Saturday, September 27, 2008
I came across this picture taken at a Lewis & Clark event a couple years ago. They were displaying various tools representative of the Native Americans. This is some my pieces I made years ago! From the left, a buffalo jaw bone war club. A stone tomahawk and club next to that. The longer war club, with the triagular blade was like an artifact I was shown once. There is a feather fan next to that, not mine, and then a deer toe rattle, mine. It was a nice surprise.
A word on safety. Flintknapping - you will get cuts, probably get a flake in your eye, or jam a chip or flaker into your hand...been there, done that. Take precautions to avoid injury. Wear goggles to protect your eyes. Use leather gloves when handling sharp nodules and spalls. Use a good hand pad. Do not rush as you knap. Put it down if you are tired or mentally unfocused...this is the time when you can get hurt or simply snap the piece you are working on. Work in a well ventilated area. Fracturing silica rock produces dust that is like tiny razor blades. Breathed in, they damage the lungs and produce scar tissue, in extreme cases leading to siliosis. This was the ailment of the workmen who produced strikers for flintlock guns, working long hours in closed up shops with dust filled air.
Flintknapping is a process of reduction, and different tools are needed at different stages. Hammerstones are used with large nodules of stone to fracture off spalls, or smaller flakes. They have a coarse surface and ideally are egg-shaped. The spalls can further be thinned down with hammerstones, or billets. Billets are antler of deer, moose, or elk - where the antler joins the skull. The material is denser there. Modern knappers use copper headed billets. Antler and copper are used because they give a little on impact, not putting as much shock into the stone.
Spalls and flakes are thinned down with billets till they are considered thin enough to procede to the next stage which is pressure flaking. Again, pressure flakers can be of antler or copper. In my opinion, antler might be too slick for beginners and might slip more easily leading to injury. This is usually the stage most people are introduced to flintknapping, chipping small flakes into arrowheads. Also needed are an abrading stone to grind the edges of the piece you are working. This can be a broken grinding wheel, or a stone with an abrasive surface. Edges are abraded throughout the stages to strengthen the area worked on. This strengthens the edge to be able to take more pressure, or impact, and remove better flakes. Thin weak edges crumble. During the process of knapping you will want to protect your hand, and leg during percussion, with a leather pad to avoid injury. You can find and make your own tools, or purchase them from a flintknapping supplier. The small picture is some of the tools Rick Hamilton uses to demonstrate traditional knapping - hammerstones, abrading stones, antler billets and flakers. Also, pictured is a box of bandaids. We'll talk about that next.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Hmmm... here I am side tracked already. In the last post I mentioned that some knappers chip some nice points out of glass. Pictured is a drop point blade of colored glass made by Scott R. - a much better knapper than I. He does some beautiful controlled flaking. At one point, when I was first interested in flintknapping, I read in the newspaper a knapper would be demonstrating at the Ash Fall Fossil Beds, in northeastern Nebraska. I drove the hundred-plus miles to see David N. flaking some points out of pieces of red glass panels he had recovered from a filling station that was being torn down. I've done my share of dumpster diving too, at window glass shops, salvaging the thicker pieces (5/16" thick and up), when I was learning to pressure flake. And...I've tried my hand at flaking beer bottle bottoms into arrowheads, check out this site: http://www.geocities.com/knappersanonymous/bottle.html
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Early man searched far and wide for quality lithic (stone) material to make tools. We see evidence of its value in the extent they went to obtain it. Early archaeologists found nearly 300 excavated pits, to obtain the Nebraska nehawka flint sources, some over 10 feet deep. This was done with primitive digging implements! Good stone was a trade commodity, and carried hundreds of miles from its source. One of the qualities they looked for was that it would form a sharp edge when it fractured. Often the flake resembled a shell. We call this a 'discoidial fracture.' The dark dacite, upper left, shows where this type of flake was removed. Another aspect was that it is 'homogenious'. Basically, that it is uniformly the same material throughout. You can see this in the stone pictured. Clockwise from the upper left you have: dacite, nehawka flint, keokuk burlington, obsidian, Fort Payne chert, novaculite chert, and republican river jasper. Glass is a good example of the qualities you would like in knappable stone. In fact, some flintknappers regularly flake some fine points and blades from colored glass. Some lithic material is easier to work than others. An example of that would be obsidian, dacite, heat-treated novaculite and burlington. I mention heat treating. Some stone, to really be workable needs to be slowly heated. This changes the crystalline structure in some way as to make difficult stone glossier, fracture to a sharper edge, and require less force to knap. Early man may have done this periodically, by placing spalls in a layer of sand, under the camp fire. Nowadays kilns are used. Where can you find lithic material to knap? Probably, the easiest recommendation is to use an internet search for flintknapping suppliers, or possible upcoming Knap-In events. Vendors will have instruction material, tools, and appropriate rock. One vendor I like, in my personal opinion, is Craig Ratzat at http://www.neolithics.com/ . At local rock shops I would really only look for obsidian. If you are fortunate enough to live in area that has rock you may be able to locate outcroppings by internet searches, inquiring local rock clubs, or searching road cuts or ravines. Some archery clubs have members who knap their own stone points and would be sources of information and instruction.
Monday, September 22, 2008
I've decided to work on a tutorial overview of flintknapping. I almost regret it as I try to envision how to illustrate some principles. Hopefully, this can be done in about a dozen installments covering topics such as materials, tools, priniciples, strategies, etc., - to give a working understanding of how it is done. The name flintknapping is believed to have orginated in Germany, in the gun flint industry. "Knapp" meaning to crack, or pinch off, as in the manufacture of gun flints. In a broader sense, it refers to the making stone tools. When you mention flintknapping, people tend to think in terms of arrowheads and stone spear points. That is common, and some consider them to be man's first art form. But, that tool list also includes drills, scrapers, choppers, handaxes, adze blades, axeheads, cutting flakes, perforators, burins, ...and the list goes on. These are probably the real work horses of daily life.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Before the advent of metals, stone was crucial to make the myriad of tools needed in daily life to pound, cut, scrape, abrade, pierce, and drill... Stone drills go back thousands of years and is evidenced by the artifacts of bored wood, stone, bone, and pottery. Simple drills consisted of a flake with a 'nippled' end that was twisted back and forth. Hafting a drill onto a shaft allowed the operator to spin the drill faster, increasing the efficiency. The Iroquois and Pueblo Indians were known to have used a 'pump' drill. A stone, wood, or pottery weight was attached to a shaft with a hafted drill. A wooden board, with a hole in the middle, is slid over the shaft and a cord attached at the ends of the board and top of the shaft. With this technic the operator could work the pump drill with one hand and have the other free to hold the item being worked on, spinning the drill with greater speed and less effort. This is a good example of the evolution of primitive technology. Primitive doesn't mean crude, but first...the base from which inovations grew.
I had the day off work and decided to do some deep cleaning behind furniture...what a good hubby I am...lol. That's where everything goes when I lose it! Next time I misplace something I am going directly behind the old computer desk. Found some old newspaper articles from 2001 - 2004, and a small case of stone points I have been looking for a year >sheesh<. The top pic is from the August 2004 Lewis & Clark bicentennial event...making a stone knife. Middle pic is blowing a tinder nest to flame at 2001 city event, son Jacob in the background. The bottom pic is special. My wife, Joyce, is grinding clay to clean it for making pottery, a 2002 local event. What a good woman!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
"Don't get too used to the facilities here. Once you leave SAIL it's stone knives and bearskins as far as the eye can see." "Stone knives and bearskins" was a colorful phrase Mr. Spock used in the Star Trek episode-"The City on the Edge of Forever." He was referring to the 1930's technology he was forced to use to repair his tricorder. I've been under the weather, home sick from work the past few days, staring blankly at the tv...this phrase triggered this little knife of stone and wood and sinew.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Harvesting sufficient amounts of cattail and bulrush for mats is tedious by hand. Some simple time tested tools speed the process along. Large stone flakes, with serrated edges, or deer jaws serve handily to cut the stalks. Over time the serrated edges and teeth become polished from use and resemble similar artifacts.
I came across a stand of bulrush over the weekend while checking out the cattail stands. I do not see it often in this area, but seems to prefer marshy ground. It was a favorite, along with cattails, among the peoples for making mats and shelter coverings, baskets, dolls, and in some areas even boats. It has a papery sheath with a spongy interior, and a wisp of seedhead at the top. I have not eaten this plant, perhaps the next excursion, but the tender young shoots and older shoot bases can be eaten raw. The rootstock can be dried, pounded, and grounded into flour. I am not the best basket weaver, but I like it for making containers.