So over at Old Dirt, New Thoughts, there’s a post about the life history of a point, some stories, and some thoughts about how and why people reuse artifacts. It’s really interesting and has very little to do with what I’m going to say here.
From that post, here’s a summary of the life history of the point shown above:
Inspection of this artifact shows some critical details regarding the patina and the breaks. First the haft broke and the point was either lost or discarded. Over time, a patina covered the point’s surface including the break at the haft. Much later someone retouched one edge of the blade and the tip broke. Both the retouch and missing tip have exposed the original flint beneath the patination. This pattern of old breaks, new breaks and retouch suggests that the broken point was found, resharpened, used and broken by a second person many years, perhaps hundreds of years, after its use by the original owner.
I wanted to take this opportunity to think out loud about how I take my pictures, since I took the photo for that post and I had to do it twice. I took two sets of pictures of this point because Brian told me he wanted to talk about the life history of this point and I hadn’t noticed that I’d washed out the broken tip in the first shot.
In the first photo, I lit it in a way that brought out the flaking on the main surface of the point better, but the broken portion is mostly indistinguishable in color from the patination on the rest of the point. This is important, because the patination on this material (Knife River flint) takes a long time to form - meaning that the break (and the retouch!) occurred a long time after the point was originally made.
Usually for a point, I just put the main light source in front of the tip, fairly close to and nearly level with the artifact, sometimes below it, with a second light for fill further off, higher up, and at the other end. This gets the most dramatic shadows and tends to make the flaking really obvious. It also gets fairly even lighting over the whole artifact. That’s how I took the first image.
In the second photo, you can see that the break at the top of the left is brown. This one is the result of mostly the same theory of how to light a photo of a point, but with the light at the tip, the one meant to bring out the flake scars, twisted to one side to keep it from hitting the break head on and washing it out. This meant more shadow on the other edge, though, so the flaking there nearly vanishes. Part of this is also because of how I had to adjust the second light. Since the main light was only really lighting half the point, I had to move the second light closer, which filled in some of the shadow I was trying to create.
I’m a little disappointed with how changing the lighting between the first and second pictures affected the shadow in the flake scars on the rest of the point. The shadows are a lot less drastic, and the flaking on the side on the right is a lot harder to see. To be fair, I didn’t have to change the lighting on this side, but apparently when I was doing this it was very important to me to have the coloring on both sides match? I do like the way the change in the lighting brings out the translucency of the material in that thin, retouched edge. Even the patina on this piece is slightly translucent, and I think the second photo does a little better job of bringing that out.