Knappers Delight at Puget Sound
Thanks to the presence of visiting professor Dr. Peter Coutros, the SOAN department has been able to offer a small selection of archaeology courses this academic year. After catching the students chipping away at rocks outside of Diversions Cafe, we asked Pete to tell us a bit about his course — Archaeological Foundations — and some of their activities. Here’s what he had to say:
Archaeology is often thought of as the study of ancient stuff. Yet, while pyramids, temples, and ceramic vessels are the currency of archaeology, they are not the subject. Archaeologists hike through jungles and over sand dunes in order to uncover and understand the livesof past peoples, albeit through the material remains they have left behind. That is – we are interested in the people, not the stuff. This Fall, our Archaeological Foundations course is exploring how these material remains (or ‘ancient trash’) can reveal how people ate, moved around, prayed, built homes, and even played games in the very distant past. By exploring ancient sites from around the world, we are investigating how bits of ceramic, bone, and stone can retell the stories of peoples and cultures from long ago.
Students knapping the day away
For more than 3 million years, humans and our ancestors have been making and using stone tools. This longevity has allowed archaeologists to create detailed chronologies and classifications from around the world and over vast amounts of time. However, dating and classifying ancient stone tools will only reveal so much information about the people who created them. In order to fully appreciate the knowledge and skill behind each tool, you need to get your hands dirty and start knapping.
James Keffer instructing students in the craft of knapping
Earlier this semester our class was lucky enough to host James Keffer from the Puget Sound Knappers. An accomplished knapper, Mr. Keffer has been making stone tools since he was young, and has brought his expertise to various museums, classrooms, and Boy Scout troops around the broader Tacoma region. While stone tools are our species’ oldest technology, properly forming a stone tool is much more than simply hitting two stones together until one is sharp. Indeed, each lump of stone must undergo a series of complex stages on its way to becoming a tool. Craftsman must understand the properties of their raw material, and make decisions about where, how hard, and in what order to strike the stone. Mr. Keffer led our class through the process of making these decisions right outside of Diversions Café.
Students were also able to get hands-on, learning how ancient craftsmen worked with and thought about their tools by attempting to knapp their own stone arrow points. They were even able to keep their tools when they were done. While becoming an expert knapper requires many years of practice, our archaeology students seem to have caught the stone tool bug, and you may be seeing them at one of the upcoming Knapp-ins hosted by PSK!
If you are interested in learning more about stone tool production, or would like to visit one of the many events lead by the Puget Sound Knappers, visit their website and join the fun!
And keep your eyes peeled for the pair of archaeology courses that Dr. Coutros is offering at Puget Sound next semester — students are already abuzz about the opportunities.