Monday, December 28, 2009

Pine Pitch

Before the last  storm dropped 17 inches of snow, I was out exploring a stand of pine trees with the dogs, and came across some pitch sources.  When a pine tree is injuried it will exude a sticky resin to protect the exposed area.  Pine pitch has been used for millenia as an adhesive/filler to haft points and as a waterproofing agent - as with bark canoes.  Tightly woven baskets were coated on the insides to make water containers by the desert peoples of the American southwest.  Slowly melting the pitch in a container over the hot coals, I'll usually add up to 50% powdered charcoal, from the charred limbs from the fire to strengthen the pitch.  If a  little more elasticity is needed, I will use some ground up dung from a plant eater, such as deer or rabbit, for the additive as traditional peoples have done.  Pitch sticks, for hafting points, are made by simply dipping a stick repeatedly into the hot mixture, and then into a container of water to build up a bulbous glob on a stick.  When you are ready to haft a point you simply heat the glob over the coals, melting it somewhat, and place a small amount in the prepared notch.  The point is the pressed in and seated as the pitch cools within minutes.  Wetted sinew then further ties the point more firmly into place as it dries and shrinks.  Not wanting to waste any last pitch residue, I will usually wipe the ends of some small tinder sticks with the flamable pitch to save for  future firestarting efforts.  Pictured above is dried pitch, dart foreshafts that have been hafted using pitch and sinew,  prepared pitch and tinder sticks.  On the left is a burl of a cottonwood tree that was pitch coated to make an expedient water cup, from an excursion.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to All

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all a Merry Christmas.  Thank you for taking an interest in this blog, and for sharing your sites, stories, knowledge, and friendship as we all learn from one another. -Mark

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grinding Acorns

Archaeologists roughly date the Archaic Period, in North America,  around 5000 to 1000 BC.  Big game hunters and game of the Clovis, Folsom, and Plano had disappeared - mammoth, ancient bison, and giant ground sloths.  New techniques and tools for hunting smaller game, such as deer, antelope, fish, and fowl appeared.  The people began to develop traits of the foraging tradition - they were no longer just hunters, but not yet farmers.  The presense of mortars and grinding stones meant that plant seeds and nuts were being utilized, probably as well as roots and berries.  Pictured is grinding acorn meats.  A few white oaks have acorns sweet enough to be eaten raw, but most are extremely bitter due to a chemical called tannin.  Tannin is water soluable and can be removed by boiling the meats in several changes of water - until the brownish coloring no longer appears.  Native Americans would also put the crushed meats in porous bags in moving streams, to leech out the tannin.  The Pawnee called acorns from the bur oak, Patki - natawawi, meaning "acorn bearing."  Often the acorns would be used in combination with corn meal to make it more palatable.  They did not use seasonings, so to make the traditional gruel or mush, acorn meal was simply mixed with water.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Making Preforms

Today the temperature was in the 50's, but it felt much warmer working in the sun.  Taking a block of mahogany obsidian, and a large hammer stone, I struck a number of flakes off.  Using an antler billet I thinned the flakes, basically making a handful of preforms.  I'll start pressure flaking them into knife blades, then haft them into antler handles.  Obsidian is formed when lava cools real fast, producing a volcanic glass in effect.  The fresh edges are extremely sharp, evidenced by the fact that I was surprised to find blood on my hands though I had not felt the cut. I am alway very careful when working with obsidian because one careless move could result in a serious laceration.  Until the final pass of pressure flaking, the edges are always ground down -  for safety and to produce a solid edge.  Trying to push a flake off of an unground sharp edge, it will simply crush and crumble.  An edge which has been properly arbraded will alllow you to build sufficient pressure against it and remove a longer flake.  I'll post updates of the progression from preform to knives as I go along.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hide for Bow & Drill Socket

In a previous post I mentioned that the Mescalaro Apache of southwestern US and northern Mexico used the bow and drill fire making method, when the handdrill proved too difficult for some.  In a 1935 article, in the American Anthropologist, it was stated that no special set was made.  Even fighting bows were modified, when needed, to spin the drill.  Also, no special socket was used, simply a piece of rawhide or buckskin to protect the hand.  Using a piece of hide as the socket intrigued me.  We tend to get stuck in preconceived notions of how things must be to work  Traditionally, a socket being -  a piece of wood, rock, or bone with a depression in it for the top of the drill to ride in. I had a scrap of racoon rawhide, with the hair still on it.  Folded  into a thicker pad, I fired up the bow and drill.  The hide pad worked well, though the drill did start to abrade thru it.  A little freshly pulverized grass would have lubricated it and helped.  Another lesson in simplicity and primitive living skills.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Bow & Drill Revisited

When I first started demonstrating primitive skills at historical events, I tried to tie the technics to local history....what was practiced in this area.  My firemaking technic initially was the bow & drill, and later the handdrill method.  I could find references to use of the handdrill on the Plains more readily, but the information on the bowdrill was sketchy in North America.  It was thought that the bowdrill was an Alaskan Eskimo influence, who had adopted it most likely from Asian migrations across the Bering Straight during  Paleo times.  It is a fairly sophisticated technic for the time...using a bow and socket to give a mechanical advantage to spin a wooden drill in a depression in the hearth board.  The resulting friction grinds off tiny charred wooden particles, which heat up till they combust into a "hot coal".  This is placed in a nest of combustable materials and blown into flame.  It took a decade to come across solid information placing the bow & drill among Native Americans.  Archaeologists have found pieces of a bowdrill set, among the cliff dwellings of the Pueblo Indians of southwestern Colorado, dated to 1400 years ago.  And, in an article in the American Anthroplogist from 1935,  interviews revealed the technic was used by the Mescalaro Apache who lived in what is now western Texas, southeastern New Mexico, and northern Mexico.  It was said it was a technic used by those who had difficulty with the handdrill technic.  No special set was constructed for firemaking. Fighting bows were even modified and used to drive the drill.  It was related that no special socket was made either, simply a piece of folded rawhide or buckskin was used as a makeshift handhold...(hey, that is a clever idea). 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Side Notched Spearhead

Hitting the rock pile, I was able to find a nice spall of Keokuk Burlington chert, and knapped a 5-inch spearhead.  This piece has a couple of side notches facilitating hafting to a spear shaft.  Notches were developed on stone points some time during the Archaic Period (8000 - 2000 B.C.).  Hunter gatherer societies that lived thru this broad span of time developed a multitude of point styles and notching technics.

Digging Stick

(Pictured are jersalem artichokes dug with digging stick)                           One of the common items in the tool kit of early cultures was the digging stick.  Most likely pre-dating the Stone Age, an expedient stick was useful in a variety of tasks.  Europeans encountering Native Americans noted the use of the digging stick to harvest plant roots and bulbs, dig post holes for shelters, and steaming pits for cooking.  The prehistoric Hohokam  peoples (300 - 1200 A.D.) of the American southwest dug extensive irrigation ditches, some up to 15 feet wide, using digging sticks.  Basically, it is a sturdy limb of dense wood, around 3 feet long, and 1 to 2 inches in diameter.  The business end is beveled to a shovel-like edge by either chopping with a sharp stone, grinding on an abrasive stone, or a combination of charring and grinding.  A beveled green edge will dull quickly in the moist soil, but four to five scorchings in the super heated dirt under the hot coals of a fire will drive out the sap and fire-harden the edge to a degree.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quickie Axe

I've made a number of axes before and  it can be time and labor intensive.  Some of the first axes would have probably been angular stones used as is.  At some point, early man learned to take a few flakes off a cobbles edge to create a handheld chopper, and later developed a refined handaxe.  Adding a handle definitely increases its efficiency.  Flaked stone axeheads were followed by the advent of pecked and ground grainier stone heads, with a hafting groove,that were worked to a fine polish.  This same peck and grind technology was used to make celts, basically ovoid axeheads that were wedged into a hole that was coal burned or chiseled in the axes handle.  This all said, I was reading a piece by John & Geri McPherson, who have been and done in the primtive living field (See their website at: ).   He was demostrating a  quickie hafting technic he uses on flint axes.  Intrigued, I went out to the rock pile and selected a spall and hammerstone.  In half and hour I had an axehead with hafting grooves chipped into it.  In about 15 minutes, using some of the sharp debris flakes I cut several supple shoots, and wrapped & tied the shoots on using a couple of strips of hide.  Fast, simple, and efficient...and seems to work as well as my pecked and ground axes that took 30-40 hours to make. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Corner Tang Knife Blade

One of the rare blade forms found in the south central US (Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas) is the corner tang knife.  Basically, it is a somewhat triangular blade with the pronounced feature being a hafting tang on one corner.  There has been some speculation as to how the tang was employeed.  A handle may have been mounted on the blade.  But, some tangs are small and a handle would have been somewhat a fragile addition.  Perhaps the blade was more handheld and the "handle" was more of a stabalizer.  Another idea proposed was that a thong was attached to the tang and tied to the wrist.  During the butchering process it allowed the hands to work freely, and the blade was simply brought into play as needed by dropping the hand and grasping the dangling blade.  ...?  This unique blade form dates back to the Late Archaic period, some 4000 - 2000 years ago.  The name "Archaic", loosely defined, means "ancient ones."  These were a nomadic people of hunter gatherers, decended from the Ice Age PaleoIndians... who utilized the dart and atlatl to hunt game, as well a foraging plant resources during a time when the climate began to warm, much as it is today. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Flake Tools

Lately I've been 'under the weather' and haven't had a chance to do much.  I finally got to the point I was so bored with being sick I went out to the rock pile and picked out an angular chunk of blue/black Fort Payne chert to play with.  You find this type of mineral in northwestern Alabama.  There are several  variations of  Fort Payne cherts.  Native Americans have been using this resource since Paleo time to make cutting tools, scrapers, choppers, etc. Picking up an oblong quartz cobble (looks like I had pecked a groove in it as some point), to use as a hammerstone, I pictured the angle to strike thin blades.  In a minutes time I had half a dozen sharp flake tools.  To illustrate this, in the middle picture I used a flake to cut 1/4 inch stiff leather. These tools can be used as is, or with some modification, made into thumb scrapers, perforators, burins, etc.  Nature provides, you just need to know how to use it.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Fat Lamp

Pictured are a couple of fat lamps I use. The one on the right was pecked from a limestone slab, the other is chiseled from soapstone. I always save the fat from scraping deer hides as fuel, but animal grease or vegetable oil would work. The wicks were simply cattail down rolled into a wick and wetted. Fat lamps were traced back to Ice Age Europe nearly 40,000 years ago and coincided with several other developments - art, personal adornments, and the dart & atlatl. This controlled use of fire allowed activities after sunset and in places naturally dark. These lamps are considered "closed curcuit" bowl lamps, in that they have a depression to catch and retain the fuel as it melts. This is the most common type found in all regions, in all periods, where fat lamps were used, and range from crude to elaborately carved. It is easy to let the mind wander in the evenings in camp, and picture animal skin clad men dabbing mineral pigments onto cave walls, in the flickering illumination of the lamp light.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Lately I've been watching the documentaries of Mark Anstice & Olly Steed living among the primtive peoples of West Papua - the Kombai and the Mek tribes. In most respects these peoples still live as there ancestors did hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. They wear little clothing, chop down trees using stone axes, have essentially no written language, and live as hunter gatherers off of the bounty of the rainforest. One thing I noted is their use of rattan, a climbing type of palm with a long strong stem, to literally lash their world together. The Kombai live in treehouses, 30 to 40 feet up in the canopy, made with uncanny balance and skill, by lashing stone axe hewn limbs with rattan cords. The same fibers haft an ancient axeblade to a wooden handle. The Mek tribe worked as village to lash a new hut and construct a 100-foot long "monkey bridge" across a raging river to join two villages. Today lashing is considered of makeshift or temporary use, but it is among one of the oldest technologies of man. James E. Gordon in, The New Science of Strong Materials, said: "In pure strength, apart from their flexibility, the lashings, sewings, and bindings used by primitive peoples, and by the seamen down to recent times, are more efficient than metal fastenings." (Pictured are spear and adze hafted with rawhide cordage...which do not do justice to the simplicity and efficiency of the Kombai & Mek.)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Eating Insects

The weather on the plains made a short gathering this weekend. It dropped about 3-4 inches of wet fluffy snow overnight. All was not lost, we still had a hardy sampling of roasted crickets and mealworm larvae. (Pictured are the leftovers...plenty of drumsticks to go 'round.) Not as bad as my prejudiced Western mind had anticipated. They sort of "melt in your mouth, not in your hands." Except for the crickets long hairlike ovipositor that sticks out of the females abdomen (used to deposit eggs into soil or plant stems). That tasty morsel tends to get stuck between the teeth, or lodged in your throat, inciting the gag Eating insects is part of the everyday diet in some parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Native Americans in the US feasted on roasted grasshoppers and were known to eat about 60 different varieties of insects. In Zaire, the mopanie worm is known as the "snack that crawls"...mmmm. There are about 1,462 recorded edible insects. Nutrition-wise, insects tend to rival fish and beef for protein, vitamins, and calories. All in all, knowing these facts did not curb my imagination when taking the first bites. All I could think of was an episode of "Man versus Wild", where Bear bites into a grub the size of your thumb - and guts and juice go spurting and run down his chin...>gag<.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Neck Knife

I have grown attached to a simple tool that comes in quite handily while doing primitive skill encampments and demo's. It is a 3-inch blade, struck from a core of tough Nehawka flint, with saw-like serations on both edges. I wear it on a buckskin thong, with a deer phallanges "bead", around my neck. One of the curious things about dressing primitively is that there are no pockets. Certainly this was quite an innovation. Contantly, it seems I need to saw a notch in a fireboard, cut a thong, or trim a stem and have to hunt down a cutting implement. I was watching primitive technologist Lynx Vilden's, "Back into the Stone Age: The Yaak River Hunterer Gatherer Project", in which participants lived in a stone age capacity for several month. All of them wore a simple stone blade attached to a thong around their necks. Whenever they needed a quick cut, bore a hole, or start a new notch, they employed their 'neck knife'. Prehistorically, I do not know if this was done, as it was a speculation on their part also, but we do know that small knives were worn in sheaths suspended around the neck historically. ( I see how this is posted, and am out of time to fix this right now...actually, I am packed and ready to head out to another event.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Buffalo Lance

With the introduction of the horse to the tribes of the plains, the lance became an important weapon for hunting and warfare. Essentially, it was a long wooden shaft with a spearhead of chipped stone, sharpened bone, or later a metal blade. Most likely the first lances were no more than a shaft with a sharpened end. It was difficult trying to get a picture of the 6 foot lance, so here is half of Lately I've been working on several lances and spears. This one has a hammered out metal spearhead mounted in a 6 foot wooden shaft with elk rawhide. The shaft is wrapped with rawhide and decorated with tufts of buffalo hide, feathers and scalp locks. It kind of violates my stone age focus using a metal blade. But, some of the lances I've seen would almost be considered works of art. There is a strange sensation that runs thru you when you weild a primitive spear, you touch the primal.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I feel a little crazed today. Just got off a 60 hour work week, now...grilling hamburgers for supper in the 100-degree heat of the day. I can't wait to get over our busy season. Working as a web press operator, for an educational publisher, summers are the time to get materials printed for the next school season starting late August into September. The past couple of weeks I have been able to make a few stone knives - mainly for therapy. Even doing that was an effort as the body has taken another beating from hours of constant go, go, go. But, I love doing it...being able to thin out a piece of stone and flake it into a blade or tool. The knife, second from the left, I used at work to open skids of paper last week. That always brings some curious glances. I kind of prefer a short stout blade that can take a beating. Well, gotta go...time to flip the burgers.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Leaf Knives"

I was playing around the rock pile the other night and came away making a couple of "leaf knives." A good number of cultures have these simple cutting blade forms in their tool kit. They are pretty much a simple ovoid preform finished off with a cutting edge. Simple and efficient.

An event promoter contacted me and asked if I wanted to participate in an upcoming "Pirate Fest." It took a little thinking how I would fit into this kind of theme. Eventually, I came up with the idea of doing something like...Survivorman - Marooned. I'll demo/display survival skills and tools, such as firemaking with the bamboo firesaw, making discoidal and bipolar cutting blades with quarzite cobbles, the bamboo rat trap used by a contestant fromt the show "Survivor", etc. Probably, decorate the tent with some tribal masks, rubber snakes, various items 'salvaged from a ship.' All in all, it is entertainment with some educational aspects..."edutainment." Anyone have any ideas other ideas?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Grady Knife

Grady knife...why do I call it a Grady knife? Because it is for a gentleman named When one of the guys from work found I did flintknapping, he had me make some stone knives using antler handles from deer he and his sons had hunted. You know, I haven't dropped and broke a stone blade, in literally years....until the last event started a spree. I was demonstrating flintknapping and had made a nice long obsidian blade. Well, I tossed my hammerstone down onto the canvas tarp directly onto the blade, snapping it in two ... AARRUUUGGHHHHH!!! Actually, I wasn't too upset, but sometimes I think this is how cussing was came about. The large knife pictured, started off with a nice large whitish blade...until I dropped it on the concrete...AAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!! A new blade had to be made to fit the large antler handle (11 inches), thus the top knife you see. The smaller knife was made knapping the salvagable Novaculite stone into a smaller blade.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bamboo Fire Saw

One of the technics used by the indiginous peoples of the Phillipines, to make fire, was the bamboo fire saw. In Nebraska you will not find any natural stands of bamboo except at the local garden center where it is sold as ornamental pieces. Nonetheless, I acquired a piece and cut several 2 foot lengths and split them in half. It is helpful if the walls of the bamboo are around 3/16 to 1/4 inch thick. The first pic shows the components: one half was my saw, another half as the fireboard, a tinder nest, and a fold of

buckskin for padding. I selected a 'saw' piece that had a nice length
between nodes and cleaned a good sharp edge with a knife. On the fireboard, I carved an indention and bored a small hole thru the bamboo. (Click on the pic to enlarge to see the prep-ed area beneath the 3 used slots.) Using the padding, brace the 'saw' firmly against the ground with your body. Place the tinder nest loosely around the bored hole in the fireboard, making sure it does not block the hole. Smoothly drive the fireboard back and forth against the saw piece, using the whole length between the nodes. You will feel the bamboo began to cut into the fireboard, the saw edge will darken, and smoke will wisp up. This is your cue to apply more downward pressure, and take faster, shorter strokes. This may take about 30-40 short, fast strokes to produce a coal. Carefully stop and inspect the notch cut into the fireboard. Gently blow into this notch. A coal will form at the hole bored thru, and may be small and stuck to the edge of the hole. You may need to take a small stick and gently dislodge it into the tinder nest. Carefully remove the tinder nest and blow to flame. The coals formed by the bamboo firesaw are small, so some extra fine downs, such as cattail, milkweed, etc., are helpful to spread the coal. It should only take 20-30 seconds to make a coal. This is actually a variation of the firesaw technic. The original method involved holding the saw in your hand and driving it back and forth against the fireboard. This variation, in my opinion, is more efficient because you can apply more pressure and control.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Here is a pic of me taking shelter from the sun, knapping at the Lewis & Clark Festival, held June 12-14 at the Lewis & Clark State Park, near Onawa, IA. This is always a good time. The smell of camp smoke in the air, the sound of fiddles and bango's plinking out tunes a hundred years gone. I am intrigued by the traders, alot of them sun baked, buckskinned men who travel from rendezvous to rendezvous peddling their wares. I want to be one of them. Here I am demonstrating friction fires and how stone tools were made...and selling stone knives, tomahawks, spears, war clubs, and tools to the passerby. I am still too clean cut, pale skinned, and have too many teeth to be a real trader for these

Friday, May 29, 2009

Tomahawk II

It has been a month since I posted last,, events, and projects have kept me ever busy. Finished another tomahawk (and elk leg bone dagger.) Tomahawks were an interesting tool unique to the Native American. It was a camp tool for chopping, but more popularly recognized as a fighting weapon. Originally, it was a stone head lashed to a handle, or inserted into a hole bored or burned through the handle. But, early in the 17th century, European made iron hatchets were traded and began to replace the stone weapons. (Also pictured are two authentic stone tomahawks.)

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.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Slowly, But Surely

Making knives and spears in prep for the Ren Faire, for part of the demo's and to sell. I still have some work to do on the spear foreshafts - tapering them to fit into the spear shafts snugly. Also, soaking and wrapping rawhide around the top of the spearshafts, so that they won't split out when the foreshafts are pushed in. I used to drive myself crazy, working on these projects for hours on the weekends. Maybe I've matured or disciplined a bit, now I only spend about 15 -20 minutes a day, to complete my projects...slowly, but surely.

I came across a cool site that is worth checking out. Flintknapper, Bernard Ginelli, has a really nicely done website of his work in European stone tools. The only drawback, is that it is in French, ...and I don't read French. Check it out at:

Also, John Lord's site from England, is interesting: ...and it's in English, for us

Friday, March 20, 2009

Burins - Tool of the Upper Paleolithc Stone Age

I was contacted by a Renaissance Faire promoter to demonstrate at an upcoming event. In the past I have done a few, representing European stone age. A little bit of a stretch for a ren faire, but they appreciate the educational aspect..."edu-tainment" they call it. Besides, bone needles invented 27,000 years ago, were still used by the common man into medevil times. Flintknapping skills once used to make spearpoints translated into the budding gun flint industry. A lot of the tools & technics utilized in the European stone age were similarly found in various cultures around the world - hand drill fire-making, darts & atlatls, flintknapping stone tools. One interesting innovation of the "Aurignacian" stone age culture of Europe (28,000 to 21,000 B.C.) was a tool we call the burin. The name "Aurignacian" refers to particular way people were living, determined by the artifacts they left. They had refined striking blades off of a specially prepared flint core, to modify into different tool forms...end scrapers, backed knives, and burins. A burin was flint blade broken at an oblique angle, and beveled into a chisel-like tool used to carve antler, wood, and bone. This invention helped to create a whole new series of bone and antler tools and weapons. Some of the earliest ivory carvings of animal and human forms began to appear at this time. The burin was used to score deep parallel grooves in lengths of antler and bone to isolate slivers that were pried out and worked into needles and spear heads.

This burin was made by snapping a blade at an angle. Then a quick stroke of a small hammerstone or billet takes off the outside edge to leave a sharp chisel edge. In the background in a barbed bone spear point I've been working on.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Beveled Points

I acquired this point from an artifact hunter at a gem and mineral show. He related it was a personal find he picked up in Oklahoma. It looks like it was knapped out of Burlington chert and possibly would have been a small knife form. It measures 2 1/4 inches long, and just over 1 inch wide. Even though it was missing part of the base, I found it interesting because it appeared to be beveled in the Archaic style. I am no expert on artifacts, but appreciated the knapping technic it demonstrated. The Archaic period (8000 - 1000 BC) in North America was characterized by some points, that were beveled, or unifacially resharpened. Basically, what this means, was that a series of flakes were removed from the face of one side - to produce a steep, wedge-shaped cutting edge. The point was then turned over and it was repeated on the other side. As you do this the point takes on a parallelogram, or propeller-like shape, in the cross section. In this manner it takes less effort to make a cutting edge and you can get more resharpenings before the piece is exhausted. Some beveled points have been resharpened so many times, that they have come to resemble drills, archaeologists have speculated. What do I learn from all of this? Beveling is the easiest method to produce a strong sharp edge on a dulled stone blade...perhaps to retouch after sawing fireboard notches. It may not be the prettiest, but it is a functional technic.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bi-Polar Percussion

Flintknapping, chipping fine points and blades, is a art form that takes the right tools, time to master, and the proper stone. The possibility of coming across flint-type stone while walking the woods is not likely to happen...well, here in Nebraska. Expedient stone tools can be made with common quartzite pebbles or some fine grained stones. For these pictures, I picked up a "skipping stone" from a local stream...kind of a flat ovoid rock. Squeezing the pebble between my fingers, I set it firmly on a rock "anvil". I could also hold it in place with an improvised tongs made by bending a green stick in half, to protect my fingers. Taking another rock, I soundly strike the top of the pebble, breaking it in two. This method of controlled breaking is referred to as bi-polar percussion. One archaeologist/primitive technician pointed out that this is the way children instinctively make stone tools when not shown otherwise. This technic works a good deal of the time creating two stone halves with somewhat sharp edges that can be used, in a pinch... to skin a rabbit, saw a fireboard notch, or scrape a hide.

Two halves of a common quartzite pebble with sharp-lipped edges

Cutting leather with one of the halves

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Phallanges and Fishhooks

Deer and elk are classified as ungulates, or hoofed animals. Their feet are actually two elongated toes. In the leg are two sets of phallanges that come off the lower leg bone and attach to small bones inside the hooves. These phallange bones have been used for beads, ceremonial rattles, small handles for stone blades, and fishhooks. The upper picture shows kind of a breakdown of the bones in a lower leg of a deer. The lower photo shows some of the reduction process for making a fishhook from the phallange. Sometimes I will soak the bone a day or so to soften the outer layer. Using a stone flake you score around the bone length-wise and carefully split it in half. It is basically hollow with marrow inside. Using a stone drill, I will then start to open up the middle portion of the phallange by boring holes in it. The tedious part is carefully grinding the excess away on an abrasive rock and shaving smooth the bone into shape with a stone flake. In this way I have the potential to make two hooks from one bone. I have heard that another way to appoach this is to simply grind both sides down on a sanding stone till you expose the hollow center, then form it into a hook. Truthfully, I have never been successful fishing with these bone hooks yet, but several of my friends, who are into primitive skills, have caught fish and bullfrogs...with great patience and perseverence using bone hooks.