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Archeologist recreates the past
Workshop held at High Arctic schools to teach residents flintknapping

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 25, 2013

High Arctic residents were transported 4,000 years back in time last week when they learned to replicate stone tools made and used by the Paleo-Eskimos.

Community members based their creations on reproductions of artifacts found in archaeological sites in Quttinirpaaq National Park, located on the northeastern corner of Ellesmere Island in the Qikiqtaaluk region.

Archeologist Tim Rast said the reproductions were made for this exact purpose.

"The original artifacts are so tiny and so precious that you can't really take them into a school and let kids handle them and pass them around. But you can do that with reproductions," said Rast, who was contracted by Parks Canada to run the artifact replication workshops in Resolute from Nov. 11 to 15 and in Grise Fiord from Nov. 18 to 22.

Rast taught community members to make arrowheads, knives, scrapers and other artifacts using the same tools and materials the Paleo-Eskimo people did back in the day.

The participants used a hammer stone, an egg-shaped beach or river rock, to pound another rock and chip off flakes.

A piece of caribou antler acted as a hammer or punch to take off smaller flakes. And a tool called a pressure flaker - which is made of bone, antler or ivory - is used for the final shaping and sharpening of the artifacts, explained Rast.

"So our whole tool kit would be stone, bone and antler," said Rast. "If you use the same tools people were using 4,000 years ago, you don't have to fake anything. You don't have to go in afterward and mark it up so it looks like it was made with stone tools ...

"You learn something, as well, through the process. You understand the people a little bit better."

The materials participants used to construct the artifacts included driftwood, gut, sinew, baleen, hide glue and chert or flint. They also worked with obsidian stone, although it is not native to the area.

Rast's interest in flintknapping began as an undergrad at the University of Calgary. He learned to make stone tools at the university, and in 1994, he got his first taste of field work on Cornwallis Island.

He was tasked with doing a metal detector survey on a late Dorset site.

"That's when I really got hooked on the Arctic, Nunavut and making stone tools," he said.

In 1997, Rast started up a reproduction company - called Elfshot - in St. John's, N.L., where he lives.

He has done flintknapping workshops with the Archaeological Society of Alberta, at a museum in St. John's and with children in Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, this was his first time doing a workshop in the North.

It was interesting, Rast said, because normally he has to explain to youth what materials, such as sinew, are, but here, the students are teaching him.

"I mention sinew in Resolute, and the kids start telling me where to get the best cuts of sinew off the caribou carcass. In a lot of ways, they were ahead of me on just making use of the raw materials in the North."

The workshop, he said, seemed to really click with the Grade 7 and 8 students at Qarmartalik School.

Twelve-year-old Devon Manik attended the evening workshops and created seven reproductions which he plans to display in his cabinet at home.

"At the start, (it was difficult) but it's easy now," said Manik about flintknapping.

The workshop was also a hit among students in Grise Fiord, said Umimmak School principal Cara Cormier.

"I think this is the first time I have really seen a workshop like this take place here at the school. It's great to see them learn about traditional things," said Cormier.

"Tim is doing an excellent job with them. He really knows his stuff. I am very pleased with the workshop and noticed that the teachers are taking time to listen in when they can."

- with files from

Myles Dolphin

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