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Stone Age Skills

Random Paleolithic Ponderings

I made this display a couple years ago for use in my Stone Age Skills programs. Jeff Gottlieb of NY made the large awl (I decorated it).

If you are fortunate enough to find some native sulfur, throw some sparks on it using percussion fire-making. It will light without any further assistance. Just don’t absent-mindedly inhale the fumes as I did!
The torch is made of bamboo and a cattail head. Note the well (partial internode) that the cattail sits in—it is full of olive oil. I have subsequently used rendered bear fat successfully (thanks Sue!).
I was teaching a Throwing Sticks class in the Olympic Peninsula of WA. This girl had a great, focused stance!
I took these negative-image photos on the western coast of the Olympic Peninsula of WA, near Wedding Rocks and the Ozette (Makah Nation) Village archaeological site. These petroglyphs are 300-500 years old.
Since knapping damages my wrists, I’ve taken to using quartz crystals, that I find, in a variety of ways—as drill points, burins and bone/rock/shell scorers.
Stone Oil/Fat Lamps
Thanks to Ken Wee for sending me the marcasite and flint striker. Green, fresh mugwort (Artemisia suksdorfii) leaves will smolder via percussion firestarting.
The Birch Polypore will also smolder...
Speaking of fungi, this slab of Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum) makes a great hearthboard for bow drill and hand drill. In fact, this mushroom will work better than a lot of woods! One of my most enjoyable hand drill experiences occurred while I was using a 3.5-foot mullein spindle on this fungal hearthboard. I was demonstrating the phenomenon in front of the Puget Sound Mycological Society!
My favorite bow drill handhold. I picked up this unaltered rock on the beaches of Pescadero, CA. It lasted through a couple thousand (literally—see my Bow Drill article) ember attempts and is the most useful, longest-lasting, most reliable tool I’ve ever possessed. Even though I’ve given up bow drill in deference to the in-every-way-possible superiority of the hand drill, I kept this rock. I love it almost as much as I love Mr. Bunny…
In my quest to try everything, I have made bow drill embers on rock. I picked up this rock the same day I found the above-mentioned bow drill handhold. This rock belongs to the Tafoni Geology Complex of the Monterey Formation. Scott Kuipers and I report success using bone hearthboards, and there is ethnographic evidence of Aleuts using ivory. Try everything. That is the only way we are going to grow…
"A firestart was made from a large unworked chunk of granite or other hard stone. It has a pitted surface consisting of a series of small holes 1 to 2 inches in diameter by 5/32 to 1/2 inch deep....Small chips of wood or wood dust were placed in a hole. A hardwood stick was inserted, and by rotating the stick rapidly a small smoldering fire was generated."
- Dictionary of Prehistoric Indian Artifacts of the American Southwest
(Franklin Barnett, 1973)
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