Photo Gallery

I’ve added a photo gallery in the sidebar to the right of the main blog feed.  I think nearly all these projects have been shared here over the years but this makes for easy viewing.  I’ll continue to add images and re-post some older work as I get time so please check back feel free to continue the feedback, and I hope you enjoy.

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Or just click the image to get to the gallery.

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Primitive Arts

Today I’m prepping to present some primitive skills on Saturday, from raw materials to finished goods. I’m also getting some kid’s activities together to draw in the latest generation.

An assortment of stone-age technology laid out to take to the public.

Medieval Turnshoes

I’m re-sharing an older post of some experimental turnshoes I made quite a few years ago.  These were based on some Scandinavian examples from the archaeological record.  They came out pretty good for a first try.  My only modification would be to tighten the width through the arch and lengthen the toe area slightly.  I have since learned that this problem has been well-understood for centuries by shoe makers and is why modern shoe lasts often look long and narrow to the amateur eye.

Finally “finished” enough.  These were rubbed down with a “tea” made from walnut juice, worn dry, and later oiled.

This was my first attempt at a proper turnshoe.  Basically a variation on the shoes worn in Europe and parts of Asia from the Iron Age (ca. 500 B.C.) through the early modern times (ca. 1700s).  This pair is made without a last (form) so construction is similar to other moccasin-type shoes.  There are quite a large number of early shoes found in archaeological contexts in Europe so many designs are known.  This is inspired by, but not slavish to, shoes found in the British Isles and Scandinavia in the early part of the last millennium.

I was sorry to not document the pattern making but, as can be figured, the upper is a single piece side-seam make by wrapping the foot, marking a rough outline of the plane where the upper meets the sole, cutting off the wrapping, and cutting to shape.  Really, I’ll try to make record of this in the future but, for now, I suspect there are other tutorials out there.  Besides sewing, the turning is definitely the toughest job as this was some very thick, tough leather.

Still damp from the turning and shaping.

My slightly sloppy side-seam.

Primitive Fishing

My fishing kit is coming together and I added another hook and leader last night.

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The left hook and gorge are made from deer cannon bone (metacarpal) and the right is whitetail deer antler.  The antler hooks are proving to be tougher and less likely to snap under tension.  The leaders here are yucca and stronger than I would have thought.  Hopefully, we can test them out sometime very soon.

Learning by Replication

I study the technology of prehistory.  Because of this, I believe strongly in the benefits of experiential archaeology.  It gives perspective on a very deep level.  We can walk in the shoes of our ancestors, so to speak.  I say experiential here not experimental and I’m glad to hear this word coming into the dialog of other primitive technology people.  While not trying to dwell on the words themselves, it is an important distinction.  Experimental generally implies the ability to replicate an actual experiment (i.e., testing a hypothesis to see what you find).

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Experimental pottery; gathering materials, construction, paint, and firing.  Click the image to see more about this project.

True experiments are things like:

  • Can a tree be cut down using an exact replica of a prehistoric axe?
  • Is it possible to move a ten ton stone over long distances using only the technology and manpower available in the Neolithic? 
  • Can fire be made by rubbing sticks together? 
  • Will a Medieval arrow penetrate 14 gauge armor plate?

You certainly gain the experience through these experiments but you are also testing something specific with something like a yes or no answer.  Experimental archaeology can create some popular misconceptions as well.  Just because something could be done, doesn’t mean that prehistoric people must have done it that way.

Replicated woven sandals from the Southern High Plains and the greater Southwest.  Produced from narrow-leaf yucca.

Replicated woven sandals as found on the Southern High Plains and throughout the greater Southwest. Produced from narrow-leaf yucca (by Stacey Bennett).

Experiential archaeology integrates this and everything else learned along the way.  E.g., How comfortable are these shoes, is there more or less back pain using a tump line on a pack, what kind of wear can be expected on arrow fletchings over time?  This allows us to ask even more questions and have a fuller knowledge of ancient peoples.

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Testing silk lashed goose feather fletching. Clicking the image links to bamboo arrow making.

I really enjoy the various directions replication takes the maker.  Learning the finer points of cutting and scraping with stone flakes or abraders, working with antler and wood, creating glues and mastics, and developing an appropriate paint or sealer as on the spear thrower below.

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Upper Paleolithic-style spear thrower.  Image links to the “how to” for making this thrower.

Whatever you do and whenever you learn, it’s all good.

Antler and Bone

Despite my lack of free time currently, I have been re-inspired to get back to antler and bone as a medium for tool production.  My only issue with them is that they are enormously time intensive.  Even using a modern saw and occasionally a steel rasp these take a lot of energy to make.  However, the end product is amazing and I would really think they are often underestimated in the archaeological and primitive technology communities.  The rarity of these materials leaves most of us with such a lack of familiarity with them that they take a back seat to lithic weapons in study.  A little experiential archaeology goes a long way to clarify the devastating effectiveness these points have.

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Antler point and “scraper”-like tool used to produce it.

Archaeological terms that include function in the name are loaded from the beginning.  The term scraper is bandied about with little regard for the tool’s actual function. I believe, and experiments bear this out, that the type of unifacial knife-scraper-planer combo, shown above, was the essential backbone of a hunter’s tool kit for much of our prehistoric past.

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More antler points.

I don’t have ready access to the beautiful reindeer or caribou antler so treasured by our Upper Paleolithic ancestors but large mule deer, white tailed deer, and elk can suffice in a pinch.  Just as in Europe 15,000 years ago, these would be effective weapons against land or marine mammals of all sized.  My fairly limited use of antler points in “real life” indicates that antler is much tougher than stone and is easily resharpened if it is dulled or damaged.

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Tanged arrow point of antler.

The pithy cancelous (spongy) tissue inside some antler makes them less than perfect for large points.  The denser tissue on the outside can be cut off and works well for flat projects, like buttons or, in the above case, an arrow point.

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Sewing kit.

I find that one of the tougher tasks for the primitive craftsman is the making of eyed needles.  We know these have been produced for many millennia so we can imply some fine sewing. I find the eye particularly difficult to make but, for what it’s worth, here is what I have learned.

After getting the needle close to it’s desired finished size, flatten the area that is to become the eye on each side.  This flat area keeps the flake from rolling off the work piece while piercing the bone.  Instead of circular drilling, I find it a little more efficient to just scrape a tiny oblong hole by moving the flake tool back and forth.  Be patient, this takes a long time.  Holding it up to the light will tell how deep you’ve gone. When you are nearly through, flip the needle over and finish the hole from the other side.  Once you are through you can slowly widen the hole until it’s large enough to take your intended thread.  Finally, you can narrow the cylinder around the eye to make it as small as possible after the eye is safely made.  And note: you will break some; those become the short ones.

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The indispensable awl.

An awl for heavy stitching can be made simply from the metapodial (lower leg) bone of most grazers.  This is a tough and dense bone useful for making fish hooks, needles, knives, etc. The knobby end (metapodial condials) fit in the human hand very comfortably and make a great handle or grip.  More tool experiments and replicas are being made around here in the long winter’s evenings and I hope to post them when I get some photos taken.

Too much to do!

Spear Thrower Follow Up

 

A quick follow-up on yesterday’s post in the wee hours of the morning.

Hook engaged.

Hook engaged.

Based on a question that came in yesterday it seems appropriate to show the thrower in use.  This is my favorite dart but I’m a little embarrassed by the sloppy fletching.  The base (proximal end) of the dart is carved out in a shallow cone and reinforced with some very fine hemp, coated in hide glue.  The indent should not be too deep or the hook only catches the rim and will break off bits when thrown.  It should “bottom out” for best contact.

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Hook detail.

The hook is pulled out here to show length.  I find that if the hole and pin are too deep, the release is not smooth as it binds up during the throw.

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Hole oblique.

Nothing magic, just a technology we all knew back in our family past.  I should say that there are three primary types if connection for spear throwers; this on just seems the most popular.  I hope to address the others sometime down the road.

More Paleolithic Technology in the Shop

DSC_0001 (9)I recently finished another Paleolithic inspired spear thrower (a.k.a. atlatl).  This came about due to some throwing over the past year that re-energized my feelings about this technology and it’s sporting aspects.  As usual for this type of project, I made several at once since the tools were at hand.  Here’s a quick rundown on the process of connecting an antler hook to a wooden handle.

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I cut the antler and rough out a notch for the hook. A few hours soaking in water will soften the cancellous core for easy working.

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Drilling can easily be done on the softened antler with a narrow knife, stone flake, or tapered drill bit.

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Once the hole is drilled (I take it down to about 3/8 inch or a little thicker) the handle can be roughly whittled, testing periodically for fit.

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Argh! A moment of distraction means the snap of a stone bit!

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A process of trial and error will eventually make a tight joint.

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Nearly there.

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Cleaning of the shoulders of the joint makes for a much neater look and solid connection.

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If the fit is tight, the drying cancellous tissue in the horn sticks surprisingly well. However, I want this to be maintenance-free for the owner so a drop of wood glue will insure decades of strength.  Now the slow and tedious shaping can commence.

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Antler hook after shaping.

Hickory handle after being painted with red ochre.

Here is the hickory handle after being painted with red ochre.

And, for mine, I added a turk's head knot in vegetable-tanned leather to keep hand placement consistent.

And, for mine, I added a turk’s head knot in vegetable-tanned leather to keep hand placement consistent.

My favorite style is the Western European Upper Paleolithic “hammer-handle” style thrower.  It works well with heavier darts and is a solid companion.

Simple but Ingenious

Tying your own shoes –

Before looking at the ethnographic literature I experimented with tying up some simple sandals with mixed success.  It turns out that it’s not as simple as one might think.  Now I’m a connoisseur and am always making mental notes when I see old depictions, or in the old world, images on statues.  For simple, soft lace sandals, the Tarahuamara style works perfectly.  A single lace does everything you need.

DSC_0139 (1)DSC_0138Learning from the past may save us from losing our future.

Replication

I study the technology of prehistory.  Because of this, I believe strongly in the benefits of experiential archaeology.  It gives perspective on a very deep level.  We can walk in the shoes of our ancestors, so to speak.

Replicated woven sandals from the Southern High Plains and the greater Southwest.  Produced from narrow-leaf yucca.

Replicated woven sandals as found on the Southern High Plains and throughout the greater Southwest. Produced from narrow-leaf yucca.