Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cattails - 'Hawahawa' (Pawnee)

Cattails are an easily recognizable plant of the waters edge, usually growing in thick patches. I remember spring hikes, coming on a stand of cattail, and grasping the center stalk and pulling out a tender white core which was eaten on the spot...refreshing. In the late fall, thru spring, I've gathered the pointy corms from the traveling rootstock and peeled and eaten them raw. The roots can be peeled and broken apart in water to harvest the starch. After it settles the excess water is poured off and starch is dried and used as flour in ashcakes. Another source of flour is the dried golden pollen that gathers on the spikes in the fall. There is a sticky substance at the base of the leaves that is reported to have antiseptic and numbing qualities for cuts and toothaches. The Dakota referred to the cattail as 'Wihuta-Hu', which means 'bottom of the tipi plant'. Leaves and stalks were gathered and woven, or sewn, into floor mats and shelter coverings, as well as backets, bags, and cordage.

Elkhorn Valley Museum - Pioneer Day

Just returned after a day of sun and fun at Pioneer Day at the Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk, NE. Not the best picture that I wanted to share, but once the day began with visitors I forgot to snap some shots. Some of the exhibitors included woodworking and carving, storytelling, native flute, and churning butter. I provided a display and demonstration of Native living skills - flintknapping stone blades and hafting them with natural materials as pitch/dung adhesives and sinew. Discussed the evolution of hunting weapons from thrusting spears, to darts/atlatls, to bow and arrow in Nebraska history. The "deer leg tool kit" showed the possible bone tools, sinew, and adhesive from a deer leg...wasting nothing. Of course, everyone loves seeing fire made from "rubbing two sticks together"
Everytime I get done with an event, I pull out my notebook, and answer the question, "What have I learned?" This exercise helps me to improve what I do, be better organized, and present a better display and program of instruction...and entertainment.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

NAS Stone Age Fair

Just got back from the 4th annual Nebraska Archaeological Society Artifact Show, held August 23rd, in Seward, NE. Collections of stone and bone points and tools were on display from Paleo, Clovis, Folsom, and historic time periods. One of my reasons for going was to see Rick Hamilton and, his wife, Doris. Mr. Hamilton is a skilled flintknapper & primitive technologist. In the picture he is demonstrating thinning a spall of novaculite chert with only hammerstone percussion. Every September they host the Beaver Creek Primitive Skills & Knap-In, near Stuart, NE...good time. Check out his website at: One of his specialities is plant use, by the Native Americans, for edible, medicinal, and utilitarian (tools, dyes, firemaking, bow & arrow, etc.) purposes. He recently finished a-10 years in the making, 3 DVD set on plant identification over the seasons, and Native uses. I particularly enjoyed segments on how to extract starch from cattail roots to make a flour, and harvesting arrowhead tubers. Also, the background flute music, by Virgie Ravenhawk Villarreal, was thoroughly enjoyable and worth mentioning.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pecking Axeheads

Started another pecked celt axehead (lower middle). A celt is defined as "an ungrooved, tapered ground stone with a centered edge at one end." Doesn't look like much right now. It is wedged into a tapering slot in the handle. I've been using some Virginia greenstone I got thru Errett Callahan...this is some tuff stuff...>sheesh<. Using a hammer stone I #!#forcefully!!# knocked off some thinning flakes, the best I could. Then comes the fun part...hours of pecking, with the hammerstone, as the face of the rock s l o w l y crumbles away in a fine dust. (I read once that December, in some Native cultures, was considered the Moon of the Clacking Rocks.) The edge is then ground and honed in a slurry of fine sand and water. Some beautiful polished axeheads have been made by this method for millenia that are literally works of art. I seem to only have the patience for making functional pieces. Larry Dean Olsen, in his book Outdoor Survival Skills, said: "Shaping stones by crumbling them requires little brainpower, but a lot of perseverance and resignation to monotony." Hmmm...little brainpower, monotony...sounds like I'm the right guy for the

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Egyptian Bow Drill

There was a variation of the bow drill introduced, by John Olsen to the primitive skills community, at the 2001 Winter Count rendezvous in Arizona. It was based on the bow drill set found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun, of ancient Egypt. The differences, from the standard bow drill, was that the cord was twice as long as the bow, and ran thru a hole in the center of the drill (I simply tie it on with a clove hitch). The excess cord, to one side of the drill, was wrapped around the drill till the slack was taken up. Then it was pretty much the same operation as the standard bow drill.

I've used this technic teaching Boy Scout groups-as one advantage is that the drill does not slip in the cord, as it periodically does with the standard method when the cord stretches and becomes loose. Conversely, on the standard, if the cord is really tight the drill can flip out and go flying as they learn to coordinate the pieces. Plus, it is nice to have one less loose component, because it is attached. Also, you can a weaker cord because it is not under constant tension. Is it better? I think- it is just different. I still prefer the regular bow drill, but I recognize the value of this set up to teach new practitioners who are learning to coordinate the pieces and movements to make fire.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fire Plow

Was playing around with the fireplow this morning. This was a fire-making technic used in SE Asia, some of the Pacific islands, and a historical account recorded of use by the Iroquois Indians of New York state. Basically, a wedge-pointed 'plow' is worked back & forth in a 6-inch long groove of the 'fire board.' As you 'plow', fibers build up at the end of the groove. The heat from the friction builds and ignites the fibers into a smoldering coal. This is placed into a tinder nest and blown into flame. I am using a sotol stalk and plow in the picture, but also have had success with a yucca plow on cottonwood. When the fire gods smile upon me >grin< I can usually get a hot coal in 10 -15 seconds. This is a whole new set of muscles being exercised here to do the quick, short strokes necessary with some force. Already a sheen a sweat is visible on my forearms in the heat and humidity of the morning....ahhh, "Nebraska, the good life".

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Stone Knives II

Stone Knives II...that makes me chuckle. Over the years that I've been knapping, I wish I had kept records of my points & blades. Every year, I know I've made 100 -150, so it may easily be over 1000 produced. Some seasons I felt like a knapping fool. I chipped constantly, and consequently paid the price in injuries and tendonitis. You learn to respect the stone. One careless move while fracturing stone could end up in a severe laceration. Though, some of my favorites were...the pressure flaker slipping off the edge and driving underneath my fingernail...or the time I buried it into the palm of my hand >ouch<. Periodically attending buckskinner rendezvous, everyone eventually gets a colorful Flying Eagle, or Noisy Bear. Because I always was sporting several bandages...I became known as..."Cut Finger"...>sheesh<.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Stone Knives I

It is the busy season at work of late, so I have not posted in a bit. Though, little by little I have knapped (recreational therapy) and assembled twenty-some knives of flint, obsidian, and novaculite. I like using antler for handles as it gives the knife a bit of rustic character. Usually, I will use deer antler, but recently I have come upon a source of elk spikes that look and work well. In the past I've tried soaking the sinew binding in water to soften it, concerned about the sanitary aspect of it, but working it in the mouth still seems to prep it the best... perhaps it is the digestive acids in the saliva that make the difference. In all, not bad but I do not think it will catch on as a new taste