Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Coming Unglued: Testing the Efficiency of Hafting Techniques

Hi all and welcome back!

I just finished about three months in the field where writing up blog posts and firing them off on the interwebs was a bit of a challenge.  But! I was able to have some fun setting up tests and helping out on some really great archaeology.

I have been looking around in the literature from cave sites to see examples of different ways Archaic points were fixed to atlatl darts.  The four main ways evident are:

1) jammed into a hollowed out socket

2) set with an organic resin of one sort or another (even fish head glue in California, see Gifford and Klimek 1939:82)

3) wrapped with animal sinew that dries and tightens

4) a combination of hardened mastic with a wrap of animal sinew or fiber.

Tapered haft and pine pitch glue
           Each of these attachment methods no doubt comes with a specific suite of costs and benefits, some of which naturally overlap with other hafting techniques.  An example of overlapping benefits is that all techniques allow an armed weapon to be projected towards a target.  Unique characteristics, among others, include the cost in time and resources of collecting and processing raw materials.  For the hunter, each method creates a different working relationship between the stone point and wooden shaft.  Imagine not wanting the point to stay attached to the foreshaft after a target is hit.  Perhaps there is a benefit in having the foreshaft detach from the projectile.  If so, a socketed or glued point may actually be the best approach.  Think of close successive shots on game in corrals like we see in the Great Basin.  Perhaps in brushy areas where points get hung up on vegetation, and game may run once hit, a barbed point with pine glue and sinew may be a good way to keep weapons in operating order after a miss or to ensure secure hits that may be easily tracked. 

For an interesting discussion of hafting techniques and the decision between bow and atlatl you’ll enjoy Margaret Nelson’s analysis of food selection and hunting choices used by the Mimbres Valley Salado (Nelson 1986)
The Test

The possibility that tightly fixed projectiles might not always be optimal led
me to arm a few darts and check out what the suite of the cost/benefit differences might be with different hafting approaches.  For this test I chose to observe differences in point loss, point breakage and shaft damage between three types of hafting: 1) pine pitch glue 2) pine pitch with goat sinew 3) pine pitch glue with a fiber wrap.  Additionally, I chose to use both conical socketed and carved-post foreshaft types to check out any benefits of one type over another.  Finally, for a few darts I attached the point directly to the mainshaft of the dart with no foreshaft and no reinforcement wrapping.  Hafting element damage as regulated by attachment method is one thing that we rarely see archaeologically. Hopefully this test will illustrate some functional benefits of each technological choice.

Pine pitch, fiber wrap and carved-post foreshaft
Fiber reinforced mainshaft with pine pitch

A Quick Word…

The test provided a few interesting observations that apply to the archaeology of technological choice and environment.  A larger sample with a consistent shot placement machine would allow observation of strict physical differences in point breakage and haft failure.  But isn’t there a human constant to the equation? So as not to brand the results of exploratory tests with strict physical/functional/temporal explanations, we must consider:

1) Stone tool manufacture and use was an active and transformable adaptive strategy. 

2) Manufacture and use fluctuated as dynamic cultural subsystems, which were conditioned by technological choices and maintained or transformed through cultural transmission processes (see Rickless and Cox 1993 for dynamic cultural subsystems).

3) Variability in technological organization exists spatially and temporally, between and within lithic assemblages, as a result of culturally transmitted production and use practices tailored to subsistence resources.

Allowing variable shot placement in an exploratory study like this is one way to see a wider range of possible outcomes.  Strict questions necessitate tight controls.  My reconnaissance, on the other hand, initially welcomed uncontrolled test environments. 

The Results…

            A few patterns came to light.  First and foremost, the fact was reinforced that some type of binding is optimal just below the hafted projectile and also on the mainshaft where the foreshaft is seated.  A fiber or sinew wrap prevents splitting of the shaft upon impact.  Without binding, the base of the seated point turns into a reverse wood splitter and tries to shred the entire assembly.  Using hardwood shafts with an irregular grain may reduce the need for a fiber or sinew wrap. 

This didn't work out all that well.  A fiber or sinew wrap makes all the difference


Second, nothing too illuminating, but when creating a new point for an old haft, try to thin the point out and test how it sits in the haft prior to final notching.  Late flaking passes to thin out the base after notches have already weakened the projectile may lead to unnecessary point breakage.  There are a few tricks for post-notch basal thinning out there though.
            Next, pine pitch alone is far faster to rearm as opposed to pitch and sinew.  Sinew offers superior staying power and breaks free much less often but requires at least thirty minutes to set properly.  Pine pitch alone was ready to launch after five minutes. A healthy lump of pine pitch would offer minimal preparation cost with favorable outcomes in instances of close successive shots where breakage is likely to occur and projectiles are plentiful.  I lost the majority of points this way; they’re out on the shooting range somewhere. 
            A wad of pine pitch that has been shaped to a low profile and wrapped with sinew is the best combination for not losing points.  This is no huge surprise.  Even when the entire haft broke there was still a line attached to the projectile that I could follow and recover. The goat sinew worked out ok, the segment that I used was a little greasy and didn’t offer the strength that deer backstrap sinew gives. 

Broken foreshaft post, at least the fiber wrap did its job

 The Quartzite point attached with pine pitch glue and fiber wrapping turned out to be an absolute workhorse.  While the raw material took more effort to create due to its tough structural nature, the completed weapon powered through brush and finally broke against a telephone pole (the point was fine but the haft slot broke). Darts with fiber or sinew wraps around the projectile point appear to break the actual hafting element more often than glued points.  If you do not have an abundance of hardwood for foreshafts, you may want to consider gluing the points rather than gluing and wrapping to save wood.  Alternatively you could re-groove a new slot each time...but that takes forever on hardened wood.  I wonder how many discarded hafting fragments have been identified in the archaeological record? probably not too many.  A spatial patterning map for fragment types would be a fun thing to look at though.


Breakage pattern of a haft with binding
point loss and haft damage with no sinew
Perhaps obsidian points with pine pitch alone would be the most efficient use of time in instances where points are plentiful, prey is close by or contained and multiple impacts may require you to constantly glue points to foreshafts.  Longer shots in brushy areas likely come with a higher risk of missed shots and entanglement.  Robust lithic materials with socketed foreshafts and sinew-wrapped pine pitch glue hafts appear to offer an efficient use of one’s extra “gearing up” time in unknown or difficult hunting environments.  As to the carved-post type foreshaft, I’m never trying it again.  Upon breakage the foreshaft post plugs the mainshaft and prevents rapid removal and reuse.  I tried it and it’s a no go for me.                      

One last thing, of four points tested with glue alone, all became detached after the first missed shot.  None of them broke. Instead they flew off end over end to be recovered later.  Alternatively, the sinew wrapped points suffered breakage as a result of reduced ability to break free of the haft upon impact with brush and soil.  There may be something to that; I’ll have to check later.  Could it be that weaker hafting has a proper place in the halls of atlatl glory? 

Reworked obsidian point with sinew

This was the resultant break against a rack of ribs

Thick points with plenty of pine pitch destroy bone and tissue no matter what

My personal favorite of the day: fine-grained quartzite with the works
Happy Hunting!

 References Cited

Gifford, Edward W., and Stanislaus Klimek
            1939    Culture Element Distributions II: Yana. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology Vol. 1(1): 1-222 

Nelson, Margaret C.
            1984    Chipped Stone Analysis: Food Selection and Hunting Behavior.  In Short-Term Sedentism  in the American Soutwest: The Mimbres Valley Salado.  By Ben A. Nelson and Steven A. LeBlanc, pp. 141-176. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and the University of New Mexico Press.

Ricklis, Robert A. and Kim A. Cox
         1993  Examining Lithic Technological Organization as a Dynamic Cultural Subsystem: The Advantages of an Explicitly Spatial Approach. American Antiquity, Vol. 58, No. 3, pp. 444-461

No comments:

Post a Comment