Saturday, April 25, 2009

Otzi, the Ice Man

The Nebraska Renaissance Faire is a week away, so I am busy making preps. Invariably, the topic of the Otzi, the ice man, comes up a number times as I present stone age skills' demonstrations. This was a fascinating discovery. In 1991 a couple hiking in the Otzal Alps, on the border between Austria and Italy, happened upon a 5300 year old mummified man thawing out of the glacier. This is how he recieved his nickname, Otzi, from the Otzal region where he was discovered. His body, clothing, and tools were remarkably preserved, giving insight to life in the Neolithic age in Europe. Among his possessions, I tried to recreate, his belt and its contents, along with his knife and retoucher. His belt had a pouch sewn into it, kind of a predecesor of the butt packs of today. He wore the pouch in front wrapping the ends twice around his body, tying in the front. In the pouch five items were recovered: a flint scraper, drill, and cutting flake; a bone awl; and a blackened piece of tinder fungus with bits a marcassite in it. Apparently, he had made fire by striking sparks off of a nodule of marassite with a flint striker into the prepared tinder fungus. (I have tried this technic but have not been successful yet.) Originally tied to the belt was a sheath of twined bast fibers that held a small triangular stone bladed dagger. On the other side was a retoucher, used to pressure flake edges on stone blades. This was unique in that it was a piece of stag antler pressed into the pithy section of a limb, to form a handle. It was then sharpened, somewhat like a pencil, as it wore from use. Probably one of the most important objects he possessed was an axe made of yew wood - with a copper blade in it. This find pushed back the advent of copper tools several hundred more years in Europe. You can read more about this discovery, and see more of his clothes and tools at the website for the South Tyrol Museum at:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rock Tied To A Stick

Work has been kicking my butt lately. I am mentally and physically drained. So, again no thought provoking banter...just like the title says...rock tied to a stick.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rocks Are Good...And So Is Poop

The sun felt warm on my skin in the cool spring air today...I'm ready for spring. Having some time to relax, I found a piece of chert in the rock pile and thinned out a preform. Taking the pressure flaker to it, I ended up with this three inch blade in search of a nice elk antler handle (a strand of sinew lying beside). I love rocks...I think, for the potential of what they can become. I catch myself scanning the stones in the parking lot, when I go to work, picking out the pieces. Limonite, a kind of iron oxide, stands out against the limestone as an ocher-yellow. Native Americans would grind this to powder to make paint pigment when mixed with hide glue. I've heated it in the campfire, as they did, to tranform the color to a reddish hue to paint on rawhide. Pockets of flint was crushed up, with the limestone, and I've taken steel files to strike showers of sparks off the small shards. Just need the right spark charcloth, or tinder fungus, or a little cattail and deer fat. Quarzite pebbles, broken in half using the bipolar technic, yield sharp cutting edges that would work to harvest the quantities of striaght shoots coming up around the bushes - to make twined gathering baskets. All the dried bird poop, across the outside break tables, mixed with a little spit would work well as traditional white paint. People get a little squeamish when you start working with excrement. Like the time I saved urine to pour onto deer hides I was fleshing, the uric acid breaks down the fat and tissue. What is that old proverb....Waste not, want not?

Friday, April 3, 2009


Somewhere in the epoch of time, man learned to tan hides to make soft supple clothing, bags, and such. I do not quite fathom how he reasoned that mashing the brains of the animal, and working it into the hide, would work, but it did. The hide was then smoked to color it. This would have been a natural thought as some of the early shelters were bent limbs covered with hides. Most likely they would have had a small fire inside. Without tanning a hide, a green hide will become stiff like cardboard. It can be worked soft and supple by effort, but if it gets wet, it will get stiff. Basically, as I understand this, there is a chemical called collagen in the hide which act like glue. When the fibers are coated, as in braining, the collagen can not set up. A green hide is often refered to as rawhide. Basically, all that might be done to made rawhide is just fleshing the inner hide to remove the meat, fat, and gore so that it will not rot. Some Native Americans used these as rawhide mats inside their tipis as ground coverings. Containers such as parfleche (French for rawhide) envelopes and boxes were made. Fleshing and dehairing hides, I mainly use rawhide for bindings. Wetting dry rawhide makes it easier to cut with an obsidian blade. Pictured is a spear with rawhide wrappings around the hollowed end that receives the foreshaft so that it will not split. Next to it, a stone blade attached to an adze - a chopping implement. The rawhide is soaked in water, stretched, and wrapped on. As it dries it shrinks and becomes stiff making a secure binding. Hide scraps were saved, I had read, and eaten in times of hunger. Perhaps it was one of those times when scraps were put into a pot, and they boiled down to a brown sticky goo - that hide glue was discovered. Basically, the collagen was disolved out of the hide and the water boiled off. The brown object in the upper right is dried hide glue I had made. Unless you dry it, it will spoil. To reconstitute it all you do is grind it to a powder, add water, and heat. Often, bindings are covered with hide glue. The tools pictured are laying on the flesh side of a rawhide mat. It is interesting, nature just need to learn how to use it.