Ground slate ulu blades in progress. Source: Tim Rast, Elfshot.
I’ve mentioned before the terrific Back East archaeology blog Elfshot, in which Tim Rast documents his journey of “making a living as a 21st century flintknapper”. Flintknapping is all well and good, of course, but the real magic lies with ground stone, which for many years has been marginalized in archaeology as being, well, obvious and uninteresting. I think one paper I read digresses with an anecdote about the author’s toddler son independently inventing the technology! If it is so obvious, though, then why is it only selectively implemented by people in certain environments, at certain times, to certain degrees of intensity?
Paul Kane: Mt. St. Helens erupting by night, 1847. Source: Wikipedia
Today is the 30th anniversary of the cataclysmic eruption of Mount St. Helens, an explosion so large that it could be heard as far north as southern Vancouver Island. The mountain has erupted many times in the past – one of which was captured by the well known painter Paul Kane (above) – and will continue to erupt indefinitely. Many of these eruptions and its fickle nature loom large in oral histories. The ash from prior eruptions forms important geological marker horizons all over the Northwest. Judging by this map, there are no known obsidian sources directly associated with Mount St Helens. These are the more obvious kinds of connections to archaeology and they shouldn’t be discounted. Another approach exemplifies a kind of morbidly creative lateral thinking.
Posted in Archaeology, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Technology, Washington State
Tagged bone technology, bones, experimental archaeology, Mount St Helens, Site formation processes, taphonomy, volcanoes, Washington State, zooarchaeology
Replica sandstone petroglyph made by Christine Stathers. Photo credit: Stathers.
I’ve often said the graduate student work is the backbone of the archaeological discipline in British Columbia. Today I get to report on more student work – but this time its a fascinating study done by an undergraduate student at Camosun College here in Victoria. The student, Christine Stathers, did an experimental archaeology project for her Anthropology 240 course, and she kindly agreed that I could post some of the results here. The results are highly informative for our interpretation of petroglyphs, I think.
Posted in Archaeology, Miscellaneous, Northwest Coast, Teaching, Technology, Uncategorized, Vancouver Island
Tagged Archaeology, Camosun College, cobble choppers, experimental archaeology, petroglyphs, rock art, sandstone
Chuckchu women inflating walrus intestines, 1917. Source: ADA
I’ve linked before to Tim Rast’s excellent blog ‘Elfshot’, which chronicles his work in Newfoundland, making replications and experimental archaeology for love, and money. Or, as he puts it, “Making a living as a 21st Century Flintknapper.” You can buy some of his superb work here and also browse part of his impressive back-catalogue of reproductions here.
Recently Tim has been going beyond the call of duty with a fantastic series of detailed, superbly illustrated (for the strong of stomach – photos and videos) on preparing the hide of a hooded seal, and the associated fun of processing its intestines for technological projects. I urge you to go read them in their entirety over at his blog.
Seal intestines were, of course useful for any number of tasks.
Saqqaq Palaeo-Eskimo flaked stone scrapers and knives, hafted with the aid of baleen. Source: Elfshot.
Elfshot is a cool blog chronicling archaeologist Tim Rast’s replicative and experimental work. Interestingly to us out here on the NW Coast, a lot of what he studies and replicates is from the comparable areas of the NE Coast, Newfoundland and the eastern Arctic. That means he is using some marine sources such as baleen as well as materials such as moose sinew. There is a lot to read at his blog, which is very well illustrated with photographs, videos, and scans from manuscripts. If you find yourself in his neighbourhood, you can take courses and workshops on ancient technology from him, and I note that some of his beautiful replications are for sale.
Experimental archaeology is a really valuable approach in archaeology. It helps the archaeologist, who more often than not isn’t part of a traditional materials tool-use culture, understand the constraints of certain materials and likely technological sequences that would have been followed to make and use things. While perhaps no substitute for observation and interviews, the fact is that by the time ethnographers got to most places in the world many traditional technologies had fallen by the wayside, and so there are very few descriptions of such basic technological domains as flaked stone tools. Much of what we know about these tools and technologies comes from the work of replicators and experimentalists who set the facts of life out to help analyse the material which comes from the ground in archaeological digs.
Anyway, I strongly recommend Elfshot as a knowledgeable blog offering a lot of archaeological insight, especially for coastal contexts.
Use of the "mystery tool type" - piece esquillee - as a wood-splitting wedge. Source: Elfshot.