Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Drone Practice

The houses and powerlines are a
couple hundred metres away.  Wide
open spaces are a must.
Over the Easter weekend I had a chance to tag along with a couple friends out for the inaugural flight of their new 3D Robotics multirotor drone.  The ultimate goal is to use the drone to assist in archaeological mapping and overhead site photography, but on this first attempt the goal was to simply get it off the ground.  This was my first time seeing a multirotor fly and I was surprised by how quiet and stable the flight seemed, even on a somewhat gusty day.  The vehicle seems perfectly suited for aerial photography at the site level and probably larger area mapping, but it will require a lot of practice.  Being on hand to see a new operator try one for the first time really impressed on me how difficult it is to learn to use one of these safely and confidently.  It definitely requires practice in a wide open space, a steady hand, and spotters on the ground to help keep an eye out for trees and powerlines and to run interference on the throngs of kids that are attracted to the spectacle. 

Marc on the controls.  

Discussing the flight plan.

Its remarkably steady in the air, especially in "loiter" mode.

A second multirotor was on the scene as well, although it was having a bit of a rough day flying.

The drone has a pretty robust chasis, but the blades are necessarily light.  The slightest tumble was enough to break two rotors. The blades are designed to be easy to replace.


Like any aircraft - takeoffs and landings were the trickiest part.

In the air, it was very quiet and stable. I can't wait to see the results once the camera gets mounted. 


Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sheshatshiu, Labrador Intermediate Period Collection

A 3000 year old toolkit
Here's a final look at the Intermediate Period reproductions that I've been talking about for the past few weeks.  They are based on artifacts recovered in Sheshatshiu, Labrador under the direction of Scott Neilsen.  The site is dated to around 3000 years ago and will be the focus of a new exhibit in the Labrador Interpretation Centre in North West River.  Aside from the two cobble tools (the quartzite hammerstone and the coarse pestle) I've documented most of these pieces in previous posts, which are indexed here:

If you would like to learn more about the archaeological site that these reproductions are illustrating, you can visit the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society's YouTube channel and watch Scott's April 2, 2014 talk at The Rooms called "Archaeology in Sheshatshiu: A Review". 

These are the artifacts that the reproductions are based on.  Only one of the three side-notched projectile points was reproduced (the top one) and the large reddish quartzite biface was used as the reference for both a spear point and adze blade.

For this quartzite hammerstone, I went through my bag of hammerstones and found one that had a similar size and shape to the Sheshatshiu artifact.   If you've attended a MUNArch flintknapping workshop in the past few years, there is a pretty good chance that you used this hammerstone and therefore you helped make this reproduction.

This is a little rougher looking cobble that is meant to represent a possible pestle in the collection.  Its a softer rock that probably wouldn't last long as a hammerstone, but it may have been used for grinding ochre or pulverizing other materials at the site.  Mostly unmodified rocks like this present their own problems when trying to reproduce them.  Finding a cobble that matches the artifact is kind of like finding a perfect match for a specific snowflake.
All of the pieces.  Quartzite, chert, charcoal, softwood, spruce, tamarack, rawhide, gut, sinew, hide glue, spruce gum, red ochre, caribou skin, beach cobble, caribou antler

The quartzite biface hafted as a spear point is one of my favourite pieces in the collection.  It has a nice weight to it.

Seeing this coming at you would suck, if you were a caribou.

The scraper, hafted in an Innu style handle.

A side-notched point hafted with red ochre and spruce gum into a wood foreshaft with sinew lashing.

A grey banded chert knife hafted in a caribou antler handle.  The handle is designed to fit into the spear as a short foreshaft.

The red quartzite biface is shown here hafted as an adze blade in an antler socket lashed to a wood handle with rawhide.

The Sheshatshiu Intermediate Period Set
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 18, 2014

Intermediate Period Quartzite Biface - Spear or Adze?

Identical quartzite bifaces are hafted
in each of these tools - one as an
adze and one as a spear.
This was a fun reproduction, or pair of reproductions to make.  It shows two alternative interpretations of a red quartzite biface from the 3000 year old archaeological site in Sheshatshiu, Labrador. In one version the tool is hafted as a spear point and in the other it's hafted as an adze.  I love that the exhibit designers for the Labrador Interpretation Centre opted to show both concepts.  Often when I'm commissioned to work on a set of reproductions there are artifacts in the set that could be interpreted in a number of different ways.  Is it a knife or a harpoon endblade?  A dart point or an arrowhead?  I usually prepare a quote for the client based on each of the interpretations and then they pick the one option that fits their storyline or budget the best.  In this case, the designers came to me with two competing interpretations and rather than lock the exhibit into one of the options, they elected to show both ideas.

For a bit of context, you can see the original artifact in this video clip. What do you see?


The two reproductions in their
hafts flanking a photo reference
of the original artifact.
I don't want to prejudice either option by saying which version I prefer, but I will say that after making both of them, I think they are both plausible interpretations.  As I assembled them there were pros and cons to each design, but I didn't encounter any issues or technical reasons why one version would be impossible.  There are analogs in the archaeological record for both chipped stone adzes and wide stemmed spear points. At the same time, one is probably wrong and one is probably right, but I don't really know which is which.  Its kind of a Schrodinger's reproduction - simultaneously correct and incorrect at the same time.

Radically different tools and interpretations stemming from the same artifact.

Adzes are wood working tools, kind of like
a chisel hafted onto a small axe handle.
In support of the interpretation of the tool as a spear point, it does appear to be thinned at the base, ground along the wide parallel sided stem but left sharp and serrated along the leaf shaped edges toward the tip, which also appears to have impact damage.   On the other hand, the projectile points found at the site are much smaller and side-notched rather than stemmed.  Ground stone woodworking tools are curiously missing from the assemblage, but the people living there 3000 years ago must have worked wood somehow.  The slight grinding around the base may also be a bit of usewear or it may have been intentionally ground to smooth and even out the edge, which is important in a chipped stone woodworking tool to remove unintentional platforms that could accidentally detach flakes during use.   After all, hard wood can be used as a billet to knock flakes off of knapped tools, so using a chipped stone blade as an woodworking tool would be risky business if you weren't careful with the angles and platforms that you leave exposed on the working edge.

The antler socket is a shock
absorber and creates a larger
hafting area to lash the stone
blade to the handle.
Originally I thought that I would tie the biface directly to the wood adze handle, but as I started to assemble it I decided that a caribou antler socket lashed to the handle with rawhide would be a much more practical solution.  Perhaps the pointed end of the quartzite biface is actually there to help wedge the tool more tightly into the socket and the impact damage is really from contact with the inside of the socket.  I have seen comparable chips happen in handles when retooling things like projectile points and drills. The socket needed to be quite deep to fit the profile of the tool and I used a bit of hide glue to lock it in, although I could have done the same with pitch.  I think I elected for hide glue so that the join between the blade and the antler socket would be more visible.   I only made one version of this tool and it needs to survive to deliver to the client so I'm not going to be able to use it to determine whether it could actually function as a adze, but from what I've seen it is certainly sharp and I think it's a reasonable interpretation.

Hafted as a spear, the quartzite biface creates a much more
robust lance than the small side notched projectile points
recovered from the site.
Hafting the biface as a spear point was fairly straightforward.  I used pitch made from spruce gum, red ochre, and charcoal for the glue with gut for the lashing.  I scaled up the dimensions of the foreshaft to match the scale of the biface, but the foreshaft is still designed to fit the same five foot long mainshaft as the side-notched point and knife mentioned in previous posts.  Its a different scale than the other points and so it would probably have been used in a different way; perhaps on different game or as a stabbing lance as opposed to a thrown or launched projectile. Like the adze, I'm sure this would be a perfectly serviceable spear or lance.

What do you think?  Is one of the interpretations more or less likely?  Is there a third (or fourth) option that we didn't consider?  Leave a comment - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

An adze?

A spear?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Intermediate Period Spear Reproduction

The hafted reproduction
alongside a 1:1 photo of the
original artifact
This is a hafted reproduction of an Intermediate Period spear or dart point based on an artifact found in an approximately 3000 year old archaeology site in Sheshatshiu, Labrador.  It is hafted in to a foreshaft with spruce gum and red ochre glue and sinew lashing.  The foreshaft is fit into a main shaft that is based on historic Innu caribou hunting spears.  The historic period spears had permanently fixed iron spear heads and were used for spearing caribou in close quarters, especially from canoes while the caribou were swimming.  

The foreshaft and socket
The recorded lengths of Innu spears range from 4 feet to well over 7 and a half feet long, although most of the references I've come across are in the 4 to 6 foot range.  For this reproduction I used a main shaft that is just over a five feet long and the total length of the spear is around six or six and a half feet, depending on which of the foreshafts is mounted in it.  Like the historic spears, the socket of the main shaft is reinforced with lashing to prevent splitting.  I used gut for this lashing and spruce for the mainshaft.  Other details borrowed from the historic Innu spears is the straight, non-tapering shaft with a consistent circular cross-section of a little over 2 cm.  There is also a small knob on the butt end of the spear, presumably this was there to assist in thrusting and retrieving the spear.

Spruce mainshaft, softwood foreshaft, gut and sinew lashing, red ochre and spruce gum binding. The mainshaft is 5 feet 1 inch long and when fitted with this foreshaft, the complete spear is 6 feet long. (click to enlarge)

The antler knife handle is tapered at
the end so it will also fit into the
spear mainshaft.
The interchangeable foreshafts will allow the interpreters to change the character of the spear by swapping out different foreshafts mounted with different point styles.  In total, there will be three different foreshafts, each mounted with a different biface or projectile point, including the knife that I mentioned in the last blog post.  The one limit will be the mainshaft itself.  Its a very good representation of a handheld thrusting spear, but it is not an aerodynamic design and doesn't easily lend itself to the interpretation of many of the notched bifaces as projectile points, perhaps fitted onto darts that were launched with a spear thrower.  Imagine a slighter shaft, with more of a barrel shape, lacking a knob on the butt end and perhaps outfitted with feathers to create drag and spin.  Again, that's one of the benefits of the detachable foreshaft technology.  The same foreshaft that could be fit onto this thrusting mainshaft could also be used on a light dart designed to be hurled at prey with a throwing stick or atlatl.

I had a choice of projectile points to use on this reproduction.  I went with the point with the tip damage over the more complete examples because I found a stone that was a very good match to the original artifact.
 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Monday, April 14, 2014

Intermediate Period Chert Knife Reproduction

A small knife like this was lost in
Labrador about 3000 years ago.
This is another reproduction in the Intermediate Period set based on artifacts found by Scott Neilsen's crew in Sheshatshiu, Labrador.  Like all the other pieces in this set, only the lithic component of the tool was preserved, so the organic handle and binding materials are educated guesses.  For this particular biface we went with red ochre and spruce gum glue and sinew for the lashing.  The red ochre is based on the abundance of ochre staining found in the site.  We also used antler for the handle to bring caribou into the story.  Caribou hunting would have been very important to the Intermediate Period people living in the area of North West River and Sheshatshiu 3000 years ago, so we want to reflect that in the artifact reproductions.

Intermediate Period Knife Reproduction.  Banded chert blade, red ochre and spruce gum glue, sinew lashing, antler handle
The banded chert
is not a bad match
for the original.
The design of the handle is quite simple, although we purposefully kept it long and narrow so that it could double as a foreshaft for a spear or dart.  Making the handle serve a dual purpose keeps the interpretation of the biface as a knife a little more flexible as well as demonstrating that tools could serve multiple purposes across their lifetime.  The same projectile point that was used to hunt a caribou, could be used as a small knife to butcher the animal.  I'm still working on the mainshaft that will fit this knife and a couple other hafted bifaces, so I might have to do a small bit of shaping on the end, but I think its finished enough now for you to get the idea.

This piece will be used in support of an exhibit on the archaeology at Sheshatshiu that is being developed for the Labrador Interpretation Centre.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Friday, April 11, 2014

Quartzite Biface

I had a bit of trouble getting my hands on red quartzite for a couple of important artifact reproductions in the Sheshatshiu Intermediate Period set, but my luck recently changed.  This is one of two copies of a particular biface (below) that I need to make and haft.

This photo shows the original artifact.  There are a couple different interpretations of what this tool might have been used for and I'm going to make two versions and haft them in two different ways to illustrate the different theories.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Half Mast

Flags at The Rooms and Memorial University of Newfoundland were flying today at Half Mast in honour of Priscilla Renouf, a professor at MUN and the first chair of The Rooms board.  The Rooms is shown above and the church in the lower left distance is The Basilica Cathedral.  
Photo Credits: Tim Rast
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