Monday, November 16, 2015

ARCH 4153 Lithic Analysis at Memorial University of Newfoundland

I'll be teaching ARCH 4153 during the winter semester through the Department of Archaeology at MUN.  This course is offered every second year and we will cover many topics that will help archaeology students as they continue on an academic path or look for work in the consulting world.  A strong working knowledge of stone tools, from their manufacture and use to the meaning behind their distribution within a site or across a region, is an important skill for any archaeologist.  Space is limited, register today.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Alaskan PalaeoIndian Spear Preparation

A resin cast
I received a cool courier package today from Alaska.  It contained a core of chert from the Brooks Range, a long strip of caribou back sinew and a resin cast of a PalaeoIndian spear point.  The objective is for me to make hafted reproductions of the borrowed spear point using the chert and sinew provided.  The chert is remarkably similar to some of the chert that I've collected from the Port au Port Peninsula on Newfoundland's west coast.  It's very fine grained and looks like it might have some fractures in it, which is also similar to the Port au Port chert that I have.  

Using the cast as a reference will help me make a more accurate reproduction. 

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, August 28, 2015

Inuit Heritage Trust Artifact Reproductions

Slate flakes and finished and
unfinished slate tools
I've finished two sets of Arctic artifact reproductions for Nunavut's Inuit Heritage Trust.  One set is based on Thule Inuit artifacts and the other is Dorset Palaeoeskimo.  In addition to the diagnostic artifacts we need a few miscellaneous pieces of debitage to round out the collections because not every artifact that archaeologists find are complete tools.  These pieces are intended to be buried by teachers and excavated by students to learn about archaeology and past cultures.

The Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifact reproductions.  Ground slate lance, antler harpoon head with tip-fluted endblade, microblades, nephrite burin-like tool, scraper, knife, microblade in side hafted wood handle with antler brace, and stemmed microblade endhafted into a whalebone handle.

Thule Inuit artifact reproductions.  Copper endblade and walrus ivory harpoon head.  Slate arrowhead or endblade, chipped ulu preform and finished ground ulu with whalebone handle.

As student's excavate the artifact reproductions, some of them will fit together like puzzle pieces.  Here are the composite tools exploded into their component parts.  I stained the Dorset pieces darker and left the Thule reproductions lighter coloured.  Dark staining on the older artifacts was one of the clues that Diamond Jenness used to identify the original Cape Dorset artifacts in the first half of the 20th Century. 
The composite tools assembled.  The ulu is a similar style to the ones that the students will make in the artifact replication part of the experience.  This set of tools also shows some of the cultural differences between the seal hunting tools (the harpoon heads) and cutting tools (ulu and microblade knives) used by the Thule Inuit and the Dorset.

Miscellaneous bits of antler, flakes of slate, flakes of chert, and scraps of sealskin with stitching holes along the edge.  These sorts of artifacts don't necessarily have right or wrong interpretations.  They represent human activity and it will be up to the young archaeologists to come up with their own stories and ideas about what they might have been.

Some of the chert flakes came from the tip-fluted endblade.  Chert is so uncommon in Thule Inuit contexts in the Canadian Arctic that one or two pieces of chert debitage is often enough to determine that a site is Palaeoeskimo in origin.
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Elfshot and NLAS

Pieces for a sandbox dig
I've been splitting my time over the past week in a few different places.  I should be spending the bulk of my time on Elfshot, as that is what pays the bills these days, but volunteering with the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society is a lot of fun, too.  I'm not often home in August, so I guess this is all bonus time anyhow.  

Tim Rast (President, NLAS), Darin King (Minister
 of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural 
Development), John Riche (Chair, Admiralty 
House Museum), Steve Kent (Deputy Premier)
Last week, the Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development, Darin King, announced $1.2 Million Dollars in support of the heritage sector in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The NLAS receives a small part of that money to deliver the Community Collections Archaeology Research Project and I was invited to speak briefly at the announcement about our project.  It was good exposure for the NLAS and I was happy to attend the event held at Admiralty House and Museum in Mount Pearl.

"The Great Wall" at
Hant's Harbour
On Saturday, the NLAS held it's first field trip.  In total, 17 people toured the curious stone features at Hant's Harbour.  Local tradition suggests that some of the features have an aboriginal origin, although numerous archaeological examinations of the features suggest a more recent early-mid 19th Century European context for the stone walls, rock piles, and cobble paths.  We had beautiful weather and a walk through the woods always does a person good.  You can read more about the trip and see more photos on the NLAS Blog: Hant's Harbour Field Trip 2015.

Discussing the origins of the rock pile
A walrus ivory and copper Thule Inuit harpoon
head reproduction and an antler and chert
Dorset Palaeoeskimo harpoon head.
Back in the workshop, I've been finishing up the Dorset Palaeoeskimo and Thule Inuit sets of artifact reproductions for use in a travelling sandbox dig for students in Nunavut.  The pieces are all finished now, except for a bit of antiquing.  I should be able to do the final photography on them tomorrow and move on to some other aspects of the project.  We want to include a hands-on artifact replication component to the travelling kit, so I'll need to construct a few bow drills and think about the logistics of keeping the kit resupplied between uses.

Photo Credits:
1,5: Tim Rast
2-4: Lori White

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Arctic Artifact Reproductions

I'm working on two sets of artifact reproductions for a traveling mock archaeology dig initiated by Nunavut's Inuit Heritage Trust to be used by school groups across the territory.  One set represents the early Inuit, or Thule culture, and the other illustrates the preceding Dorset Palaeoeskimo culture.  We want to include a few finished, diagnostic tools as well as some debitage, broken pieces, and bones to represent the range of materials commonly found in an archaeological assemblage.

The plan is to include artifacts with similar functions, like harpoon heads, within both sets so that the similarities and differences can be discussed.  Different manufacturing methods between the two cultures will also be highlighted, like the drilled holes in the Thule/Inuit slate, whalebone, and ivory tools and the gouged holes in the Dorset antler, slate, and wood artifacts.
A Dorset harpoon head and tip fluted endblade.  The earlier chipped stone endblade will be contrasted with more recent ground slate and copper versions.

The sets are coming together.  I'll probably do a bit of antiquing on the artifacts to help them look more like lost tools that have been buried for hundreds of years.  The act of burying and retrieving them will further help age the materials.  

One of these walrus ivory harpoon head blanks will be finished and included in the kit, along with a matching copper or slate endblade.  The other one will be used in an upcoming reproduction of a compete Thule harpoon.

We want to include a cold hammered copper endblade in the Thule/Inuit set, along with the slate endblade.  Only one will fit the slot in the matching harpoon.  I haven't decided which yet, but I'm leaning towards the copper blade.  That leaves the possibility of the slate point being an arrowhead or lancehead open for the students to ponder. 
Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Few New Dorset Reproductions

Chert, slate, and nephrite tools
I'm back in the workshop after being away for several weeks.  After a bit of clean-up last week, I'm slowly working my way back into production.  I've lost the calluses on my hands for pressure flaking, so I worked on a bit of ground stone after finishing a pair of simple Dorset Palaeoeskimo chipped stone artifact reproductions.  When the set is complete, these pieces will go into a mock dig kit that I'm helping the Inuit Heritage Trust assemble.  There are a few more Dorset and Thule Inuit pieces to construct for the kit over the next week or two.

A little Dorset knife blade (chert), endscraper (chert), and burin-like tool bit (nephrite).

Edge view of the knife

Knapped chert scraper and knife blade.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Participate in Archaeology Blogging Research

Fleur Schinning is currently writing her master’s thesis as a part of a specialisation in Heritage Management at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Her research will focus on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology in the Netherlands.

For her research she will be looking at several blogs from the UK, USA, and Canada to explore how blogging in archaeology contributes to public archaeology. She has set up a brief questionnaire to ask blog visitors about their motives for visiting archaeology blogs.  If you are reading this, then you are qualified to participate!

If you'd like to help Fleur with her research, the questionnaire can be viewed here: All participants also have a chance to win a small prize; 6 issues of Archaeology Magazine!

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