Sunday, November 30, 2008

In a previous post, Rocks and the Great Spirit, dated Nov. 7, 2008...I had included a picture of a Keokuk burlington stone blade I knapped for a tomahawk. I thought I would show what it ended up looking like. The blade is fit into a hardwood handle, with deer hide sewn on, and wrapped with rawhide. Boiled walnut hulls make a stain used to add coloring. Decoration is arctic coyote fur, bufallo toe bone, turkey feather, and seed beads.
Captain John Smith (1612), of the Plymouth Colony, was the first to mention this tool using the name "tomahack" The term "tomahawk" is derived from the Algonquian Indian words "tamahak" or "tamahakan". The earliest definitions of these words applied to stone-headed implements used as tools and weapons. Basically, it was a lightweight axe with a head of stone or bone attached to a handle that the Indians of North America used as a tool for chopping, as a weapon in combat, and in ceremony. After the Europeans arrived in America, the Indians traded with them for iron tomahawk heads. Some people think the expression bury the hatchet came from an Indian custom of burying a tomahawk to pledge peace. However, many scholars doubt that the Indians ever had such a custom.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pecking & Grinding

Sometime during the early part of the Archaic Period (8000 BC - 1000 BC) it was discovered that fine-grained hardstones and slates, that could not normally be chipped, could be formed into durable tools by a process of pecking and grinding. Using a simple hammerstone, repeated blows would pulverize the surface of the new tool to dust. This often required many hours...and days, of monotonous repetition. After the new tool was generally shaped it was ground with an abrasive stone that smoothed the pitted surface. Finally, it was polished with animal fat and hide. In this way adze blades, axes and celts, bannerstones and pendants were manufactured.

Pictured is a full-groove axe, meaning that a groove was formed around the full diameter, and a plains-style war club head. The groove facilitates hafting by allowing rawhide bindings a more secure fit around the stone. Last weekend I worked an area gun show displaying and selling stone knives. A gentleman approached me asking if I would put a handle on these modern replicas. I'll post some pics of that when I finish. Hey, an interesting feather in my hat...I was approached by a representative with the History Channel, who had seen some axes I made on another site, about replicating a pre-Columbian Mayan axe for a show. It was flattering to be considered but I knew someone better qualified for the job, and probably had the makings on hand, and recommended Larry Kinsella. Check out his Megalithics website at:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Burlington Chert

One of the most popular and widespread lithic resources in the central US is burlinton chert. Artifacts of the material have been found throughout the midwest. The colors can vary light in shade with white, cream, tan, and light pink predominating. Outcroppings occur primarily in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa, but are found in other areas. One source said the chert was named after the city Burlington, Iowa..? According to John Stade, "some 320 million years ago much of Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois were covered by a large, warm, shallow sea which teemed with life. The primary life form was the crinoid, uncommon today though some are found in trenches of the deepest parts of the oceans. Crinoids were actually an animal but look like a plant. In the 320 million years since these creatures lived, died, and fell to the sea floor - the bottom became covered with many feet of sediment and compressed into limestone. Dissolved silica in the water helped to form large masses of chert" that we know today as burlington chert. This stone was prized by the Native peoples and utlilized for making their many stone tool forms - points, scrapers, drills, gravers, etc. ( Pictured is burlington chert samples and latest knife.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fluting Technology

It is a curious thing that some of the oldest cultural point styles in North America are also the most technically complex dating back 12,000 years.

The Clovis point was a lanceolate blade about 4 to 5-inches long, with flutes on both sides running half way up the point, and presumably used on a thrusting spear because of its size. It was given this name because of the find made at Clovis, NM, in 1932. These points have been found from Alaska to Mexico, California to Nova Scotia. Bob Patten, in his book: "Old Tools, New Eyes", remarked that..."Clovis projectiles paradoxically are too advanced to be the earliest technology in the Americas, but they have no apparent predecessors."

Around 10,000 years ago the American plains gave rise to the Folsom culture. Named so because of their point style found among the bones of an extinct giant bison that roamed the plains 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, found near Folsom, NM, in 1925. Folsom points were thin, around 2-inches long, with flutes running up both sides nearly the the entire length of the point. It is logical to presume that Folsom fluting technology evolved from the Clovis fluting technic. Some speculate that these points were used on a new hunting weapon that was emerging-the dart and atlatl. It is interesting that after reaching, what some consider an apex of flintknapping, this fluting technology disappeared.

What makes these points so curious is the parallel fluting. Most likely it facilitated hafting to the foreshaft. Modern knappers replicating these points have devised various methods to drive these flutes from direct percussion to various types of jigs. It is a challenging process and breakage rates can be high. In any case it is still a mystery how these complex points emerged so long ago in comparison to the following styles.
(Casts by Peter A. Bostrom/Lithic Casting Lab. Check his site out at: )

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Foreshaft Technology

I was planning putting a couple of light spears together this weekend that I had made some stone points for. One consideration was whether to attach the spearhead to the shaft directly, or with a foreshaft. That got me thinking...(uh, oh,).

What an ingenious innovation the foreshaft. 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, when Paleo Indians were walking the North American continent, some were using spears and atlatl darts with tapering wooden 'foreshafts', to which stone points were hafted. Instead of carrying many spears during a hunt, their composite weapon was more versatile. As the opportunity presented itself they could strike with the thrusting spear, pull back leaving the point and foreshaft in the beast, and "reload" in effect. Making a kill, the foreshaft could be dislodged from the shaft and utilized as a butchering blade. Repairs, and replacements, were easier since you were only working with the smaller foreshaft and point. Decades ago, early man was sometimes portrayed as a dull-witted opportunist, but scientists have have shown they were far from it in their ability to "adapt, improvise, and overcome" in their sometimes hostile environment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fireboard with a Chopper

The sleet was coming down as I decided to put the large Keokuk spall, from the previous post, to work. I had mentioned that my first impression was that it would make a good chopper. It fit in the hand well and tapered to a nice edge.

I couldn't locate my fireboard so I decided to make one from a thick cottonwood tree root. I couldn't split it so I used this quicky technic. With the chopper I cut half way thru the root.

Bracing one end of the root on a log, with the chopped out notch facing the ground, I stomped the limb in two. The 'notch' caused a section to split off length-wise, thinning the limb down for a fireboard. I bored a depression and used the choppers edge to saw a notch into the depression.

With in a few minutes had a smolder ember.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Flintknapping 101: Reading Rock

This is a continuation of the Flintknapping 101 series, if you look back thru past posts. I am trying to explain some of the strategies that come into play as you determine how to proceed at the stage of a large spall-using percussion, or a flake-using pressure. I am just trying to present some basic concepts, without writting a textbook...of which there are those much better qualified.

This spall is about 4-inches by 6-inches, and 1 3/4-inch thick. It had already been worked on when I recieved it. You can see where a large expanding flake had been struck off (Pic 1).

One of the side views (Pic 2) shows we have thick areas, top and bottom, to thin out. These slope to a thin sharp edge, seen at the lower left half. My initial thought picking it up was that it would make a nice chopper, fit in the hand well. The right hand side shows a squared edge, with a little cortex, that will have to be removed.

One of the principles is that- energy follows ridges (Pic 3). Look at any of the pictures, where ever you have a nice prominent ridge leading into the stone, this is a good place to intiate a fracture that will take off a nice flake-thinning the stone. A good strategy is to intially look for any ridges that lead to the high thick points of the spall first, to start thinning these areas first.

(Pic 4) Another concept that will become clearer as we go along is: centerline. This affects us in two ways. 1. As you work the piece, you want to move the edges of the rock up, or down, to the centerline. Hold an arrowhead on edge and you see that the edge follows a straight line back to tip...this is the centerline. 2. You can best strike, or push, flakes off of a stone from platforms that lie BELOW the centerline. The three "x" show possible platforms to use. If the edge lies above the centerline, as in edges to the upper right - flip the stone over. Now these lie below the centerline. Note: you are removing flakes off the bottom side of the stone while knapping.
(Pic 5) We have a squared edge on one side. To remove that we will use a process of alternate flaking. On the right hand side I will strike straight down (1). If you refer back to the post where we discussed the Hertzian Cone...rock fractures with a cone of approximately 100-degree angle. I will flip the rock over, and strike the angle left (2) from the first strike. Flip the rock and strike (3), repeating this process till my squared-edge is gone. In its place will be "zig-zag" edge. I'll show these actions in later posts.

Basically, this is a few of the mental exercises you automatically go thru when you pick up a potential piece and evaluate it. Probably another very important one would be: Begin with the end in mind. What do you want to make. With this piece I will initially make a preform. Basically, keeping the 6-inches length intact and eliminating about 1 1/2-inches of thickness in areas. It will look like a long ovoid thinning down to the edges. Early flintknappers would often make preforms at the quarry sites. They were lighter and easier to carry and could be modified, as needed, to spearpoints, knife blades, scrapers, adze blades, etc.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rocks and the Great Spirit

The UPS truck stopped out front with a couple of packages... wheeee! They were full of hand-sized spalls of novaculite chert and keokuk burlington. One of the knapping suppliers had written a tantalizing advertisement for their rock... "Knaps like butter, Chips to a Glossy Finish!" A month later, and $100 poorer I was the proud owner of a couple dozen spalls of quality knapping stone.
I know this sounds funny to many to spend a hundred dollars for stone. (I've spent much more at times.) This was an adjustment for my wife. But, business-wise, all I need to do is make 2 or 3 items and sell them at an event and the cost is covered. Despite the cool, no cold, weather I was anxious to break some rock. One spall spoke to me and revealed that it would like to be a tomahawk blade...and so it became. You know that is one thing I have learned to trust while instincts, or inner voice. Particularly as you are doing some delicate work the voice will tell you, "Put it down, you are going to break it with your next strike." It's just a whisper. If I ignore it, sure enough, I suffer the consequenses. After awhile you learn to trust in that still small voice...the Great Spirit?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rumaging around I came across my deer leg bone drill extension for the bowdrill. Kennie Sherron presented this idea, which John McPherson introduced in his booklets. Sometimes you can't always find nice long staight drill material, or the ones you have are worn down from use. I notice in my supply of yucca stalks, only a small portion are good for drills. But, I have plenty of bit-size pieces. To make the drill extension-a lower deer leg bone has been scored, and the top and bottom ends removed. Sinew, and a little hide glue, is wrapped around both ends to prevent splitting. A pointy hardwood 'cap' is carved and glued into the top end, that will spin in the handheld socket (...actually a hardwood stick simply forced into the top would have been simpler.) The bits are shaved to snuggly form fit into the lower end. The square-ish shape of the bone rides well in the bow string with no slippage. As Mr. Sherron describes it..."for the Indian who has it all."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two-Stick Fireboard II

Got home today and immediately grabbed a mullein stalk and split it in three sections..."hello" kiss from the wife would have to wait. One part became my drill, the other two I tied together with some cord. In my area there is alot of mullein. I was curious how well this would work with the two-stick fireboard technic. Mullein has a styrofoam-like, soft pithy core, surrounded by a tough woody exterior. In the past, using a stalk as a handdrill I often drilled thru the fireboard before getting a coal...because of the hard woody sheath. I've learned though, you need to shave down the lower half-inch to thin the exterior wall for better results. My first 30-second attempt yeilded some smoke and brown powder in the groove. I re-shaved the lower end. The second attempt, with a little more determination, nearly drilled thru the two sticks of the fireboard. But, I had a smoldering coal for my efforts. It was small and needed some extra coaxing. Also, I recognize that a previously tried hole, with a little char to it, forms a coal easier than a fresh one. All in all, it answered my question of how well it would perform using this fireboard method. I sort of came to the conclusion, that for the time & ease of making the drill & hearth from a single stalk, I preferred this technic over splitting the stalk, forming the hole, and cutting the notch. And as for the "hello" kiss from the wife...I think I burned that bridge from the

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Two-Stick Fireboard

I had been thinking about trying this technic with a mullein today. When I came home the first thing I came across was an 3-foot long yucca stalk. Worms had infested it, but had since burrowed out, and departed. I scored it and snapped it into three sections. The straightest became my drill. The other two sections I simply tied together with some buckskin thongs. This is the two-stick fireboard method. You need to brace the drill against your foot when you start, so it won't travel up and down the groove. After a few strokes it will burn into the two stalks and settle can move your foot a little to the side now. It only took about 10 seconds and I had two smoldering hot coals, one on each side of the drill. The groove formed by the two ajoining sticks forms a notch for the powder to accumulate, till it is hot enough to form an ember. Simply drop the coals into a tinder and blow to flame. Another cool thing about this technic is that you can untie the pieces, rotate the stalks, re-tie, and have a new area to work with.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Naked into the Wilderness

John McPherson introduced the theme of "Naked into the Wilderness" in his primitive skills series. I've seen myself naked. I'm not that pretty or gung-ho. But, I have been intrigued and challenged for decades with answering the question- how I would cope, skills-wise, stepping off the beaten path. Out of habit I survey new surroundings with that question in mind. Is there wood and leaves/brush for insulation to construct a debris shelter? Rocks to make simple cutting blades, to help construct a bowdrill, to make fire? Fire to coal burn a wood bowl to purify water with hot rocks? What's for supper, and how do get it? I recognize that I 'play' at primitive skills. I have a j.o.b., and a family, and a mortgage to support. But, it makes my imaginaition soar. I meet interesting new friends. I have acculmulated a lot of 'stuff' in the process. It's not the stuff I care about so's the skills, or know be able to start a fire by "rubbing two sticks together". To be able to make a cutting blade from a quartzite cobble, to cut the notch in a bowdrill fireboard. To make a poultice from plantain leaves to stem the flow of blood from a bad cut...( which I received while cutting the notch with the the sharp edge of the quarzite cobble while making a bowdrill to make Oh well, tomorrow is another day. Perhaps I will not feel as melancholy. Hmmm...I wonder what time Survivor Man comes on t.v.?

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Asphaltum was one of natures resouces used anciently as an adhesive and waterproofing for hafting, baskets, and canoes. Found where crude oil seeps to the surface, the light fraction of oil evaporates, leaving a heavy sticky tar. Most notably, the La Brea tar pits of California, was used for thousands of years by the local Native inhabitants. Knife artifacts, hafted with asphaltum, have been found originating from seeps in California and Texas.

Tonights project was hafting some stone blades in deer leg phallanges. The phallanges were drilled out to receive a stemmed point. Dried asphaltum (left) was heated over hot coals in soapstone bowl and applied to the bone and point. When it cools it forms a fairly solid haft. More so, it was used to waterproof the bindings hafting the blade to the shaft.