Daphne Ahalt- Traditional Technologies Day

On October 3rd, Nate Salzman, Education and Exhibit Specialist at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s Native Village in St. Leonard, MD., visited the University of Mary Washington campus to teach the Native American technologies of flint knapping, fire making, and pottery. During Prof. McMillan’s Laboratory Methods in Archaeology class, Mr. Salzman (or Mr. Nate, as he’s called by K-12 students who visit the museum) gave university students a hands-on lesson in flint knapping – the reductive process of breaking a larger core stone into little pieces until it is shaped into the tool desired. On this day, we were attempting to make projectile points.

Glass Projectile Point made by Mr. Salzman

Mr. Salzman first described the three most important facts to remember when flint knapping. One, the material used as a core stone will not only determine the quality of the final product, but will determine the difficulty of achieving it. He explained that the finer the grain of the core, the more control one has when breaking pieces off it. Two, the way you apply force to the core determines how that force travels through it – it’s all about the angle at which you strike the core. Third, determining which side of the stone to use and how to shape it is key. He made it look and sound easy, but after giving everyone a core stone to shape and a tool to shape it with – either a stick with a nail embedded in it, another stone or an antler – I can say that it is not an easy process. It was fun trying though! The experience was a lesson in interpreting the archaeological remains of flint knapping – called debitage – and how it relates to the stage of production, recognizing what the flintknapper was doing and how, and why and how variations occur in stone tools and the remains of production. I even gave myself a quick hair-trim with an obsidian flake – form and function at its finest!

I was then honored to join Prof. McMillan, Mr. Salzman, and fellow students Morgan Fries and Olivia Larson for lunch. We ate Italian food while enjoying casual conversation about the work he does at Jefferson Patterson Park, and his interest in what Fredericksburg had to offer university students. So, after lunch, Morgan and I took him on a little tour of the some of the city’s best spots! Of course, we had to stop by Carl’s, many Fredericksburg natives’ favorite place –  besides, what’s better than ice cream for dessert on a warm, sunny day? We then hopped back in the car for a little sight-seeing on the way to Old Mill Park for a walk along the river. Then it was back to campus to start setting up for the next learning experience with Mr. Nate – Native American fire making and pottery. This session was open to the public as well as students, and was even more fun than the flint knapping.

Mr. Salzman began this session by teaching the crowd how to start a fire using nothing more than a flat piece of wood, a pointed stick and a handful of dried plant and bark fibers as kindling. Working in teams, each member took their turn in rotation, quickly spinning the stick between their hands while pressing it down against the wooden plate sitting over the kindling. He explained how the friction during this process causes enough heat to spark the kindling. Again, easier said than done. My team, which included Olivia Larson, Josh Baker, Reagan Anderson, Dr. Brad Hatch, and myself, was able to make plenty of smoke, but no fire. Someone in the crowd, however, was successful, and soon a fire was burning in a pit in the middle of Jefferson Square – just in time to make some pottery!

Clay Baking Dish, made by the Author

Mr. Salzman had brought clay he had made himself – from dirt he dug from the park with a little sand mixed in as temper. He instructed the crowd to pick out the larger pieces of grass and bits of stone before rolling the clay into a workable ball. Using only our hands and a small amount of water, everyone began to form their clay into recognizable forms: bowls, cups, miniature cooking wares and even pipes. He then explained how to dry them properly, noting that drying them too quickly would cause the pottery to become brittle and break, and that drying too slowly can cause a loss of form. He even put one of the pipes in the fire to bake, making sure to place it just right so he would not scorch or crack the clay. While the pipe was baking, Prof. McMillan provided the ingredients for S’mores – what a great way to end such a fun day!

The entire day was an exciting adventure in Native American technologies. Being able to experience the ways of a past culture helped to explain some of the artifacts found – and missed – during field school this past summer; how they got there and what they can tell us about the natives who occupied the site before colonial settlement. I also gained a new appreciation for the grocery store, modern heating and cooking appliances, and a new understanding of Native American life. Thanks, Nate Salzman, for taking the time to visit and share your expertise with us – so much fun!

Products from the Traditional Technologies Day

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