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.