Rons Primitive Skills

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Antler Needles & Gorges

Here are a few photos of some antler needles and gorges I made. They were made from a section of elk antler. The first photo is of a piece of antler showing the outside. This piece is about 3" long by 3/8" wide and 1/4" thick. This made the two large needles shown below.

This photo shows the inside of the antler piece. The spongy inner core has been removed by grinding or filing until the white solid material shows. Removal of a section of antler from the main piece was accomplished in different ways. Sometimes an antler was smashed with a rock and the resulting pieces were worked. Another way is to use a modern hacksaw with a fine blade ( I prefer the mini hacksaw as it wastes less material and makes finer cuts). Yet another primitive technique was to use a stone graver to slowly score the outline in the antler and carefully break it free. This is a long, tedious process.

After much stock removal and careful drilling I end up with these. I use natural abrasive stones or metal files to do the shaping. The holes can be made with modern drill bits or by using a piece of flint with a sharp projection called a burrin or graver. With the flint tool, a hole is started and the burrin is twisted back and forth till the hole is halfway through. Then the same procedure is started on the opposite side. Here are some needles after they have been soaked in strong coffee. This gives them a nice brown tint. Notice how shiny the two on the left are. These have been burnished by rubbing a piece of antler against them. The two on the right haven't been burnished yet.

This photo shows the same needles with a burnished and an unburnished gorge at the bottom.

The gorge is a primitive fish hook. It is pushed into the bait (parallel with the line) which is tied to the middle. When the fish swallows the bait the line is given a brisk pull and the gorge turns (hopefully!) sideways in the fishes throat. As you can see, a grove has been abraded around the middle of the gorge. This is where the line is attached and the groove keeps it from sliding loose. These gorges are about 3/4" long.

These and many other different tools can be made from antler and bone. Antler needles are used for sewing leather and in basketry, such as with the pine needle technique. The only difference from modern needles is the technique used for sewing. They are not forced through the material like a steel needle, as they would likely break. You must first use an awl to make the holes for the needles to pass through. Making these needles using primitive techniques is a long process and early humans were very careful to treat them gently. By the way, bone needles are a lot tougher but a bit more brittle.


American Bushman said...

Beautiful work.

How do the antler needles hold up compared to bone? Is it easier to work the antler?



Ron Layton said...

American Bushman: antler needles have some advantages over bone. They are a lot more flexible and they get more polished from use thus making them easier to work with. I never used them to sew leather without first using an awl to make holes. As for canvas I have used them without an awl and they work fine. Another nice thing is they are much easier to resharpen and reshape than bone. The advantage of bone is its hardness and stiffness. Bone will probably outlast antler but antler is much quicker to work into a tool. I'm sure the ancients used whatever they had available at the time. I have found both bone and antler artifacts in the same sites so it's probably just a case of material availability.