The Magic of Sinew

SINEW

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Elk leg sinews dried and ready for processing.

Sinew  is the term used to describe tendon or ligament in more formal English. It is the cord that connects muscle to bone or bone to bone in skeletal animals.  Like rope, it is made up of bundles of bundles of bundles as shown in this anatomical illustration.

Foot Anatomy

For our purposes, sinew is a true gift to the primitive technologist, survivalist, or low-tech hunter as it provides us with so many possibilities.  Sinew is the fiber stripped from animal tendons and used as a strong thread or it can be braided or plied together to make a stronger cord or rope.  It can be used to make bow strings, tie objects together permanently, backing and strengthening a bow, or lashing spear or arrow points onto their shafts.  It binds well with hide glue, having almost identical chemistry (collagen).  This causes it to act a lot like duct tape, binding and sticking to most surfaces.

It is also important to know that every human on Earth had access to and likely utilized sinew in the pre-modern world.  It is a gift of nature that aided our ancestors in the making of compound and composite tools.

Here are two recently hafted spear points points.  If you haven’t worked with sinew, its difficult to convey just how amazing and useful this material is.  It has been called the “duct tape” of prehistory but it is even better than that.  It not only holds well and is remarkably strong, but shrinks and strengthens as it cures.  The points above were hafted (tied on) with sinew dipped in hide glue to create a solid  and tight hold on points.  This method holds up very well for throwing darts or spears and is nearly impossible to break.

https://www.nps.gov/museum/exhibits/nepe/exb/dailylife/FoodGathering/NEPE1796_Bow2.jpg

Sinew backing and binding on a Nez Perce bow. Courtesy of NPS.

If you hunt (or know someone who does), you can acquire this from the legs and back straps (the strap covering the tenderloins) of nearly any animal of size.  Elk, bison, and deer are obvious candidates for long pieces and are readily available in North America. Smaller animals such as rabbit can be used, but as in so may things, longer can really be better.  The main issue I have with the shorter sinews is that it is more difficult to work wet as it must be continually added while binding.

Plate LXIXThe more you know…

On the Antiquity of Gourds

Gourds have played an important role in human history in both the Old World and New.  The origin, domestication, and spread of this and other plants was a topic of much conversation when I was in graduate school.  It seems now that its antiquity and introduction to the Americas is becoming much clearer.  This humble but amazing plant is securing its place in early American prehistory.

Ancient Humans Brought Bottle Gourds To The Americas From Asia

Thick-skinned bottle gourds widely used as containers by prehistoric peoples were likely brought to the Americas some 10,000 years ago by individuals who arrived from Asia, according to a new genetic comparison of modern bottle gourds with gourds found at archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere. The finding solves a longstanding archaeological enigma by explaining how a domesticated variant of a species native to Africa ended up millennia ago in places as far removed as modern-day Florida, Kentucky, Mexico and Peru.

Read more about it here:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051214081513.htm

Archaeological Work in Progress

I don’t normally share my professional work on this blog but thought it might be of interest.  We were out re-recording a rock shelter yesterday known for some rather mysterious pictographs.  Mysterious in that they are vague and probably mostly wiped out due to weathering.  Only the protected portions of the shelter contain clear images and only one image is a petroglyph (pecked as opposed to painted).

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Looking for hidden glyphs.

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There are no clear cultural symbols that would tie these panels to a single time period or affiliation but there are some hints at an Archaic connection (or at least stories about the Archaic).  It is strongly suspected that the site has been known and has been collected on for at least two centuries as Europeans  had a presence here since the early 18th century.  This may account for the complete lack of diagnostic artifacts on the site.  However, diagnostic points have been collected nearby and show a strong association with the Missouri Late Archaic tradition in the form of Langtry points.

Hope you enjoy some vicarious archaeology.

Bone Sewing Needles (a brief history of…)

11,000 year old bone needle from the Horn Rock Shelter, Texas.

11,000 year old bone needle from the Horn Rock Shelter, Texas.

I still remember when one of my professors, in a lecture about culture-changing innovations, discussed the eyed needle as both a major technological innovation and a proxy for much more. Eyed needles imply sewing and it is not a major leap to conjecture some level of tailored clothing and bags. Leather was abundant in hunter-gatherer societies and can be made into many things. Humans moved into cold climates early on and well-made clothing is a real boon in that environment. Unfortunately, for the archaeologist, such small, degradable materials rarely survive outside caves and rock shelters. The best, oldest example I am aware of in the Americas is the Horn Rock Shelter in Bosque County, Texas. Have a look at the short history below and check out the Texas Beyond History page for more about Horn Shelter.

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Bone needles and sewing kit made by the author.

Making Tools

Back to the beginnings.  Larry Kinsella is a great flint knapper and an all-around talented guy who, amongst other things, recreates stone-age technologies from his home near Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (one of the great cities of the prehistoric world) in Illinois.

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A 6.35 kilogram (14 US pound) nodule of Burlington chert.

Back in 2008, Larry, prompted by Tim Baumann, created a great lithic experiment for a Missouri Archaeology Month poster.

On May 28th,2008, Larry received an e-mail from Dr. Tim Baumann:
Larry, “I still need your help with the Missouri Archaeology Month Poster.
The theme for 2008 is prehistoric lithic resources in Missouri. The back of the poster will have unmodified samples of chert and other lithic resources used by Native Americans in Missouri. I am working with Jack Ray and utilizing his new book on Ozarks lithic resources. Jack is also organizing the fall symposium on this same topic, which will be held on Saturday, Sept.27 at Meramec State Park in Sullivan, MO. If you would like to give a presentation at this event, please contact Jack.

For the front of the poster, I would like to show the entire assemblage of lithic debitage and tools made from a single Burlington chert cobble or similar light colored chert. I was hoping that you and/or some of your friends at the Devil’s hole knap-in would be willing to supply the raw material and muscle to create this assemblage. I will then take the debitage and tools and arrange them with a computer design program into a spiral pattern with a background of obsidian or another dark colored lithic source.”
Since this original contact, a few things were changed. Pete Bostrom was asked to do the layout and photography, for one.
As with any project, unexpected hurdles arise and it’s up to the participants to modify their strategies and adapt to those hurdles.
 
First:
     After Larry blanked out the nodule, it became apparent that he was producing much more debitage and many more tools than he had anticipated. That’s when he decided to stick with only a Late Archaic Assemblage. The wide variability in point sizes, shapes, and chert, along with the occurrence of many different types of chert tools, during the Late Archaic, seemed to gravitate toward that time period. Also, the tools could have been heat-treated if the stone had not worked as well as it did.
Second:
   It also became apparent that this project presented a unique opportunity to try to understand the amount of material needed to produce certain point types. So, after the initial photograph of the raw nodule was taken by  Pete Bostrom, and at the suggestion of Dr. Baumann, Larry saved all debitage, from all the point-making attempts, separately. This provided the opportunity to not only see what type of point could be made from a single spall but also, the other tools could be isolated to their specific spalls.
Third:
The sheer amount of material produced during the project, presented Pete Bostrom with problems too. How could he possibly display all that material and make it interesting to the general public? After all,  that’s what the poster’s supposed to do, get the general public interested in archaeology.
So:
1) It was decided to keep all debitage, from each spall, separate.
2) Keep separate notes and times on each spall using Larry’s pre-printed forms. Like this:
3) Photograph the resulting point types with their debitage.
4) Use the debitage from each point to make additional tools.
5) Photograph each point type, its additional tools, and debitage, together.
6) Screen all debitage, from each spall, through window screen, to determine how much chert grit would have been available to do core-drilling for other projects, such as, drilling bannerstones.
7) Weigh all materials. (Dr. Bauman weighed all the material, in Larry’s absence, due to surgery).
8) Present Pete Bostrom with all the material so he could lay out and take the photographs for the poster.
9) Present the photos to the printer so the posters could be made.
 
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Initial reduction from core to useful materials.

After reduction, each piece took it own trajectory and became a projectile point, other tool, or was cast away as debitage.  Students of archaeology (and some professionals I know) can learn much from this type of experiment by examining the range and number of flaking debris generated in a single reduction episode.

nodule14lbgrouplargeAfter Pete received the materials, he created this excellent poster which is a remarkable work of art in its own right.  Have a look at Larry’s pages explaining the process and learn something of the universal human technology that put us, for better or worse, in the place we are today.

The Breheimen Bronze Age Bow – 1300 BC

Breheimen Bronze Age Bow 2

On 7 September 2011, an advanced constructed and complete bow was found at the edge of the Åndfonne glacier in Breheimen mountain range. The C14 dating shows that Norway’s oldest and best preserved bow is 3300 years old. 

The 131 centimeters long bow was discovered by archaeologists in connection with the last check before summer fieldwork was completed. The bow was found at the ice edge about 1700 meters above sea level. This shows how important it is that archaeologists are present just when the ice is melting.

Findings of complete bows are very rare, and it turned out even rarer after the results of the C14 dating returned from the laboratory in the U.S.: The bow turned out to be 3300 years old – dating back to about 1300 BC – in other words from the early Bronze Age.

(article continues)

Breheimen Bronze Age Bow 1

It is the oldest bow ever found in…

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Megalithic Art at Midnight: King’s Mountain, Co. Meath

ShadowsandStone.com Blog

Down a narrow track off a minor country road, the pillar at King’s Mountain sits upright in a field like a beautifully decorated standing stone. This stone however is quite special, being the solitary remaining roofstone or lintel of a long destroyed passage tomb type monument which had been built around 5,500 years ago. Just five kilometers away is one of Ireland’s greatest passage tomb cemeteries from the Neolithic or Late Stone Age, the Loughcrew complex of decorated chambered tombs. These are also visible against the sky from this spot.  Meath is a relatively low lying county so even though the hills at Loughcrew are not particularly high, they do dominate the lowlands for many miles around.

Though they had been noted by a Miss Beaufort in 1828, the passage tombs at Loughcrew were first formally described by Eugene Conwell in 1864 and presented as ‘The Tomb of Ollamh Fodhla’ in…

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Heritage and Preservation

Imagine how different heritage preservation would be in America if our feeling of kinship and stewardship were more like those in Europe. If, instead of viewing the prehistoric heritage of the New World as something to exploit and profit from in a very short-sighted manner, we, as landowners were to view ourselves as caretakers of these treasures for future generations. Heritage management can be a very different model in other parts of the world.

The Heritage Journal

A guest post by Philip I. Powell. First published at
http://www.facebook.com/megalithicmonuments.ireland, reproduced with permission.

TOORMORE WEDGE TOMB

RMP No. CO148-001

A colleague, on a recent visit to a wedge tomb in west Cork, was shocked to find it being used as an out-house, containing trash bins, old rubbish and strewn with litter. I find this totally unacceptable, to see such callous disregard for a national monument and deeply concerned about what we really think about our national heritage. Is it that, unless it is given national attention via the state & independent media networks, we actually don’t care! Or are we saying that certain monuments deserve protection and others are perhaps not worthy of such protection.

All recorded archaeological monuments are protected under the National Monuments Acts 1930-2004 and this applies to every single one of them and not just the high profile monuments such as Newgrange,  Poulnabrone, the Hill of…

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