Thursday, January 31, 2019

Evidence of Atlatl in N.A.

 Paleo Indians, in North America, used darts and atlatls to hunt big game such as mammoths and giant ground sloths.  Most of us naturally assume this, but archaeologists studying microscopic fractures on Paleo-Age stone points have been able to determine clues for “high velocity, mechanically propelled impacts.”  It is largely thought that early inhabitants did not have the bow & arrow, so atlatls were used to hurl long, stone tipped darts for hunting.  Also, some evidence of atlatl use come from finding banner stones - weights attached to the atlatl to increase its effectiveness by giving mass and balance to the weapon system.  Studying hundreds of Paleo Indian era points, researchers calculated fracture velocities related to spear thrusts, as opposed to a thrown javelin, or atlatl or bow strike.  Different velocities create distinct telltale fractures.  The study cited atlatl & dart use around 11,000 years ago in North America.  In the Old World it was calculated atlatl use began about 20,000 years ago.  The value of the research is helpful to show when these technologies emerged and how they traveled across the continent.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Pressure Flaking

In April of 2017 a paper was published from the excavations in Sibudu Cave, in KwaZulu-Natal, a province of South Africa.    25 stone points were unearthed with the telltale signs of an emerging new technology for working stone...pressure flaking.  Evidence pointed to the use of a sharpened bone to push against the edge of a stone blank to remove small flakes...sharpening, thinning, and shaping stone points.  This technic allowed more control over the finished tool.  These artifacts were dated at around 77,000 years old.  In Europe, pressure flaking on stone tools was documented about 20,000 - 25,000 years old.  There was evidence that a number of these tools had been hafted on a spear or dart from the glue residue.  Fourteen of the 25 points had impact fractures and wear indicating they were used for hunting.  Because of the excellent conditions of the cave in preserving these artifacts, animal residue, blood and bone fragments, plant fibers and residue were also identified.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Maheffy Cache

MAHEFFY CACHE:  In 2008 a landscaping crew, on the property of a Boulder, Colorado,  resident uncovered a collection of stone tools in a hole the size of a shoe box.  Archaeologists confirmed this was a Clovis-Age cache, dated around 13,000 years old, consisting of over 80 stone implements.  It consisted of an assortment of platters, bifacial knives, small blades, flakes, and one resembling a double bitted axe.  The key to dating the assemblage was protein residues discovered on several of the tools that were used to butcher extinct camels and horses, bear, and sheep.  The stone was quarried, and carried in, from sites in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.  This cache is significant because there have been so few recovered and studied, in such pristine condition.

Fire Piston

It’s cold outside, so I’m playing around inside with a FIRE PISTON I got from Dave Danger @ Blackthorn-USA, LLC.   (Please excuse the background noise as I figure this medium out.)  A fire piston is a devise used to to kindle fire.  It uses the principle of heated gas, by rapid compression, to ignite a piece of charred cotton cloth, which would be added to combustible tinder and blown to flame.  Pistons were used in South East Asia since the mid-1800’s, and perhaps much longer.  They were constructed of bamboo, wood, bone, ivory, or horn.  Fire pistons made an appearance in the early 1800’s in Europe as a fire starting method, until they were replaced by the match.  It is unclear if the fire piston was introduced by Europe, or Asia, or discovered independently.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Backed knives

BACKED KNIVES are a distinctive tool form from the Paleolithic.  The flakes chosen can be broad and heavy, with cortex still attached on the supporting edge, or thin and long.  The distinguishing factors are - one edge is sharp and untouched, with the opposite edge dulled.  The dulled edge allows finger support and pressure for cutting activities.  It has not been clearly established if this blade was meant to be hafted, or hand held.  Backed knives served as cutting edges to use on wood, plant material, or animal products.  Pictured also are several Neanderthal backed knives.

Monday, January 21, 2019


Dana Kern made a comment on a previous post on the Schoningen spears, a set of six wooden pointed javelins, dating back to over 300,000 years ago, asking why there were no stone tips?  The archaeological record shows numerous stone spear points after the 300,000 year mark.  In fact, researchers excavating the Kathu Pan site in Southern Africa have found a spearpoint potentially dated to around 500,000 years ago.  They ascertain it is a spearpoint by studying the tip fracture to other known spearpoints.  Of course, continuing study is going into this.  Early man recognized the greater effectiveness of sharp stone spear tips in taking game.  But, the whole process of hafting, attaching a point to a shaft, is a complicated subject.  Fore thought and planning have to proceed making a spear.  The use and ability to control fire is necessary to produce an adhesive filler if used.  Making a suitable notch and binding it with plant cordage or animal hide or sinew, is key to producing a sufficiently strong haft, that will hold when facing potentially dangerous or cornered game.  Scientists also recognize the importance that language plays to communicate the ideas and methods to make spears and coordinate hunts.  Of course, you can’t forget the skill to produce a stone point is paramount.  This doesn’t answer why the Schoningen spears did not have stone tips.  But, but hopefully we can recognize what a technical achievement the act of fastening a stone to a wooden shaft is.

Technics of Fire Making

The ability to make primitive fire, breaks down to several major methods:  percussion, compression, and friction.  Then there are subdivisions of those.  Percussion would consist of striking sparks off of pyrites, or some bamboos, with flints.  Compression is done with a specially constructed fire piston.  Friction has the largest variation of potential technics, between rotating methods and sawing/linear technics.  The methods that involve rotating a spindle against a fireboard include hand drills, bow & drill, strap drill, and pump drill.  The sawing/linear friction technics consist of the fire plow, fire thong, Rutger roll, and fire saw variations.  Pictured is the hand drill friction fire method.  A straight slender shaft of appropriate wood is spun between the palm of the hands, against a light/medium density wood fireboard.  There is a notch cut into the forming depression.  Fibers are ground off the drill and fireboard, that build up in the notch.  The heat from the friction generates an ignition temperature around 400 - 800 degrees F., combusting the fibers into a hot smoldering coal.  To make fire you need to place the coal into a nest of combustible materials, and spread and increase the temperature, by blowing into it, till it bursts to flame.

Early Human vs. Saber Tooth Cat

Between 2011 and 2015, archaeologists at the Schoningen lignite mine, in Germany, unearthed the partial remains of three saber tooth cats.  These skeletal remains were found in the same layer as the six wooden spears excavated years earlier, dating back 300,000 years ago.  Scientists speculate that early man  (homo heidelbergenis) not only used these spears for hunting horse and deer, but to defend themselves from saber tooth cat on the shore of the ancient lake.  Analysis of the latest cat excavated showed it was a formidable predator with 10 cm/4 inch canines, at 200 kg/445 lb, standing a meter /(3.28 feet) at the shoulders.  Further papers will be published on the finds in the future.  Pictured are leg bone, teeth, and skull cap from some of the finds, and one of the spears recovered.

Sunday, January 20, 2019


A lot of the tools and technics used in the European Stone Age were similarly found in other cultures around the world - handdrill fire making, darts & atlatl, blade cores.  One of the unique innovations of the Aurignacian culture (28,000 - 21,000 BP) was a specialized tool called the burin.  They had refined striking blades off of a specially prepared stone cores, to modify into other tool forms - end scrapers, backed knives, perforators, shaft scrapers, and burins.  A burin was a flint blade broken at an angle and beveled into a chisel-like tool.  This was used to carve antler, wood, and bone.  Archaeologists say this invention helped to create a whole new series of bone and antler tools. Some of the earliest carvings of bone and ivory were made 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 points.  This burin was made by snapping a blade at an angle, then a quick stroke with a hammerstone leaves a sharp beveled chisel edge.  Lower left, is a burin from the Upper Paleolithic.  Low right, blade core.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Stone Age Use of Asphaltum

Bitumen, or asphatum, is another adhesive material used by prehistoric peoples. When we read asphaltum - we think of the road covering.  I think road asphalt is a mixture of asphaltum and gravel..?  Wherever oil seeps to the surface, on land or sea - and washes up on shore, and the lighter faction evaporates, black sticky tar is left behind.  This can dry into solid masses.  This is what is gathered and heated to haft knives and projectile points, water proof and caulk, or  utilized as a decorative pigment.  The earliest known use was by the Neanderthal peoples 40,000 years ago.  Artifacts were found in Gura Cheii Cave, in Romania, and on stone tools in Syria.  Most notably in the US, the La Brea tar pits of California were used for thousands of years by the Native populations as a source of the material.  Artifacts have been found, hafted with asphaltum, originating from Texas and California.  The hard pieces are heated to soften and used as is, or further processed by mixing with charcoal or plant fibers to strengthen.  Pictured is a steatite/soapstone bowl used to melt the asphaltum, and a natural hardened chunk  from California, setting on top of the stone biface.  Also pictured is a saber tooth tiger skull replica from a skull recovered from the La Brea tar pits in California.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Hand Axe II

The prehistoric handaxe, a hand sized tear dropped shaped stone tool, had been utilized for tens of thousands of years.  First making its appearance in Africa, it was the first deliberately stylized form of stone tool working.  Some considered it the “Swiss army knife” of the Stone Age because of its diverse uses.   You carried everything you owned, so you only carried what was important.  A multi-functional tool like the handaxe could be used for a variety of tasks.  The tip was good for digging and piercing, for getting to buried bulbs or tubers, or making the incision on a fresh kill.  The upper edges near the tip were thinned, like a knife, for cutting and butchering.  The deep flake scars in the middle range work well for scraping shafts, also for producing shavings for tinder in wet weather.  Edges closer to the base were suitable for chopping and hacking functions.  The thick butt made a good handhold as well as serving as a good tool for pounding and smashing.  If needed, the handaxe was also a core that sharp flakes could be removed from.  Basically, a knife, hammer, pick, axe, scraper, blade core, and more - all in one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Eating insects

Ever time you see Paleo peoples hunting they are portrayed spearing giant mammoths, or driving extinct bison over a cliff.  Archaeologists study prehistoric coprolites, fossilized dung, from human habitations have identified food eaten thousands of years ago...meat, plant matter, nuts, berries, - and insects.  Coprolites from Lakeside Cave in the Great Basin of the US, reveal that grasshoppers were harvested and consumed 4,500 years ago.  Coprolites with insects parts and exoskeletons have been recovered from numerous sites around the US.  Seasonal insects provided key nutrients and were low risk compared to hunting.  At a session of the Bois d’ Arc Primitive Skills Gathering & Knap In, in Missouri,  I participated in eating insects.  In the early morning, while it was cooler and some insects were moving slower, we gathered grasshoppers, crickets, wasp larvae, grubs, wolf and orb spiders. These were fried to kill any internal parasites and consumed by the adults and children.  Initially the idea of eating insects was a mental challenge, but diminished with each bite.  A lot of the insects were either nutty or buttery tasting.  We envision early people’s eating meat , but clearly they took advantage of other opportunistic protein resources.  (Bottom:  oldest known Neanderthal fecal matter, 50,000 years ago, from El Salt in Spain.)