Attendees of the “Stories in Stone” presentation at the Gallery on Tuesday night were treated to a fascinating discussion and demonstration on projectile points and their archaeological significance in Saskatchewan. On hand from the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society (SAS) were its Executive Director Tomasin Playford and Masters student and flint knapper Gabriel Lamarche.
Playford, originally from Brandon, talked about her own background and training through to her Ph.D. Her education helped evolve her understanding of archaeology as a science, but also as an important social and cultural steward through artifacts. Much of that work in fostering exploration and curating findings is owed to the SAS, explained Playford.
“We are a charitable non-profit, we are membership driven, and we are celebrating our 60th anniversary this year. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those people that came before us. It was people who advocated for archaeology in the past.”
Playford explained that archaeology was originally a function of a Eurocentric and colonial point of view. To combat this, the discipline morphed into an empirical science that unfortunately stripped away much of the human connection - the cultural context that inherently made the discovery and analysis of sites and artifacts so valuable. Fortunately, she explained, that view is transitioning to a model that allows for inclusion of Indigenous views, stories and knowledge.
The recent work of the SAS has led to the production of a one of a kind field guide entitled Points of View: A Guide on Saskatchewan Projectile Points with Indigenous Perspectives. The collaborative effort has chapters from various contributors all who deliver a particular expertise. It blends Indigenous ways of knowing and archaeology’s understanding of projectile points. Playford introduced the audience to the various experts who contributed. The guide covers arrowheads from different areas and eras, as well as knives, cutters, hammers. It also covers the types of rock and bone used as projectiles and as tools to craft them.
The focus of the evening shifted to the crafting expertise of Gabriel Lamarche. He explained that he grew up in the Georgian Bay area of Ontario, but now considers Saskatchewan his home. Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of materials, geomorphology and artifact history, Lamarche grabbed a piece of chert, a fine grained silicate rock, and deftly began striking the piece, removing shards and crafting edges suitable for tool and weapon use. All the while, Lamarche related the science of how he and Indigenous hunters approached the work. He likened striking the rock correctly to putting a hole through glass with a bullet or a rock through a windshield.
“The rock has very visible properties. It is strong in compression, but weak in tension. The force enters into the material and radiates out, and everywhere under compression tends to remain intact. At the edge of that expanding cone of force is a tension, and that’s where the material tears.“
Lamarche is essentially self taught in that art of flint knapping. He began with experimenting at the age of 12 and then came across a book, outlining the technique in greater detail. With the help of some elders, he began pursuing the craft further and has become a teacher and mentor for many Cree youth, helping to preserve the techniques.
During his discussion, Lamarche worked at producing an exquisite arrowhead projectile from one of the discarded shards. He worked with a copper tool on the edging and shape of the fingernail sized replica.
Copies of Points of View are available for purchase at the Humboldt and District Museum. The presentation was part of the pilot project, “Relationship Building and Reconciliation through Living Heritage.”
Information and connections to videos are available at thesas.ca.