Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ogg Goes to the Used Atlatl Lot & Other Prehistoric Misadventures

It was a chilly, grey day on October 4th in Santa Fe, muting the yellow of blooming chamisa and golden aspens on the heights of the Sangre de Christo mountains high above. I had driven up to visit the Sun Mountain Gathering, an outdoor interactive festival of prehistoric southwestern craft held by the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on the east side of town. Most of the action took place down behind the museum complex, along a network of paths that ran through the pinons...

My first stop was the atlatl-throwing range, where you could try out a selection of atlatls and darts and try to hit targets that consisted of pictures of large, friendly-looking animals stuck to hay bales. For those of you who haven't brushed up on your prehistory, an atlatl is a stick with a finger handle attached that's used for throwing spears and darts; it predates the bow and arrow and at one time was used all over the world. This lady pictured above kindly displayed her really nice one that she ordered from a guy on the internet.
That's right folks, you can order you very own atlatl on the internet.

Naturally, I had to try one myself. They gave me some 4-foot darts and, after failing miserably on the first two tries, I got lucky and hit the rabbit right in the jugular! Well, just barely, but hey. I took a picture of it so I'd have proof. (Of course, this proves nothing so you'll just have to believe me.)
I was hooked. It was easier that I thought, and came back later for a few more throws, killed the deer and was rewarded with a badly aching shoulder the next day. I want to make my own atlatl now. It's on my To Do list.

A little further down the trail, I came upon Ulysses Reid of Zia Pueblo (not far from us at home) just as he was opening a firing pit full of his Mesa Verde-style pots. This is something he's just been getting into, and pit firing is tricky business. Above, he's removing the potsherds that covered the new pots in the pit, which are visible upside-down on the left.

This beautiful bowl was one of the first to emerge. The Mesa Verde style pottery is one style of many from the old days, and is characterized by black designs painted with Rocky Mountain Beeplant (I believe) on a white slip background.

Here's everything just as it came out of the pit. They still need to be rinsed off, but the firing was a partial success; there was no breakage but smoke had blackened much of the white slip, obscuring the designs. Better luck next time, Ulysses! I did take one of the bowls home for my studio, though.
Next stop: the Archaic Hunting Camp...


...where I met John from Portales who, fueled with a large bag of peanuts, was busily flintknapping arrowheads from obsidian. John was a delightful guy who quickly taught me the basics, thus making it appear much simpler than it actually was. Nevertheless, I was able to make one edge of an arrowhead look pretty serviceable, and he gave me a bunch of pieces to take home a try out. Which I will, as soon as my hands heal.

Another flintknapper (whose name I didn't recall, unfortunately) had a display of points and knives he'd made from obsidian, stone and glass. The knife points are set into flattened sheep horns and bound with sinew. Pretty neat stuff.
The only tools the original knappers used were a stone, an antler point, a piece of leather, and a sandstone block. John had made his own tools of copper which worked beautifully, but I've made my own from elk antler tips just to see how it goes.

The day was going by really fast and I realized I wouldn't have time to learn all the techniques, so I made a beeline for the yucca fiber display, part of the Navajo Sheep Camp. I didn't see any Navajos, nor any sheep, but I did meet Mary Weahkee, Santa Clara Pueblo-Comanche, making fabulous things out of yucca fiber. Above, she's set up a partially-completed blanket of rabbit fur strips woven into yucca fiber on an upright loom.

And here is a length of yucca rope she made. The dark, fuzzy strip above it is the beginning of a turkey feather blanket, which will be woven together in the same manner as the one made with rabbit fur. Some turkeys in a neighboring exhibit had serendipitously had a fight earlier in the day, and thus Mary was able to obtain a good quantity of fresh down feathers for her blanket. I had always assumed these blankets would be terribly itchy due to the combination of yucca fiber and little ends of feathers sticking out, but this had been woven so skilfully that it was incredibly soft. I'll take one of these over a coat any day!

Here's Mary showing a newly-twilled segment of yucca fiber to another participant. I'd tried at home to figure out how to make this, but never got the hang of it. Mary taught me how to do it, and it was actually very simple, if hard on the hands. You can either soak the leaves for a long time or just cook them for a couple of days in your turkey roaster at home; the goal is to soften the pulp in the leaves so you can scrape it off. You're left with the pure fibers, which can then be twisted in a variety of ways, and spliced together . Her tools were prosaic (a piece of PVC pipe on a cafeteria tray, an antler scraper and plastic buckets filled with water) but the results were very impressive. I'm still getting the hang of it, but if you see any of my jewelry for sale with handmade yucca fibers, you'll know where I learned it!
All in all, it was the most fun I'd had in a LONG time, and I came away feeling as if, should civilization collapse, I would at least be able to provide us with meat, clothing and footwear. I stopped in town for groceries and some fresh roasted chile and headed for home just as the first autumn storm blew in, which deposited a layer of snow on the mountaintops during the night. Can't wait till next year!!!

1 comment:

Angela Bell said...

Great blog ! Really enjoy your photos of the desert
Can I invite you to follow my blog .Corwall is avery different lanscape to yours.We have the sea and the mist and alot of green.!