Sunday, March 8, 2009

Stone Tool, Bison Butchering Experiments

Stone Tool, Bison Butchering Experiments; By Ray Harwood

Zac Scida, Bill Eddy and John Piri-above photo.

Stone Tool, Bison Butchering Experiments

At the last Bakersfield Knap In, I was telling John Piri that I was planning on going out and collection some Coso obsidian the next week end, John said “no your not”. John went on to say that his wife Carol, he, and fellow knapper Patrick Aims had made arrangements to slaughter two 1,500 LBS bison at a ranch Northwest of Bakersfield. John said anything goes in regards to stone tool butchering experimentation.

All week, as soon as I got home from work until night fall, I was out in the yard flintknapping my heart out, making flakes and bifaced obsidian tools for experiments. I posted on the "Lithics List", to see if I could get some ideas from some of the worlds leading lithic specialists and I was not disappointed. All the suggested experiments were systematically undertaken to the best of my abilities.

All humane and spiritual aspects were considered.

Gary Picket burning white sage.

The experiments were conducted Saturday, March 2, 2009 at a Ranch NW of Bakersfield, CA.

Those participating were; ranch personnel, flintknappers: Gary Picket, Patrick Aims, John and Carol Piri and Patrick’s ever growing extended family, and myself.

Bison in corral

Cowboy drove bison into corral

Bison was humanely shot and bled out.

Bison was skinned and butchered with stone knives.

Ray Harwood with his buffalo knife.

Unmodified Flakes and the Bison Experiment

Gary Picket and I were able to do some fairly extensive experimention on the bison butchering experiment. Unmodified flakes worked well for slicing through hide backed by bone (legs, skull). Unmodified flakes did not work well for skinning, lack of serration, to sharp to separate hide from carcass, leaves to much meat on the hide. Unmodified flakes are very hard to hold and control the get slippery with fat and blood on them. They are awkward to hold during the cutting process without a bone support behind them. Unmodified flakes do leave striation cut marks on the bones, very thin and highly distinguishable from biface butcher marks. The first cut in the skinning process is to free the hide from the legs of the carcass; this is where the unmodified flakes were most effective. Furthermore the Unmodified flakes we very important in the separation of the liver from the gallbladder and other delicate operations requiring very precise surgical slicing.

Western Crescent Points, Experiments in Bison Butchering

John Piri and I were discussing the possible function of a strange artifact anomaly know as the Western Crescent point.In the western United States, as in most geographic regions, there are a few classes artifacts which pose inerpretive problems regarding their possible uses, In California and a few adjoining states one of these artifact classes is the "crescent point". I had published a paper in 1983 on experimental results using the crescents as pond skipping projectile points. Attached to an arrow the point is like a French guillotine on a stick, skipping across pond water lopping the heads off unsuspecting water fowl - don't laugh- it actually worked very well. John's vision was that the crescent was a stone "ulu" type knife blade for skinning and butchering. The crescent is similar to the Eskimo Ulu, which appears to be a multipurpose knife like tool.

Crescents, dated by modern methods, have been documented at the following archaeological sites; San Dieguito, Pauma, Lake Mojave, Borax Lake Fallon,Danger Cave and Scotts Valley. Acluster of radiocarbon dates from San Diego County, California range in age from 5,000 B.C. to 100 A.D.

This week I was able knap several obsidian crescent point replicas, this morning John and I were able to put his theory to the test during our bison butchering experiment. John states that the crescent was the best skinning tool he has used, and he is an expert in large game butchering. While the finest steel knives and pattern flaked flint blades separated the skin from the carcass very well, the crescent did the same job but left the hide cleaner and nearly blemish free. The crescent also cut much faster. The slightly wavy -alternate flaked blade edge- gave just enough serration to keep a speedy cut.

Historic Clovis Points Made By J.B. Sollberger and Errett Callahan in about 1985
Were Part of "Bison Butchering Experiment". The wide Clovis was made for me by Errett when he was in Denmark (circa 1985) and the slender Clovis was made for me by Solly about the same time,at his home in Dallas, Texas.

Sollberger was a famous flintknapper in the 1970s- 1990s. He was noted for starting the Texas "school" of flintknapping and mastered the lever fluted methods common today. He was very well published and is concidered to have been true master flintknapper.

Errett Callahan, of Virginia, is concidered a master at flintknapping many styles, including Danish Daggers and fantasy obsidian knives. He has published much on the stages and sytematic methodologies of knapping. He aslo came up with the "lithic Grade Scale".

I found that the more even the edge of the Clovis the better it was for perferation but not for cutting. Callahan's point was very sharp and worked well to slice. The bit of alternate flaking on the sollberger point made it better at cutting. The point first perferation on both points was outstanding. Callahan's was better for slicing but Sollberger's point cut better. Both points held there edge well during the butchering experiment. The blade edges will be magnified in future studies.

Here are the two historic Clovis points:

Above J.B. Sollber knapping the Clovis at his home in Dallas, 1985.

Above Errett Callahan works on a Clovis point.

Obsidian verses chert: As expected, the obsidian was sharper and seemed work but more effectively overall, but the bifaced knife that held its’ edge longest and did the brunt of the work
Was a hafted, Greenstone chert, knife. The theme of the day was, if a kinife has a slight, unintentional serration, caused by alternate flaking, the cuts much more effectively than an evenly knapped or unmodified blade edge, be it obsidian or chert. If I would have known this going into the experiment, I would have made my implements accordingly.

Above 3 photos John uses my green chert knife to skin bison. Below, obsidian.

Separating the joints with flint hand axe, We were so fatigued
By the time got to this experiment that we switched to a steel saw and will have to do it next time. Gary Picket had knapped a nice flint hand axe and used it effectively in the skinning process.

The day after the butchering, I noted that all my muscles were sore from the taxing physical requirements of task. To my surprise, insects and small animals had cleaned the knives fairly well. I had to re-glue almost all my handles and apply oil to the wood. I also had to re-glue beads on my large buffalo knives and re-tar the knives hafting. After some close analysis, pressure retouch will be needed for a fresh sharp edge, and I will be ready for the next butchering experiments. Another bison butchering experiment in 9 months, anything you want tested let me know, or maybe you can come along. The next one will be all Clovis tool kit replicas. (

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