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Monday, 31 October 2016

Primitive Technology in Riddy Wood

The latest instalment of environmental archaeology and primitive technology students experiences in Riddy Wood comes courtesy of James Findlay.

The view of Riddy Wood as we approached
Dinner Time
Riddy wood sits on a natural prehistoric border between hills and ancient fen land. This was the perfect location for our hunter gatherer ancestors. I was on a trip here with the archaeology and primitive skills course at Rease Heath College. Coming here is the perfect opportunity to learn and practice skills learnt. Thousands of years ago this area would have been brimming with useful resources. We intended to use as many of these as we could on this trip to fully understand the mind-set of the people of the past and enhance our skill set. We rushed to set up camp between the trees while it was still light then cooked over the open fire.

Home Sweet Home
 The following morning, before I had emerged from my hammock, our lecturer Pete Groom told us our task for the day, to make an arrow using only stone tools! Riddy wood is full of useful resources so this was not too difficult a task. We first went out into the nearby fields and collected flint and churt. This was to be used for knapping to make our arrow heads. Pete asked us to imagine how the landscape would have looked thousands of years ago with hunter gatherers living in these very fields. To fit with the idea of a prehistoric landscape I found a knapped piece of flint that I was told would have been used as a scraper for skinning an animal. This find really made me realise how skilled our ancestors were in crafts almost forgotten.

We then walked the field boundaries to see what other resources were available for collection. Being autumn the trees were drooping with laden boughs of sloes, hawthorn berries, blackberries and apples. We collected as much as we could to take back to our camp to make into fruit leather.

The knapped arrow head in place. 
The arrow head has now been secured with a sinew thread. 
When we returned to camp we started work on our arrows. First we had to collect a straight piece of hazel for the shaft. This had to be done without using a metal cutting tool so I twisted a piece off from the coppice. After that we had to strip the bark. We had found a piece of flint perfect for the job with a semi-circular hollow with a bevelled edge cut into the rock. It did a better job than a knife at stripping the bark! 

Next we had to knap our flint, using soft hammers made from deer antler. You have to hit along the lines that protrude from the piece of flint. This causes fractures to form and very sharp fragments to break off that can be used to make tools. We continued until we had a selection to choose from and then we selected the best to be used in our arrow. I made a composite arrow, this means I had the main arrow head and then there are more pieces of flint bellow that to follow into the wound causing more damage. These weapons are brutal but effective; it just shows that the hunter gatherer world was focused on survival without any care for suffering. I split the end of my hazel to place the flint into the gap created. We then used sinew from deer legs to tie the end together and secure our arrow heads. All that was then left to do was the fletching. 

This proved to be the hardest part because it was difficult to keep all three feathers an equal distance apart. My efforts came out looking rather poor compared to some of the other arrows but I just need practice.

And finally the fletching
Overall each arrow turned out alright. Only using stone tools really made me realise how much we take for granted our modern tools that make a job so much easier. Even people who call themselves bushcrafters use pieces of modern kit that they couldn’t manage without. This exercise drove it home to me how utterly dependant we are on our society and the benefits it provides. True freedom can be gained by the knowledge that you have the skills to survive if all this equipment is taken away from us. That is why I am keen to learn all I can about the world around us so I can know that if everything is taken away from me except my knowledge then I would still be able to live comfortably with the knowledge of our ancestors.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Experimental Archaeology in Riddy Wood

The second instalment in the student accounts of their experimental archaeology adventures in Riddy Wood;

Alex explains what they all got up to for two days;

Alex and lecturer Dr Peter Groom select flint for arrow making, Dr Groom has contributed to this blog in the past with an excellent post on experimental Archaeology

On the first night we had a quick first look around the wood but seeing as we arrived late, we had to set up our camp of tarps and a couple of tents. Some slept in hammocks but two of us slept on the woodland floor in sleeping rolls.

As it went dark on the first night we made our way to Geoff's fire to spend the evening cooking our dinner and chatting, it wasn't the best dinner during our trip though.

I woke up too early on the first morning so I warmed myself up by sawing some logs, a fire warms you three times. Pete showed me his camp and I was a little bit jealous that I didn't know how to read the woods to find a better spot. He had set up his tent next to a track which lead to him getting close to a deer.

We spent the first day in and around Riddy Wood foraging for materials to make arrows and beads for a primitive skills exercise. We found everything we needed, apart from deer legs needed for our fletching, and pine sap for glue to fix our arrowheads. I could have done better on the procurement side of things but all of the materials were there. We found flint across a freshly ploughed farmer's field, hazel in the woodland and nearly enough feathers for everyone (we ended up borrowing a pigeon wing from Geoff). After we sat around a slow burning fire, putting our arrows together and firing the clay we had found in a field to make beads, we started foraging for food to add to the food we'd brought. Crab Apples, Haw Berries and black berries went into a make shift fruit leather, we also made crisps from nettles found about 30 foot away from our fire. We sat around eating for hours, which is where it becomes apparent that there is a difference between survival and bushcraft. We were pretty much having a feast, especially when Geoff brought us a Muntjac leg to cook on the fire, and later on, during a hornet gunship attack, we cooked a rabbit.

On the final morning it didn't take long to pack up camp and to check for any litter we'd left behind before having breakfast, eggs bacon and beans. Then we were off to Flag Fen. It's easy to see how people would have lived around the area in the past, especially with a trip to one of the best Iron and Bronze age sites in the country.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Prehistoric Arrow Making Using Stone Tools

We've had some visitors in Riddy Wood recently, the new cohort of environmental archaeology and primitive skills students from Reaseheath College. Over the next week or so they will share some of their experiences at Riddy Wood. 

First you'll read an account by Evon Kirby, one of the archaeology students, of some prehistoric arrow making using materials found at Riddy Wood. 

Evon making her arrow

First Step -­ Procurement

To start making the arrow first I had to find all the resources I would be using. This consisted of a whip form either hazel or ash long enough for the shaft, I collected a hazel whip, 3­-4 feathers around 6 inches long, plus a selection of flint and abrasive stones. The feathers were the most difficult to find because of the size needed but I found them by looking for areas around Riddy Wood with lots of smaller feathers, indicating a roost. The whip I choose was about the same size as my draw length.

Second Step ­- Stripping the Whip

To strip the bark off the whip I needed to select a piece of flint out of the ones I'd found that had a sharp, ideally concave, edge to run down the shaft to strip off the bark and twig ends. The flint I picked was quite large and had a good concave edge, removing the bark easily. Once I'd fully stripped the whip I lightly ran it through the embers of the fire to burn off the frayed bits and tidy the shaft.

Third Step - Flint Knapping Blades

To begin flint knapping I needed to select a piece of flint that had a fairly large face that I'd be able to get good sized shards off for the arrow tip/blades. Once I'd picked the flint I wanted to work I then grabbed a soft hammer made of deer antler that had already been shaped. I had to practice hitting with the soft hammer on my thigh to get my eye in before hitting the flint.

When I was comfortable I placed the flint on my thigh, on top of a pair of gloves for padding, and rubbed an abrasive stone over the edge of the face I wanted to work and would be striking. I then began striking the flint on the edge where I had abraded. It took a few goes to get used to where I was trying to connect but once I had I began getting shards I could shape into blades.

Once I felt I had a good selection of shards to work with I picked out five that I wanted to use for the arrow. I picked shards that were the thinnest, flattest and closest to the shape I wanted to end up with.

I then grabbed some shaped antlers pieces for pressure flaking. I practiced on some smaller pieces I wasn't planning on using and cracked a few to begin with. Once I was used to the pressure needed and how far in to apply the pressure I started to shape the blades I wanted. I started with the tip which was a pointed arrow head around 1.5cm by 1.5cm and then shaped the four blades that I would place down the shaft near the top, two either side. I curved the edges that would be facing out from the arrow so they followed the same line as the tip blade as much as possible. I then used another piece of flint to run down the edges of the blades to give them a serrated edge.

The reason I shaped the blades this way is because this style of prehistoric arrow was designed to pierce the hunted animal in the chest and then as the animal ran the movement would cause the side blades to act like a saw and would embed the arrow deeper, eventually piercing the lungs.

Fourth Step - Grooves for the Blades

When I had shaped the blades I needed to make grooves in the shaft for the blades to sit in and shape the end for the arrow tip. First I used a sharp piece of flint to shape the end of the shaft into a point. I then used the flint to cut into the middle of the point so I could fit the tip and also cut in the two grooves either side of the shaft for the other blades.

Fifth Step - Fletching

For the fletching I picked two pigeon feathers around the same shape and size and using a sharp piece of flint scored down the middle and split the feathers in half. Once I had split the feathers I needed to attach three to the bottom of the shaft using sinew. Before I began attaching the fletching I removed the blades so didn't lose them in the process. I was given deer's legs for the sinew and once it was removed I used the soft antler hammer to hit the sinew until it opened into workable fibre.

When I had the fibre I separated it into thinner strands and wetted them so they became slimy and pliable. Once the fibre was wet and workable my instructor showed me how to begin attaching the feathers to the end of the shaft by placing the first and then wrapped the sinew around it at the base, then placed the second and wrapped the sinew around and then the third. I then tied off the sinew and grabbed another piece to connect the feathers at the middle. I made sure I split the feathers at the same point for wrapping the sinew so that once it was attached the feathers could be pushed back together and the gap closed. I still had sinew left once I had secured the middle so I used the same piece to begin attaching the top of the feathers using the same method, using an additional piece when needed. When I had tied off the last of the sinew I then used a flint piece to cut off the excess feather and sinew.

Sixth Step - Attaching The Blades

To begin with I began attaching the tip of the blade using just sinew, wrapping it around the corners and the shaft but this wasn't very secure and when the sinew got wet again it loosened. As it wasn't effective I then made pine resin glue to help attach them. I collected pine resin from and pine tree and heated it on a flat rock next to a fire until it softened and became runny. I then mixed it with ash from the fire using a stick until it became a thicker workable consistency; I needed to reheat the mixture a few time to add more resin.

Once I had the mixture I applied it to the gap in the point of the shaft for the arrow tip using a stick. It dries really quickly so I needed to hold it over the fire to soften it to then push in the flint tip. When I had pushed in the flint I again heated it over the fire so I could mold the resin to secure it. I then wet some sinew fibres and secured the tip further by wrapping it around the corners and shaft.

Once I had attached the tip I then used the same resin technique to attach the blades on the sides.

The Finished Arrow Head

Additional Work

Once I had attached the blades I noticed how the shaft had started to bend as it dried, as I cut it green, and so using cane created a splint to keep it straight whilst drying. I secured the cane using nettle cordage.

Monday, 10 October 2016

My blog hiatus

Until next summer you wont see an awful lot from me on the BushcraftEducation blog, I will still update the new ForagersDiary and GeoffBushcrafts blogs as regularly as I can, but these demand a little less attention due to their format.

The simple reason is that I'm really busy; 
I'm in the process of writing my Masters dissertation, putting the finishing touches on a couple of new books which I was hoping to release last month and are now considerably behind schedule, getting up to date with my writing for Bushcraft and Survival Skills Magazine and Countrymans Weekly, teaching game management, conservation and the new archaeology students at Reaseheath College, and working at Riddy Wood

I am due to finish my Masters Dissertation next Summer and after that will be back to blogging here with a vengeance hopefully with a lot of new material to post and share with you. 

You will still see posts on here from the other contributors to the blog, updates from BushcraftEducation Ltd. and from the Riddy Wood Project,  details of courses, posts from guests, and a couple of posts I have had in the works for a while and which are scheduled to appear in the next month or so. 

So see you next year

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