Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hafted Blades

This is a follow-up to a post, dated Monday July 7, which pictured these quasi-Cody blades unhafted. At events I will throw out a trade blanket selling these small stone knives for pieces of paper with Presidents on them...which I trade for gas and food >grin<. Usually, I use deer antler handles, except the top middle blade is hafted in a deer leg phalanges bone. Flintknapper, George Stewart, who passed away last year introduced this idea. A hole is drill thru the knuckle portion to run a cord thru for carrying around the neck. It was curious that Lynx Vilden, in her 1700's Kootenai River living history project, had participants carrying stone cutting blades on cords around their necks for access to a quick cutting pockets in their

Had some time today to get this done, was doing gate security at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, near Little Sioux, IA. This was the site the June 11 tornado that tore thru the camp killing four young Scouts and injuring forty others. My son was present. This was an experience that affected all present. My heart goes out to the families which lost sons, and those still recovering from injuries. The Scouts responded admirably digging out trapped members and applying first aid till help arrived. I am proud of them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Obsidian is an incredible rock! When molten lava cools too rapidly for the rock to form crystals-it creates a 'volcanic glass.' Usually, gray to black, it can have brownish red streaks, or go from opaque to translucent. In the US, it is found in spots from the Rocky Mountains to the west coast, basically anywhere there has been volcanic activity in the past. Early man prized this stone for its beauty, workability, and the fact that it fractured to an extremely sharp edge. Brigham Young University, in Utah, did some comparitive studies between a surgical steel blade, and an obsidian blade, using the electron microscope. They found that obsidian was 500 times sharper than the surgical steel, fracturing down to almost the last molecule. People are fascinated, at flintknapping demonstrations, when I strike off a sharp flake and proceed to shave the hair off my arm. Being right handed, I don't trust my ability to safely shave with the left I usually end up with one bald arm and one hairy

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Kisu-sit" - Jerusalem Artichoke

I was poking around with my digging stick this evening and decided to check how some jerusalem artichoke tubers were growing, as it is a little early in the season. A species of sunflower, it looks really similar. The main difference I look for is the leaves. Sunflowers have alternate leaves. Jersualem artichokes have alternate at the top of the plant, sometimes in whorls of three, and opposite leaves on the lower half. The Pawnee called this plant "Kisu-sit". Nebraska tribes harvested this plant in the fall, into the winter, and ate the potato-like tubers raw, roasted, or boiled. I've only had them boiled, not unlike a potato in taste. In the fall the succulent stems dry out with a woody exterior and pithy center. I've made blow tubes, for hot coal burning, with them. Also, they have made some nice containers. It is easy to push out the pithy center. I plugged one end with a glob of pitch & beeswax mixture I was playing with and made a simple cork for the other end. A little sinew wrapped around the open end keeps it from splitting when the cork is tightly put in.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bone Awls

Bone awls are a common find at archaeological sites, as they were used throughout all prehistoric periods. (I was surprised how many I could find, that I had made, within a couple minutes.) Basically, they were a leg or rib bone, split down and sharpened to a fine point. They were utilized to punch holes in animal hides to sew or lace for garments or shelter coverings. Also, they were helpful in making coil basketry and matting. To make an awl, a leg or rib bone is grooved with a stone graver (flake with a sharp 'nipple' on it) and split. It is important to establish a good groove to control the break as bone tends to spiral around as it breaks otherwise. The edges are ground on an abrasive stone and a sharp point formed. Often, found awls are highly polished from use on hides and baskets.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Republican River Harahey Knife

Appropriate stone was a necessity for tool making for the Native American. Unfortunately, large tracts of central Nebraska had little stone resources. Along the Republican River, and its tributaries, in southern Nebraska was a silcified chalkstone known by several names: Republican River jasper, Niobraraite, and Smoky Hills jasper. This stone was used to for many tool forms - points, scrapers, blades, etc.

Coined as the 'true buffalo skinning knife' was the Harahey knife - named after a native village in Kansas. It was generally a diamond-shaped, double pointed blade, beveled on four edges...often taking on a propeler-like shape after many resharpenings. It was in common use on the plains around 700 - 350 BP. Pictured is an actual artifact of Republican River jasper. It measures almost 6 inches long, by just over 1 1/2 inches wide, and only about 3/32 thick. Boy...if only I could consistantly knap blades that

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I believe it was John McPherson who coined the phrase, "tools to make tools, to make tools." This kind of describes the domino effect making primitive tools...a stone (tool) is used to strike, from another stone, a sharp flake (tool) which is used to cut & notch a handdrill set (tool), which then twirls a hot coal for a fire (tool), which is used to coal burn a bowl (tool), etc.

Several years ago I put together this assemblage to show some basic wookworking with primitive tools. In the process of making a wooden spoon, a limb is split using antler and bone wedges. A hot coal is used to burn a depression in the split section. A stone bladed adze is used to chop out a rough spoon, which is shaved down with stone flakes. A final burnish, or polish, is put on it by rubbing the spoon briskly with a deer leg bone. (Two coal burned bowls are pictured which were made by placing hot coals on the blank, allowing it to char the wood. This is scraped off, and the process repeated.) I need a tool box to put all this stuff...

Monday, July 14, 2008


Millenia ago, when man crossed the landscape, all he had to depend on were his wits and the resources that nature provided. He learned to fashion sharp knives and spears from the stones of the earth. Buffalo and deer provided food, clothing, and shelter. He watched the ebb and flow of the seasons to take advantage of natures bounty. Some Native American traditions reasoned that the trees absorbed the heat from the Sun in their limbs, and that thru the fire ceremony they were able to release it from the wood.
Fire was a sacred element- it was life itself. It cooked your food, gave light and warmth to your shelter, and kept bothersome insects and predators at bay. Fire was useful in the manufacture of tools - bending or straightening shafts, baking clay into pottery, or coal burning bowls or spoons. Larry Dean Olsen said that most of human history was made by people sitting around the hearth fire.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Paleolithic Shop of Horrors

We are creatures of habit. I am amazed at how many times I step out to the Paleolithic Shop of Horrors, pick up an odd flake, and lo and behold I have another quasi-Cody knife blade. I think I have made a ga-zillion of them. Now to haft them...>sheesh<.

I make mention of the Paleolithic Shop of a modern hunter/gatherer...well, gatherer...I now have to sit on a stool just outside the door to work on my projects. It is so full of buckets of rocks, rivercane for darts, beat up deer hides, sticks for spears and handles for clubs & tomahawks. Buckets of clay and bones, and bundles of sinew and rawhide crowd me out. It really feels like Christmas though, when I start rummaging thru and come across a long forgotten [FILL IN THE BLANK]. It's the simple dirty stinky things that make me happy.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Mesolithic Fireworks

4th of July...fireworks!...mesolithic style... Striking a fist sized nodule of marcassite with a piece of flint, a faint shower of sparks fly off into the "mesolithic fireworks." One of my goals is to gain some proficiency in the ancient European fire making method of striking flint & marcassite. One of the major keys is having the right tinder to catch the fragile sparks. I have not been successful...yet. (Pictured is marcassite, flint striker, and chaga tinder fungus.)

I received this nodule from Storm, a naturalist & primitive technologist, who passed away in February 2008, at the age of 38. I had corresponded with him concerning this technic, and he requested my address. I did not know of his condition, or that he was in the process of clearing things up, so I was shocked to hear of his passing. I am humbled and thankful for his gift.

It is appropriate to say at this time, as we celebrate during the 4th of July, the independence of our country - that I am thankful for the wisdom of our forefathers in establishing the Constitution, and for the blessings of living in this land where we have the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy. God bless America.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stone Age Exacto Knife

Being a flintknapper, I love working large platters of stone. Though, sometimes it feels like you start off with a large spall and you're lucky to end up with a bird Hiking around, I will periodically stumble upon a chunk of stone that has the right qualities to knap. They are generally on the small side...perhaps the size of a golf ball. Some native peoples, lacking ample stone resources, made the most of small blade cores. This turned into this evenings exercise in primitive skills. I found a small flint-like rock. Using a quartzite pebble I managed
to percussion strike a number of micro-blades. They were sharp. I cut my finger. Taking it a step further I split a stick I found, and compression hafted one blade with some tough plant fibers I didn't recognize. It may be small, but in a pinch it could skin a rabbit.


There is a Chinese proverb that says, "The usefulness of the cup is in its emptiness." I'm sure it has deeper meaning than at surface, so it is with containers. Containers are a valued commodity in a primitive situation. Have you ever noticed all the containers you have in your's staggering!

Pottery was a significant technological innovation when it was discovered, or introduced, for cooking & food storage. Here you had a meduim that could be formed and shaped to meet a variety of needs. Archaeologists estimate it was around 2000 years BP that pottery made its debut in Nebraska, about the same time the bow & arrow were replacing the dart & atlatl.

Pawnee had made their encampents on the bluffs, overlooking the Platte River, across from
nowadays Fremont, Nebraska. While at a Boy Scout camp, on the bluffs, I happened on a vein of reddish clay... which I would assume the Pawnee would have utilized. The clay worked ok, so I mixed it with charred mussel shells for temper, and fired some pots. I admit that I am not the best potter, but they were functional and served well to cook some buffalo meat, jerusalem artichokes, and indian potatoes that were gathered at another event. As with all pots in use, they are broken in accidents, or spall out with uneven heating. But, they are ground and recycled as temper in the next pots.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I recognize that I like to create 'how-to' instructional displays. It wasn't long after becoming involved with primitive skills that I wanted to share how ingenious primitive technology was. I love flintknapping, making stone tools-points, blades, drills, etc. The next logical step it to attach them to a handle, or shaft, to make them more functional. The lower picture is some of the materials from my hafting display I use to illustrate how native peoples utilized natures resources to bind tools together...

A notch is made, to seat a point, by drilling a hole thru a wooden foreshaft with a simple stone drill. The remaining wood is split out forming the notch. Pine pitch is then melted on a rock over hot coals and mixed with powered charcoal, or animal dung. This is used to 'glue' the point into the notch. It is then further secured on with sinew, plant cordages, or rawhide cut into strips. Pitch is often placed over the cordage to secure and waterproof it.

(Click for larger picture)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Nehawka Flint

This blog derives its name, 'Nehawka', from the bluish-gray flint outcroppings in the limestone formation along Weeping Water Creek, near the town of Nehawka, Nebraska. Stone for making tools was a necessity of life to the Native American people of the plains. Early archaeologists mapped out nearly 300 quarry pits, some going 10 feet deep or more, in the area. That's intensive labor, with primitive tools, and shows the value of the flint. The name 'Nehawka' comes from an Indian term for Weeping Water Creek. As legend goes, a battle ensued after a chief's daughter was stolen by another tribe. After three days, many braves had lost their lives. The tears of the families, of the fallen warriors, were said to have formed the 'weeping waters.'