Experimenting to learn and teaching from experience

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the reproduction and experimentation of ancient technologies.

Today I am sorting through a number of projects that begun since last year’s DOA post. Contrary to most of my colleagues which are busiest during the summer working in the field and lab, as a craftsman and educator I find myself with a more flexible work schedule between the end and the beginning of the school year. Experimenting ancient technologies from piecing together fragmentary records (archaeological, archival and ethnographic) to testing replicated tools is only a fraction of my work for Aboriginal Technologies but certainly the most challenging. That’s what I mostly do during the summer having fewer contracts and more time, and of course good weather to work outdoors. So here I am today setting up a schedule for all the projects that have been on stand-by during the fall and winter. This development period to work on experimental projects is not possible the rest of the year when most of my time spent in the workshop is about crafting artifact replicas for museums and various organizations. Artifact reproduction is fascinating work that I very much enjoy but it is more routine than learning when you already know how to do it. The other half of my time is dedicated to public education through a variety of activities ranging from academic conferences to school workshops and event demonstrations to share the information acquired through experimenting. At Aboriginal Technologies, experimenting and teaching are two sides of the same coin: I experiment to learn and I teach from experience.

Given the number of projects I come up with or am given the opportunity to collaborate on in a single year, most of them often require many months and sometimes several years before being completed, especially since many projects are collaborative and must be coordinated with colleagues or depend on colleagues that have the resources to run these projects. It is not my intention to describe here the various projects keeping me busy these days but I will post a few photos to summarize the kind of experiments and learning experiences that will fuel future public activities.

Elm bark quiver. This project was inspired from the salvage of a broken tree whose bark is traditionally used among Iroquoian people for house coverings, canoes and containers. Elm bark quivers are not documented so this experiment was aimed at testing this material for such a craft and learning to use various parts of the bark.

Stone axe hafted in a live tree. This project in collaboration with Archeophone began with a proposition from a teacher who was curious about an ethnohistorical account of such a hafting technique. The axe head was inserted one year ago and the tree which has since grown around the stone is scheduled to be cut this summer for testing.

Ceramic tobacco pipes. These Iroquoian style smoking pipes were hand crafted and cooked in a fire as a preliminary test to refine a hearth construction technique in preparation for the firing of larger pieces scheduled to be produced this summer. The crafting techniques of such pipes are fairly well understood so the main objective in this project was to use this knowledge as a reference to cut down on variables.

Stone adze/gouge. This project began as many do by finding a stone with such excellent proportions that it inspired a tool. In Northeastern America, during the Archaic period (9,000-3,000 years B.P.), there is this enigmatic tool called an adze/gouge because of its apparent double function. Such tools are typical of the Archaic period yet their use is still a matter of debate. Most agree that it is a woodworking tool but it is not known how it may have been hafted. This is my interpretation of an adze/gouge hafted as a multipurpose woodworking tool. A woodworking test is scheduled for this summer.

Sinew backed bow. This Plains style sinew reinforced bow is a half-size version of the ones in museum collections. The crafting techniques of this type of bow are well understood and still being used, so the objective of this project was not actually testing such a bow but learning first hand the sinew technique and testing the efficiency of a fish glue that I produce in my workshop.

Bone tattoo needles. This project was designed by University of Montreal archaeologist Christian Gates-St-Pierre who specializes on Iroquoian bone tools and use-wear analysis. I was involved in this project for the reproduction of presumed tattoo needles which were tested on skin to record micro-wear traces and compare them to those on bone artifacts. Preliminary analysis confirms the probable use of such instruments as tattoo needles. As a bonus, I experimented making traditional tattoo ink.

Onondaga chert quarrying. This project was a tag along opportunity to learn about chert quarrying in the Onondaga formation by assisting Laval University student Pascal St-Jacques in harvesting the material for his thesis experiments. Onondaga chert has been used extensively in Northeastern America throughout prehistory to make a variety of sharp tools of great value. This experience gave me a much better understanding of this key material that I will continue to learn from as it is sorted and prepared during the summer for my reproduction work.

Well, I guess that’s enough to keep me busy all summer. Thanks for reading. To learn more about our work and follow the progress of these projects, visit our website or Facebook page.