Saturday, June 30, 2007

Indian Longhouse and Wigwam construction

Today Ashley and I went to Jefferson Patterson Park to volunteer with the construction of the cattail reed longhouse and larger bark longhouse that Jeff Gottlieb has been supervising.. It's an amazing place, with several wigwams and longhouses. The weather was looking rather stormy/rainy, but it turned out well and we had no rain until later in the day.
The first thing we worked on was weaving cattail mats using a kind of loom. It seems like it would be a task that would take a long time, but it went rather quickly. It takes about 3 people to weave the mat with another person or more to gather reeds.
After weaving the mat you untie it and cut the strings holding it to the loom then place it on the longhouse. This is the fun part, you can climb on longhouse and wigwam frames. So, of course, I climbed up to help tie the mat to the frame. We made about 3 mats during the course of the day, then added the bark sheets to the roof of the longhouse. We finished up by working on adding bark sheets to the larger longhouse nearby.
The picture above was taken from on top of the completed bark longhouse. It shows the cattail and bark lodge, then the bark wigwam, and in the background is a side less longhouse which has 3 fire pits. You cant see it, but between the wigwam and the side less longhouse is a dugout canoe under construction.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Fired Pottery and Completed Shell Bead

Here is the completed shell bead. I already have two requests for more of these so apparently they're still as desirable as they were at Cahokia.
We also fired the pots yesterday. It turned out to be a perfect day and night for firing. We started in the afternoon Ashley used her bow drill kit to start the fire. It was the second time she's started a fire with her kit. Its a basswood on basswood set, but she also have a yucca on Western Red Cedar set she practices with. She used an elk knuckle (one I found at my friends ranch in Montana that we think may have been picked over by wolves. It was very white and clean when we found it), and tulip poplar tinder bundle with an oak gall in the center. Perhaps its because she's seen me do it so many times, but she really seems to pick up bow drill skills fairly quickly.
Once we got the fire going, we put the pots around to warm up and dry out more (we dried them for about two weeks or so prior to yesterday, and dried the larger one in the oven for a day. No drying cracks at all were visible.
We built the fire up pretty big and got it fairly hot, for about an hour before letting it burn down to coals and making a ring so we could put the pots in the center. Next step after putting the pots in is you start adding smaller pieces of wood and sticks on top of the ring of coals. These combusted fairly quickly. You continue to add on top of them and begin to place them so they form a kind of igloo of wood and fire over the pots. We added progressively larger pieces of wood, but not so large as to crush the other pieces of wood or risk breaking the pottery. You wouldn't want to put a large log on and accidentally break that nice cooking pot.
We continued to add wood and increase the temperature until I could see the pots glowing red. I was reading an article in a Society of Primitive Technology bulletin on firing pottery and I read that at this point, it is beginning to reach the temperature for ceramic change, and so you maintain this temperature for about 30-45 minutes. You could always keep it that hot for longer, but I suppose that's roughly the minimum amount of time.
You'll notice the edges of the pit are lined with bricks. I believe these might help with maintaining the temperature, or help focus the heat towards the pots.
We kept it going for another hour or so and let it die down. We left it to cool for the rest of the evening and the rest of the night. I did check it at 12 that night, but there were still embers and the pots were too hot to handle even with leather work gloves.
I pulled them out this morning and they turned out great. I did refire some pottery made with clay from Owego, New York, hoping it would harden up, but it's fairly week and still more of a soapstone consistency. Perhaps if I used some kind of grit it might have worked better.
The lighter coloured pot that you don't see in any of the other pictures is Ashley's. She made it at MAPS Meet 2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Museum of the American Indian trip

Ashley and I took a trip to DC with our families to visit the White House (Boy Scout's thing), then we headed over to the Museum of the American Indian to check out the exhibits. If you haven't been, I highly recommend going. They cover all aspects of native life (prehistory, historical, and contemporary), and many different tribes and regions. You first enter a circular room with three Native water craft. There is a kayak, an outrigger, and a reed boat made in Peru. I didn't get pictures of the other two but here is the reed boat.
It's quite a well made boat. If only tule or some other usable reed grew near here. I suppose cattail in tight bundles would work..

Anyway you then see a large cedar carving. Its quite a nice piece, carved on both sides.

There is actual alot of cedar carvings. Reminds me of Seattle.

On the second floor there are artifacts from Natives in the Chesapeake area, as well as artifacts found in Washington DC prior to there being a city there. They had a very nice beaver and buckskin bag used t o carry medicine and a few types of medicine used. I thought this would be of particular interest to any readers of this blog.

The caption under the bag and medicine says:
"Beaver Skin and leather medicine bag, 2003. Made by Mark Tayac (Piscataway). Port Tobacco, Maryland
Natural medicines still used by some Chesapeake Native families: a red corn necklace stops a nosebleed, dried eel skin soothes arthritis, calamus root calm stomach upset, and a tobacco twist and wild turkey beard are powerful ceremonial tools."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Micro Drill Project Update

Here is a picture of the micro drill kit. I used Texas Chert for the drill tip, and bamboo for the shaft. I tried on a piece of clam shell I collected in Ocean City.

At first, the drill slipped off the shell because there wasnt anything for it to grip into to stay in place. So I used the handdrill technique to get it started, then switched to bow drill.

I'd agree with Morse's findings that it took 10 minutes to drill with bow drill. It seemed to take about that long, though I didnt time it.

Right after drilling through. I continued drilling to widen it slightly.

And here is the bead being roughed out. I dont have a picture yet of the finish product, but I will later.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Microdrills Project

During some late night research, I came across articles on the Lithics Casting Lab Website about micro drills. Micro drills are small (no more than an inch and a half at most) flint or chert drill tips used in the production of beads. The article focuses on shell bead manufacture at Cahokia, and there are many great pictures of these drill tips in various states of use, including reproductions used in studies to determine exact use and effectiveness. One finding stated:

" Morse (1983) states that drilling experiments showed that it took about 10 minutes to drill a bead. Larry Kinsella timed the process a little above that. If it took 10 minutes to drill a bead during the Mississippian period at Cahokia the drilling process of the 60,000 beads found in Mound 72 alone would have taken 1,250 eight hour days of steady work to complete!"

I have a collection of clam shell pieces out back, and so I've decided to give this a try. I've known about this technique of drilling, and its not a new concept to me (I use flint drills to drill through bone and wood all the time), but the specific design of using a very small flint tip inside a cane shoot, is something I'd like to try. Plus, Ive been wanting to make some shell beads and now I have a sound design to try.
You can read more on Micro Drills here:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Well, the pottery I'm working on is nice and dry and ready to fire. It's supposed to storm tonight, and I'm not sure about tomorrow, but next clear day I'll get onto firing my pottery. I have one small bowl and another that's more like a small personal cooking pot, or a drinking cup. I used clay collected at MAPS Meet 2007, so I'm anxious to see how it turns out. I've used clay from New York and local clays found in my backyard, and they've turned out alright, although they needed a bit more firing. I'm going to put the pieces I have done in the past that weren't quite done, in with this batch. I've taken my time drying these pieces, so that the risk of exploding is reduced somewhat. No cracks are visible so that's a good sign.
I also collected clay from the Little Patuxent River. When I collected the clay it was very wet so I allowed it to dry somewhat, then put it in a bag to prevent it from drying out completely. I'll update on how that clay goes later.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bow drill videos

At the end of last summer, I posted a couple videos on youtube of me using my bowdrill set. I'll probably put new ones up that might be a bit better than the two I posted before. But regardless, here they are:

The spindle I have is an extended spindle using a deer canon bone. I used this all summer and part of the following fall before it split when I forced a new bit in without supporting it. It worked very well, reduced wear on the string, and because of its irregular shape the string gripped it fairly well. The wood in that video I believe is yucca on box elder. Works quite nicely. Box elder on Box Elder works very well too.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stone tools

Today the at the river I hafted the stone blade I made earlier. It looks quite nice, feels secure and sturdy, and can be stored in the handle when not in use. I happened upon this design on accident. I had read in the Society of Primitive Technology: A Book of Earth Skills, an article on making a primitive switch blade knife by George Stewart. This design seems to work rather well, since it means I can turn the blade around and insert it into the handle and put it in my pocket, or in my satchel and not worry about the blade getting blunt or breaking. Its possible that you could even drop it and it would be supported enough from snapping. I haven’t tested this so don’t go around making nice stone knives and dropping them on rocks to find out.

This is what the knife looks like when storied in the handle. The blade is about 3 inchs long, the handle is 3 in. x 1 in., and about 5 inches total. It also has a nice feel to it so its easy to use. I've used a number of stone tools for cutting notches, processing antlers, etc. So I'll go over the various types I regularly use.

The first type is the most basic of blades, the flake (Far left). Its easy to make and its disposable. They’re usually the by-product of knapping larger bifaces. I've used them for cutting notches in hearth boards and butchering game, as well as carving and cutting buckskin. It’s a very versatile tools and rather economic, because if you do any knapping, you’re bound to have tons of these little guys laying around. I carry a few around in a little deer legskin pouch.
The second type are blades removed carefully from a core. The blades I’ve produced tend to be long, very sharp, and could double as very lethal dart points. I generally keep them for butchering game though, since they are razor sharp.

There is a video on YouTube that shows these types of blades being removed from a core ( I've tried this, but havnt gotten the hang of it yet.

The next blade type are unhafted, knapped, leaf shaped blades. I use mine like a saw to very quickly cut notches in my heath boards. I haven’t used it for much else. Its bulky and rather heavy-duty, so its ideal for sawing through wood and tougher materials.
The final type is the Basketmaker II Sand Dune Cave Knife, as learnt from David Holladay's article "A Basketmaker II Knife System". I've seen people in Montana use similar ones, probably learnt from the same article of David Holladay himself. I used Texas Chert, yucca stem for the handle, dogbane string, and pine pitch to haft it. It worked very nicely, it can be looped over my wrist so its always at hand, and the blade can easily be replaced if it breaks or wears down, since it is made from a relatively small flake. However, I would prefer my new "switch blade" knife because it has a long edge and can cut notches better (notice a trend in cutting notches yet?).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Knapping Texas Chert

I went about spalling and knapping some chert today, and created a small, crude, but still useful blade/spear point. I'll probably end up using it as a knife. It has a rather thick spot towards the base, I was able to thin it slightly with an antler punch but it got to the point where I couldnt thin it anymore, plus I was causing some damage to the side.

It does have a nice edge though, so I'll test it by cutting notches in my hearthboard later to see what it can do. Normaly I use a Basketmaker II Sand Dune Cave Knife hafted into a yucca stalk with some pitch, using the same type of stone for the blade. This works well, although it is a short blade. I'll post later how well it works.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

First Post

Well, this is my first post in my Primitive/Ancestral Skills blog. I plan to post various gatherings, projects, etc. I do here. Hope its enjoyable, and I hope to atleast impart some knowledge to those who read it.
To the left are some of my tools and equipment on a braintanned shirt I made.