Of the nine participants I knew six already and three people were new to me. Interestingly, three of the participants were engineers. The day was sunny and everyone was in a good mood and the group mix was good.

I had them for four hours and I had integrated a half hour introduction explaining how stone tools have been used to structure our understanding of prehistory. This is a compressed summary of around 850,000 years of British prehistory in 30 minutes. Highlights include an Acheulean handaxe (made by me), a Bout-coupe handaxe (made by me), a blade core and blades (made by John Lord), a bladelet (made by me), Neolithic leaf shaped arrowhead and Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead (both by me). The idea is that they can ‘handle’ their way through prehistory and it worked well. I have a day-school coming up in September and I am going to develop this section so that it is two hours and includes a Powerpoint and activity. I feel really pleased that I have produced an almost complete teaching collection in line with the historical discussion. After the main lecture bit we explored how can we develop an understanding of the stone tools themselves. One approach is through experimental archaeology, or Learning Through Making, and off we went. I introduced them to a Kimberley point (made by me) to provide a linkage between archaeological stone tool production and the ethnographic use of glass. This provided a segue into beer bottles.

Removing the base of the beer bottle using a length of wire is great, because people are amazed at how easy it is. After everyone had obtained their base I led them through hard hammer, soft hammer and pressure flaking. Without providing a blow by blow account, some people got it and others didn’t. In the middle of that bell curve sat seven people. I worked through the process in a linear sequential way starting with hard hammer and ending with pressure flaking. I may change this a little as really they need to move between the three tools on their journey through the process. The linear approach may not therefore be that useful.

It was a four hour session and based upon feedback I am going to instigate an official break in proceedings, meaning everyone would have a break at the same time. There are actually many advantages to this. First of all it gives people the chance to get to know each other a little. Secondly it provides a respite from the intense concentration that is required. Thirdly it will provide some business for the venue who kindly hosted my event free of charge. Along the same lines, a mini ‘icebreaker’ at the beginning has been suggested.

This feedback is really useful because it has highlighted to me the point mentioned at the beginning of this post. The workshop is actually about people, people who have come together in order to make a Bronze Age arrowhead. It is a social, as much as a technological process. Getting their feedback is a great reminder of this, and great way for me to think about how I can craft future workshops around the people taking part.

The best bit of feedback I received on the day was “that was really interesting. I am never going to do it again!

My thanks to Rachele for encouragement and hosting, and Brian Madden for these excellent photographs.

Our bushcraft day out at Reaseheath College with Peter Groom and company

This is a short photo-essay and summarises part of my experience yesterday on our joint University of Manchester / University of Chester bushcraft day out. Spoiler alert: it was excellent. This post focuses upon sinew making from a deer metapodial, or lower part of the leg. To begin the process we each selected a limb. Apparently Peter Groom, who runs the course, can get these free of charge as they are of no real commercial value. The thing I would emphasise is how the metapodial is an very self contained unit, and as Peter pointed out, you get four of them from each animal.

DSC_0898

The first step was to select a stone flake with a sharp edge and make a cut so that the skin could be peeled off. It became clear that my metapodial had been lying around for a long time and dried out. This resulted in it being pretty difficult to ‘peel’ the skin off. Two of Peter’s students, Evon Kirby and Matt Bonwick were on hand to help guide us through the process.

DSC_0903

Hannah Cobb, who I was sat next to, had a ‘fresh’ one and was able to skin it cleanly and quickly. However, with persistence I got the hang of it and managed to get the skin off. The tools used are in the lower right of the above image.

DSC_0908

One of the purposes of removing the skin was to expose the tendons. Tendons runs up the front and back of the metapodial and once exposed both of these were cut and removed.

DSC_0913

As can be seen the tendon is pink and feels plastic. The task is to transform the tendon into sinew through a process of beating. As the tendon is beaten it first of all changes colour from pink to white. As it flattens the differing elements that make the tendon are separated out into individual fibres. Hannah’s ‘fresh’ tendon took a lot longer to process than my dry example. Mine took less than 20 minutes.

DSC_0948

Once the complete tendon has been sufficiently flattened the individual filaments can be separated out and this is the sinew. Evon then showed Hannah how the sinew could be used to attach flights to an arrow shaft. What I found interesting though was the range of materials we had also acquired through this process. Most obviously a section of skin and a bone as well as the deer’s ‘toes’. Matt thought the toes may be useful for making glue a bit like horse’s hooves. This is a short post with more to follow, however, as already mentioned the day was excellent and if anyone is interested I would encourage them to get in touch with Peter for a chat.

A shameless attempt to ‘drive traffic’ or vaguely on topic?

I have just produced my own website! It is a tool to promote a formalised version of a ‘beginners’ knapping workshop as discussed in this blog previously  My university teaching quota has now officially finished and making a website has been on my list of things to do for a while now. My sister in law, Sue Lorkins, set me on the path by producing a prototype and introducing me to the free Weebly website software.

weebly.png

However, because of the teaching I didn’t do anything with it. Sue also pointed me in the direction of a free training workshop designed for social enterprises and individuals wanting to be self employed. That sort of describes me and it started one week after my marking finished so the timing was perfect. It ran over five days and was facilitated by Simon Paine from the Pop Up Business School. It was excellent and made me feel as though wanting to teach people about how to make stone tools in 2018 is not such a mad idea!

download

Anyway, learning through making, to stay on topic. One day of the workshop was devoted to using Weebly to build a website and getting it online. The technical support was provided by Jack Aling and with him to hold my hand (metaphorically) it was surprisingly easy. It has taken a week or so of messing about with different versions to get to something I am happy with, but all in all I am happy with it. The course was good for keeping a focus and this distillation process has been difficult but really useful. They pointed out, and so should I, that there are many free website platforms available, but in their experience Weebly is the easiest to use for non-techies (like me).

Arrowhead 1

I also learned that having a website is not enough, and the following days session was devoted to using social media to ‘drive traffic’ (as I now say!) to your website. My overall professional function is being an ‘educator’ within the University sector, and I have qualifications and feedback which tells me I am good at my role. I observed and experienced really good teaching on this five day course. Simon has a good depth of experience and is a great communicator, Jack has strong technical knowledge and a sense of humour. The sessions were delivered with warmth and patience, and the occasional dollop of inspiration and/or confidence building as necessary. I hadn’t planned on going to all five days, but I did in the end and it was all worth it. The five days is useful for getting people to work through all aspects of their ideas, and in my instance getting a website online. I would recommend this organisation and course to anyone who has a business idea, but especially if it is a left-field idea, and double especially if they have no money to start it up with and no clue how to go about it. And now in a shameless attempt to ‘drive traffic’, this is a link to my website 😮 https://johnpiprani.weebly.com/

 

 

Guest post by Sunny Lum on his first experience of glass knapping

In October last year I attended John’s experimental workshop for creating Kimberley Points. As a complete novice knapper, I only had a vague idea of what would be involved, and had only prepared myself by watching a couple of quick flint knapping tutorials on Youtube beforehand, although these turned out to be almost completely irrelevant to what we ended up doing! At the start, John introduced us to what Kimberley points were and we had a short talk about the origins, uses and evolution of their creation, and also discussed the overall aim of the workshop, which was to try to end up with our own points after about 4 hours of work. He also showed us the tools the Australian aborigines originally used, namely a piece of number 8 wire, which was commonly used by the Australian sheep farming community to fence in their sheep. He also introduced us to our tools which we’d be using, which he’d created himself, adapting the wire by adding a wooden birch handle to allow better control. Other necessary equipment; huge tarpaulin to cover the floor and collect up all the glass shards, glass bottle blanks (rough cut to manageable size), a section of deep pile carpet (to protect our legs from self-inflicted damage) which was very thoughtful, protective goggles / glasses (plus coffee and plasters!)

Glass, plasters and coffee
Then there was the introduction to the process we would be using to create these points. This was explained very clearly through the use of a series of diagrams drawn onto the whiteboard, showing 2 distinct methods that created 2 different effects.
Sunny ignoring the view
The first step was to create a platform, which involved applying pressure with the wire almost orthogonal to the glass shard then changing the angle to create a pressure point, which breaks off a piece of the glass at an angle. This technique was used to create an angled platform on the side of the glass, which is used for the next step. Additionally, this step also is used to shape the glass into the correct shape.

Sunny, Rob and Rob

The second step was to use the platform created to apply pressure along the breadth of the glass shard in order to thin the edges. The process then repeats itself until you have reached the desired shape and thickness. John demonstrated the technique for the first step, and we tried to replicate it. It took about 50 mins or so before I became comfortable in creating a platform consistently. This was down to several factors; time to develop a feel for the correct angle and pressure required both to apply to the glass and also to hold the glass and tool in place to exert it, time to develop trust in the carpet to protect me from stabbing myself in the thigh, time to understand and get a feel for how the glass samples behaved when pressure flaking them.
sunnys-neat-and-tidy-steep-retouch.jpg
As part of this process, you had to adapt to the edges and shape of the glass. Depending on which way the edge slanted it was easier to create the platform from one side or from the other. This resulted in distinctive fracture patterns in the glass which was easily readable by John when he came to examine our handiwork. Once we had 2-3 blanks roughly platformed, John then demonstrated the second step to thin the edges. The technique was in essence the same as the first step, difference being the angle is now along the width of the glass instead of in step 1 where it was through the depth. This creates flaking across the width of the shard and removes material in order to thin the edge.

Sunny and his steep retouch

This similarity of technique allowed us to jump straight into step 2 quite quickly, although again it took time to develop a good feel for the amount of pressure required, angling of the tool and glass and again familiarisation with the fracture qualities of the glass in this different plane. We used some more modern glass and also some older turn of the century glass, which better replicated the aboriginal raw materials. This was particularly useful as it showed the difference in fracture characteristics. Modern glass was easier to create the platform, but was harder to thin, the older glass was harder to create the platform, but was easier to thin.

Rob Howarth and Rob Fulton

This phase was quite tricky because the process of thinning the edges destroys part of the platform, so if you didn’t create enough material removal from across the width of the shard to thin it, you ended up with a broken platform which was hard to re-use without resorting to step 1 again. It took some experience to realise this and frustrated progress when you really should have moved on. Rob Howarth, who had more experience knapping, ended up producing a pretty impressively shaped and thinned piece at the end, going through the two steps multiple times.

Rob Howarth's slim point

Time passed very quickly, and I enjoyed the challenge of working out how and where to apply the pressure to flake off and shape the glass. It helped immensely to have a file at hand to resharpen the points on the wire tool. The blunt end dissipates the force, requiring you to exert more and results in less controlled fracturing.
The biggest challenges I faced:
* developing a feel for how to hold the glass securely and safely
* developing a feel for how to apply the pressure into the glass securely and safely
* developing a feel for the angle and pressure required to create the pressure flake for step 1
* developing a feel for the angle and position and pressure required to create the thinning for step 2
In the end, I ended up with 3 half finished pieces. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have a finished piece, however I was very happy with the progress I’d made and the skills acquired that I could continue to work on those pieces if I wanted to. Overall, a very good well run and guided workshop. Helpful if you have some prior experience, but not necessary. 

Sunny smiling, Rob F inspecting
Many thanks to Rob Fulton for being one of the guinea pigs, Rob Howarth for providing the cleaned period glass and these photographs, and Sunny Lum taking the time to put his reflections down on paper for me.