Billets in the arch record

A forum for discussion by and for knappers who utilize stone, bone, antler, horn, ivory, wood or other natural materials - as our ancestors used.

Billets in the arch record

nogie1717
Registered User
nogie1717
Registered User
Joined: April 6th, 2016, 2:43 pm

September 29th, 2016, 1:51 pm #1

As I've gotten further into flintknapping, I find myself more and more pondering the scope of knapping by the old boys here in the U.S.  I've read more papers than I care to admit, but am really interested in the use of antler billets.  I guess the other day I was grinding my billet and got to thinking what an absolute PITA it would be to do it by hand.  Which of course makes me ponder if it would have always been worth the effort.  I guess what I'm looking for would be some papers/research on the use of antler billets by paleoindians up through protohistory.  Big era, but I'm just looking in general.  Thanks!

Edit: I have no doubt that antler billets were used.  I'm just wondering how often.
Last edited by nogie1717 on September 29th, 2016, 2:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Quote
Like
Share

turbo
Registered User
turbo
Registered User
Joined: January 29th, 2015, 8:48 pm

September 29th, 2016, 6:06 pm #2

I have some links but will have to dig through them. In the meantime, while billet use is debated by some, there is evidence of billet like tools in the arch record and plenty of antler punches (there was a former member that has written volumes on forums about how billet use is perpetuated by modern archaeologists. While he had some valid points he...well we won't revive that).

As for Paleo times; examples are rare due to preservation issues. The only Paleo knapping tool I'm aware of is a chunk of ivory from the Blackwater Draw site. It could have been used as a short billet or perhaps an indirect tool. Mike Dothager believes it could have been an indirect tool. You can Google 'blackwater draw ivory billet' and find some articles written on it by lithics casting lab.
Last edited by turbo on September 29th, 2016, 8:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Quote
Like
Share

knapperbob
Registered User
knapperbob
Registered User
Joined: June 30th, 2007, 11:57 pm

September 29th, 2016, 7:36 pm #3

I have examined a few archaeologically recovered antler billets. One is from the Jurgens Cody site in northern Colorado. Its tip has cupped wear very similar to the wear I experienced while replicating Cody Complex percussion knapping by end-on impact.
Another is from the Horn Shelter along the Brazos River in Texas. Dated to 11,000 years ago, it is fairly short and shows faceted wear from glancing blows.
The Clovis ivory tool mentioned by Turbo is burnished and does not retain impact marks to the best of my knowledge.
From my experience with billet knapping, proper technique should limit damage that would require significant grinding to repair. Burnishing may be more useful than grinding because it compresses the antler instead of removing mass.


Knapperbob
Quote
Like
Share

nogie1717
Registered User
nogie1717
Registered User
Joined: April 6th, 2016, 2:43 pm

September 29th, 2016, 7:45 pm #4

Thanks for the info, guys.

Turbo, I added the edit for the reason you mentioned. I have no interest in starting a debate, rather I just want to do some research.

Knapperbob, thanks for the tip. As a new knapper, I have no doubt that proper technique is a transient piece in my toolkit.
Quote
Like
Share

turbo
Registered User
turbo
Registered User
Joined: January 29th, 2015, 8:48 pm

September 29th, 2016, 8:02 pm #5

No worries 'nogie', the debater has moved on anyhow...lol
Quote
Like
Share

EphraimxGadsby
Registered User
EphraimxGadsby
Registered User
Joined: July 5th, 2014, 11:34 pm

September 29th, 2016, 8:36 pm #6

I'm shifting geographically from your original question, but antler billet use is fairly well documented in Europe from H. hiedelbergensis at Boxgrove about 500kya (see fig. 5 in this paper https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/stoutlab ... l-2014.pdf) on down to the Upper Pal, where they are becoming more widely recognized (some examples not behind paywalls here http://www.academia.edu/27934628/A_newl ... ty_or_bias and here https://www.researchgate.net/publicatio ... h_Republic).

Antler billets are tricky archaeologically as antler preservation is most often poor and it's very possible (dare I say probable?) that once the pedicle was worn down, the rest of the piece became punches, projectile points, &c.&c. (that's what I do). It's safe to say that billets may well be more common among modern knappers than in the past because of our focus on large bifaces, but as KnapperBob shows, they're pretty consistently documented in North America.
Quote
Like
Share

Hummingbird Point
Registered User
Hummingbird Point
Registered User
Joined: October 28th, 2009, 4:36 pm

September 29th, 2016, 11:53 pm #7

I am reluctant to say anything since this has been such a contentious subject in the past.  But in the interest of discussion, I will offer a differing opinion.  I stopped using billets years ago and it has really helped my knapping.  In any event, incredible amounts of power and accuracy in stone flaking can be gotten from small antler pieces, without the need for a billet.

There are lots of bone and antler artifacts that have turned up at sites across the country.  Any one interesting in researching it can find many examples.  Very few of the antler pieces found look to me like they would work well as billets.  Most are too small and even thicker pieces like bases are often found cut off shorter than modern knappers like for billets. Below is an example of antler tools found in the chip pile at a site in Illinois where Mill Creek chert was being quarried and worked into preforms.  Since they were found buried in the chips, I guess they are considered the reject stage of the tool.  Each piece is made from a whitetail deer base, about one inch in diameter.  They are each about 3.5 inches long, with one a bit longer.  I can't see them being used as billets. 
 



I have two tools which use antler bases very similar to these.  One is lashed to a "T" shaped handle so it can be swung like a hammer and is used for direct percussion.  The other is lashed to a long, flat piece of wood and held under my leg, struck from the side as a form of horizontial punch.  The Clovis point below, made from raw Flint River chert, was made using those tools, with a bit of finish work done with an antler tine horizontal punch and an antler tine pressure flaker.  Yes, I know plently of guys can do that with an antler billet, but I"m not one of them. Even after years of practice, I always found antler billets to be a difficult way to get the job done.  It may just be me though, I do damn near everything backwards.  In the interest of full disclosure, both sides are shown:








I know I'm a heretic!  But I trust I am among friends and will not be burned at the stake.


Keith
Quote
Like
Share

BrewerMo
Registered User
BrewerMo
Registered User
Joined: September 26th, 2015, 3:35 am

September 30th, 2016, 1:14 am #8

I'm not very good with any of mine yet. I have used mine mostly as strikers for indirect so far. I have also been lazy in the research part. I have fun with it all, but I seem to be more relaxed and focused when I just find a piece of chert and start hacking away with a Hammerstone (no goals or type in mind)
Quote
Like
Share

Forager
Registered User
Forager
Registered User
Joined: October 22nd, 2010, 11:42 pm

September 30th, 2016, 3:34 am #9

I will not venture a comment concerning the use of billets in the archaeological record since far more authoritative words are in print and accessible, but I will venture some related thoughts.


As practitioners in real time and present discussion, suffice to say that we have all found our own ways of successful experimental reduction outside of the original and continuous paleolithic tradition... which itself is remarkable and will become part of the archaeological record of the future, however idiosyncratic to our contemporary cultural technologies.  The very fact of our own hard and enduring evidence demonstrates how many variable (and perhaps new) ways there are to approach the replication of ancient forms.  A number of us have become comfortable with a range of traditional tools and methods, accomplishing similar if not identical forms in a variety of stones.  Which in itself says something about geography- and geology-spanning technical communication networks, whether through the internet at present - or by contrast in the distant past through trade, 'political ambassadors' as such, migrants, marriages, captives, or whatever other means by which technological ideas and methods had been distributed.


The inquiry of this topic is interesting and significant, especially when we seek to better follow the largely unknown methods, strategies and mindsets of the Ancestors. Replication is a rigorous pursuit which calls for serious attention to the most subtle details.  Yet to what extent was this inherent in the transmission of the Original Traditions... or were they open to the same parameters over time as our own as we seek to copy Originals?  No doubt apprentices were taught specifically in direct descent from their Masters but we also see that over the greater time lapses spanning many generations, a transition of forms and even the inference of shifts in methods of fabrication had obviously taken place.  I do not in the least doubt that billets, punches, hammerstones, and other means were employed, but we cannot know to what extent, how they may have fallen in or out of favor, or how a diverse toolkit with a variety of techniques may have possibly been mixed, whether by solitary practitioner or in tandem, a sole survivalist or an in-house resident in a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican lithics 'factory'.


It is remarkable that within such a germ of speculation, it may be recognized that we in the present occupy a unique 'blip' in the 2.5 million years of stone tool making history, particularly those of us who put them to work and have a little something practical to add to their morphological signatures for future interpretation.  I imagine that our distant descendants will certainly register some measure of bemusement over the novel intensity of our activities, discussions, and the proliferation of evidence (if only in the hills of debitage which we create, much less the finished works)....  Perhaps even as we puzzle over the evidence of our Ancestors' works.
Quote
Like
Share

nogie1717
Registered User
nogie1717
Registered User
Joined: April 6th, 2016, 2:43 pm

September 30th, 2016, 5:04 pm #10

Not sure if there is a standing ovation emoji, but you'd get one from me, Forager.  Very well stated.  
Quote
Like
Share

hada
Registered User
hada
Registered User
Joined: September 10th, 2012, 10:44 pm

September 30th, 2016, 7:07 pm #11

Ditto that last statement. It will be hard to add much here from my limited work with long billets of antler. Globally speaking there densities very greatly among individual animals. In North America the northernmost reindeer apparently have the hardest of all American antler. Elk for it's size is the Opposite. Mule and whitail deer are only solid near there ends as well. And globally Ivory is not a option as far as I know. Sika deer is about as close to it that I also know of. A great deal of effort then in prehistory to manufacture tools from the larger size specimens. With the moose short billets I do ok. I have watched some extremely skilled men with it . Working with them is a kin to using a hammer stone so there's less of a learning curve. Antler use in lithic pour areas on hard stones takes a heavy toll on them in terms of where use. Great topic I'm staying tuned in
Quote
Like
Share

Hummingbird Point
Registered User
Hummingbird Point
Registered User
Joined: October 28th, 2009, 4:36 pm

September 30th, 2016, 8:00 pm #12

Epic rant aside, I looked back at the orginal question.  I am unaware of any historical accounts of billet use. In 1919 William Henry Holmes published Handbook of Aboriginal American Antiquties, The Lithic Industries which includes many first hand accounts of Native American stone working methods.  On the one hand, no mention of billets is made, but on the other hand, very little about the early parts of the knapping process are mentioned at all.  There are many accounts of pressure flaking, and some about punch use, but not a whole lot else.  The only source I  know of that claims to describe the entire process, as learned during his time living with the Zuni, is The Arrow published in 1895 by Frank Cushing. His model for the knapping process is laid out starting 10 pages in under the heading "The making of Arrows".  Link:

http://www.jstor.org/stable/658382?seq= ... b_contents


My own experimentation led me to the same model, except that I replace vertical punching with horizontal punching.
Quote
Like
Share

hada
Registered User
hada
Registered User
Joined: September 10th, 2012, 10:44 pm

October 1st, 2016, 1:43 am #13

Keith your vertical punching is your handle hammer? And vertical being indirect . Just trying to clarify terms. I sometimes get confused in terminology as many other eyes here may. So there is mainly three approaches to punching.
Quote
Like
Share

Hummingbird Point
Registered User
Hummingbird Point
Registered User
Joined: October 28th, 2009, 4:36 pm

October 1st, 2016, 12:15 pm #14

hada wrote:
Keith your vertical punching is your handle hammer? And vertical being indirect . Just trying to clarify terms. I sometimes get confused in terminology as many other eyes here may. So there is mainly three approaches to punching.
The hammer is for direct percussion.  I call a punch struck on the end a vertical punch, while a punch struck from the side is a horizontal punch.  I am currently using a variation of Marty Reuter's shaft punch, which I would consider a horizontal punch technique.  
Quote
Like
Share