Friday, December 10, 2010

Mesolithic Axes

Around 8500 BC - 4000 BC, in Europe, Mesolithic (middle stone age) man was transitioning from a nomadic hunter gatherer to farming and domestication of animals. They excelled at fishing, learning to build fish weirs for efficiency. Axes were used to fell trees to construct living quarters and fishing vessels, as the above picture depicts from the Archeon, the living history/experimental archaeology park in the Netherlands. Reading a couple of articles concerning artifacts of recovered Danish axes, I became intrigued in their design and use. The two variations below are an antler axe, and a stone blade set in antler. A hole was bored that a slender handle could be run thru and wedged into for hafting. I was a little sceptical how the antler axe would fare chopping wood, but it did as well as the stone axe, on green wood. When it dulled, I just worked the end on across a sandstone abrader. Examples of antler axes have survived because of the properties of the bogs to preserve them. I liked the design of the stone hafted in antler. It is a little light weight but did the job felling shelter poles. It is amazing the ingenuity and variation man developed utilizing natures resources to live and survive.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Late Paleolithic in Nebraska

What we know about past peoples and events archaeologists speculate from what evidence survived in context with the world in which it was found. They sumise that the Americas were the last of the major continents to be inhabited, starting somewhere around 10000 - 11500 BC. These time frames are changing as new evidence is found. The Paleolithic, or Stone Age, was divided into two eras in North America...the Early and Late Paleo. The Early was marked by the advent of the big game hunters of the Ice Age, using their distinctive Clovis style points to hunt mammoth and mastodon, giant ground sloths, and giant bison. Around 9000 BC the climate began to change in Nebraska as the glaciers receded, becoming much as it is today. The large boreal forests were replaced by grasslands. The large game disappeared and animals similar to today remained. New stone spear point styles emerged with this change. The points were long, narrow, unfluted compared to Clovis styles, and more lance-like...lanceolate. There were a number of varieties which archaelogists recognized as different distinct cultural groups - Agate Basin, Hell Gap, Scottsbluff, Eden, Alberta, Cody, and Frederick. They were still nomadic hunters living off the game and wild fruits and vegetables gathered, and they still had no permanent settlements or farming which marked the next phase of development. The lanceolate points pictured were found in Nebraska and classified, from top to bottom, Eden, Agate Basin, Plainview, and Scottsbluff.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tomahawk II

The tomahawk is a much romaticized weapon of the Native Americans. Certainly it would have been utilized as a fighting weapon, but much more common and of much more use was as a chopping tool for day to day camp use. The earliest blades were made of stone, sometimes very crudely but with a serviceable edge, and was later replaced by metal axe heads traders bartered with for furs. I knapped several blades out in January and have been waiting for the inspiration to haft them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

No deep thoughts or quizzical ramblings lately...just flaking rocks and hafting them to handles. I was watching television Saturday and caught part of a show- a woman in search of "volcanic treasures." On the border between California and Oregon she was searching for rainbow obsidian. A local Native American proceeded to teach her about how it was used by their ancestors for thousands of years to make tools. She broke most of her attempts but managed to come up with a serviceable chipped flake, which her instructor then hafted to a hollowed out deer antler with a mixture of pitch and charcoal. Later in the show he caught a large trout which they prepared for cooking with the obsidian knife. Made this knife, hafted it, watched an interesting show...all in all, a good afternoon.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Broken Bones & Fractured Stone

When early man crossed the landscape, all he had to work with was what nature provided...wood, stone, bone, shell, etc. He skillfully crafted tools for cutting, chopping, scraping, and drilling from outcroppings of rock. Quality stone was a valuable commodity as it provided the material to make tools for daily survival. This past weekend I was able to finish a series of stone knives, three mahogany obsidian and deer leg bone knives pictured above, in preparation for upcoming historical events. I sell these to support my stone addiction. Living in Nebraska there is not alot of good stone to work with so you end up trading pieces of paper with pictures of presidents on them for nice flints, cherts, and obsidians. There are always better flintknappers and artisans than I but really enjoy demonstrating the living skills of our ancestors....making stone and bone tools, starting fires by"rubbing two sticks together", or launching stone tipped darts with an atlatl. Everyone needs something that gets them excited...wakes them up early, and keeps them up late at night.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


It is debated that around 12,000 years ago the first peoples set foot in the Midwest, coming up from the south, as the land to the north was still covered by the Wisconsin glacier of the Ice Age. As the climate warmed and the ice receded plant and animal life re-established. Animal life was quite different than today with varities of megafauna, distinctly large animals of this period - mammoth, mastodon, giant bison, ground sloths, and beaver. Also found was the camel, horse, peccary, and tapir. Dangerous predetors such as the dire wolf, saber toothed tiger, American lion, and short-faced bear roamed the landscape. Above is a section of a beautiful mural from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. These Paleohunters (paleo is a Greek word for "ancient") were unique and identified by the type of stone points used on their spears - the Clovis point, so named for the location where the first was discovered in Clovis, New Mexico. Clovis points were unique being long and slender with a concave base. Flutes were driven up, from the base on both sides, supposedly to allow the attachment of a narrow shaft. Also the pointed ears projecting from the base helped keep the point set in place in the flesh. Pictured below is a Clovis point of Smokey Hills chert found in Nebraska. Around 9000 years ago the
point style began to change as the megafauna disappeared. Whether the large animals became extinct from hunting or disease is still a matter of debate. The later stage Paleohunters made use of smaller game and deer, elk, and carabou using more lanceolate styles of stone points in many varieties. The era of the Paleohunter lasted from around 12000 till around 8000 years ago and was marked by changes in their style of living. They were no longer only hunters, but not yet farmers. New ways and new tools were invented.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stone Axes

It is interesting the amount of pecked grooved axes and polished celts made from grainy hardstone in the Midwest. Having made of number of these I am hesitant to use them due to the considerable hours and effort invested. But, just as efficient to use, and taking only minutes to manufacture is the flaked flint axehead. Perhaps it comes down to the availability of the right type of stone. There are limited areas in Nebraska with flinty type stone suitable for tool making. Pictured above are several celts: a pecked Virginia greenstone in handle; at lower left, my newly made flaked flint celt; and to the right a basalt-like pecked celt artifact found in south central Nebraska. The lower picture is a 3/4 grooved stone axehead with a missing broken bit. This was found just inside my sisters basement wall, that was being repaired, in the middle of Fremont, Nebraska.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Primtive Skills

Primitive skills has intrigued me for decades...the fashioning of stone into cutting, chopping, scraping, and drilling implements. Twining fibers from the leaves and inner bark of plants forms cords and lines for fishing, hafting, and binding. Twirling wood upon wood grinds off heated particles of smoldering dust that is blown into flame. There is so much to learn and do. One area I feel drawn to is further learning the nature and uses of plants, particularly in the medicinal aspects. Having endured some minor illnesses I recognize how vulnerable we are without modern pharmaceuticals. This will be a new area of study this spring. (Pictured below are several small flint, chert, and obsidian knives I made this past week.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Flaked Stone Axeheads

The weather has been a bit warmer, in the 30's with some sun, which is considerable better than the sub zero temperatures of the past couple weeks.  You really can wonder at and appreciate the tenacity of the Native Americans living out on the plains in those conditions.  Winter was something to prepare for in terms of food, shelter, appropriate clothing, and firewood.  I had read once that December was considered by some tribes to be the "moon of the clacking rocks."  Your time and efforts were more confined closer to the fire, so working on tools for the upcoming seasons occupied your time.  Perhaps more specifically, it referred to the production of pecked and ground tools which took some considerable time and effort to make. Lately though, I've been preparing a number of flaked flint preforms for axes and tomahawks.  You can turn out a flaked axehead in less than an hour. (Below are a couple of authentic flaked axeheads from Chase County in Kansas.)