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Sunday August 12, 2018

A Slate Knife

Apart from heavy tools like axes and adzes, ground stone tools (including knives) are poorly documented in much of the southeastern U.S. Atypical forms do, however, occur sporadically in late prehistoric Lamar contexts, generally made of schist or other local Piedmont materials that split readily into relatively thin slabs. Here I have selected a thin scrap of slate requiring minimal modification to make a knife. This was done by grinding and shaping the edges on increasingly finer grades of stone, with a final edge polish done with wet charcoal. Edge polishing is not done purely to impart keenness--it renders the relatively soft stone somewhat more resistant to chipping or breakage, much in the same way that basal grinding strengthens considerably the haft areas of Early Archaic and Paleoindian projectile points. These knives are not suitable for use on hard materials such as wood, but perform well where a long cutting edge is desirable for processing soft materials such as meat or vegetation. Obverse and reverse shown.

Wednesday August 08, 2018

Experimenting with Shell Tools

In addition to Late Archaic bone pins, part of the current project involves replication and general experimentation with tools made of marine shell. I have found that chisels and gouges are often difficult to make and problematic to use. Bone and antler have long been my preferred material for working green or soft wood, but these also have limitations. Marine gastropod shell is impressively tough, and holds an edge extremely well. Shown here are two small examples of knobbed whelk (B. carica), both of which have been sharpened on the base/anterior portion of the columella. The whorled spire portion of the shell gives an impression of fragility, but it is quite durable and will withstand being pounded with a hardwood mallet (bottom). Here, a mortise is being cut into a section of green sweetgum to accommodate the greenstone celt blade.

Thursday August 2, 2018

An Archival Photo

I've been at this for a while. An archive photo of me (on right) sometime in the early 1990s, sent to me by the Archaeological Society of South Carolina. Probably from one of the ASSC's Fall Field Day events.

Monday July 30, 2018

Arrow foreshaft

Cane arrows can be foreshafted in the same manner as atlatl darts, but with some adjustments. Instead of being easily removable and replaceable, arrow foreshafts are best as a permanent installment. This one has been shouldered in such a way as to fit precisely into the distal portion of the arrow shaft. It is ultimately inserted, glued, and bound into the arrow. The arrow point can be hafted directly into the cane, but the wooden foreshaft allows for the adjustment of the weight and balance of the arrow.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Archaic Bone Pins Revisited

Early in my career I became aware of the significance of bone as a material for utilitarian and decorative items. At the time (the late 1980s), Middle and Late Archaic bone pins were a hot topic, as their black market value had soared. I made a number of them around that time, learning to decorate them appropriately with a simplified primitive version of scrimshaw. Over the years, bone pins— the precise function of which is unknown, despite much speculation— remained part of my technological repertoire, but took a backseat to practical tools such as awls.

My recent archaeological work on a coastal shell ring in South Carolina, however, has thrust these beautiful and enigmatic artifacts yet again into my thinking, and I am back to replicating them. The decorated awl-like one in the center of the photo was completed yesterday, the bold incising filled with charcoal-tempered pitch for permanence. Part of my task is to break down the stages of manufacture and decoration, and document this multi-step process. In case you're wondering, yes, the four bound pairs on the left are chopsticks. And yes, I can use them.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Fletching (Part 2)

The finished helical fletching on the arrow (left) and atlatl dart (right). I opted to bind these with linen thread rather than sinew, and secured with hide glue.

Wednesday, July 25 2018

Fletching (Part 1)

Two pairs of feathers...whatever could these be for? Fletchings, of course! I covered southeastern ("Cherokee") helical two-feather fletching in a six-photo instructional panel in A View to the Past, so this isn't strictly a tutorial, but this simple yet underutilized method deserves a bit more exposure. The white pair (top) are domestic goose, the curvature of the shaft (rachis) indicating they are from the same wing, which, when applied to the projectile shaft, will impart the proper stabilizing spin on the projectile--an atlatl dart, in this case.

An examination of the dark pair (bottom, from turkey) will show they are from opposite sides of the bird. "But Scott", you may ask, "don't you say to ALWAYS use feathers from the same side or wing of the bird?" Generally, yes, but this is the exception that proves the rule; both of these feathers are straight, symmetrical, and the vanes of both are similar in size and thickness, making it possible to use these together for arrow fletching. The second photo shows both pairs with the vanes and shafts trimmed in preparation for attachment to the dart and arrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Some Early Archaic Foreshaft Replications

I no longer officially make reproduction exhibit items, but I agreed to make a small number of items the Edisto Island Museum, as well as compose the exhibit text and provide some source images of my replications. This photo shows four of my Early Archaic foreshafts. The top two in the first photo are among my oldest ones, made sometime around 1990 (the upper one is hafted using pitch, the other with hide glue). The lower two are recent, with the bottom example on track to tip the atlatl dart for the Edisto exhibit. The second photo is a closeup of the business ends.

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Favorite Thing

A Savannah River pp/k I made sometime in the early or mid 1990s. The material is banded rhyolite. For a time, it was just another large biface I'd made, and early on it saw a fair amount of hands-on use. At the time, however, I needed a "big arrowhead" to help introduce the projectile point concept in my "12,000 Years in 45 Minutes" show, and it fit the bill admirably. It became integrated into my school program material, and well over two decades of handling and occasional use have given it a lovely patina, making it an artifact (of sorts) of my work and career.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Kombewa Technique (part 4 of 4)

Schematic showing Kombewa flake production.

José-Manuel Benito Álvarez/Public domain image/Wikimedia Commons

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Kombewa Technique (part 3 of 4)

Side view of the flake tool. Bulbs of force are evident on both faces (at top).

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Kombewa Technique (part 2 of 4)

Reverse of the flake tool posted yesterday. Note that this side also has a bulb of force (and erailure scar) at top. Retouch is also more evident on this side.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Kombewa Technique (part 1 of 4)

As nearly always for me, the most interesting artifacts aren't big, flawless projectile points. So no one will be surprised that I was most intrigued by this artifact from a collection at the 2017 Athens artifact show. In the wake of the interest and discussion about it, I thought it would be worth publicizing the little-known technique by which it was manufactured. Not unlike the strategically complex Levallois technique, this artifact (a carefully retouched flake tool) was made by the Kombewa method, the execution of which also requires considerable planning and preparation, and is extremely unlikely to be produced by accident. (When I first learned about this technique--now well over 20 years ago--I expended a fair amount of time and stone replicating it, so I speak from experience here.)

Correctly done, this results in a percussion bulb on both faces of the flake, and no ridges or arises. This is sometimes desirable since ridges can be a source of friction during tool use. Judging from the patination, this Coastal Plain chert artifact appears to be Paleoindian or Early Archaic in age, and is unique in that it this method is heretofore virtually unknown in the New World. As I noted in a chapter in "Postcards to the Past", it was occasionally used for handaxes in the Old World as well as for the distinctive obsidian tanged knives of Easter Island.

Photos by Joe Wilkinson

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Odds and Ends from the Knapping Debris Pile

You don't have to be around me long to learn that I value self-study as an means of understanding archaeological materials and processes. Here are some items recently recovered from my scrap heap, most of which I estimate to be 20+ years old.

Top row, bifaces (L-R: coarse rhyolite, two glass, quartzite, quartz, and local metavolcanic); center row, two unifaces (quartz, Tallahatta quartzite, working edges on top), three retouched flake tools/knives (working edges on left, lower distal tip of the middle example appears to have been used as an expedient drill/perforator). Bottom left, discoid biface, judging from the step fracture (visible at top), this is an aborted small Levallois core (yeah, I went through that phase); burin spall (a diagnostic byproduct of my long-standing microdrill fascination); flake of green chert that I can't identify--while I can typically ID probably 99% of the material in my pile, this isn't one of them. It's NOT St. Louis, Ridge and Valley, moss agate from India, nor the heat-treated green component of the Coastal Plain chert. It's not right for Normanskill, either. I suspect it's an exotic given to me by someone. And a soapstone effigy bird--one of several such items made by Emma not long after she moved in.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Welcome to the blog!

Greetings all, welcome to the Media Prehistoria blog. Having largely ceased activity on Facebook, I decided I would go old-school with a platform that allows me to post items of interest. If you’re interested in primitive skills and want to keep up with what I’m doing, I encourage you to follow this blog.