Casting Axes - Part 1
In August of 2007 I contacted Wayne Potratz of the Unversity's art metals department. He teaches a primitive casting course there and was interested in working with me on making working duplicates of some of the axes in the collection. I began by making plasticine models of the originals.
In September I began sitting in on the primitive casting class. The first order of business was to process the clay we would be using to make molds. Dry raw clay was pounded and then sifted into finer and finer grades. One student who had more experience sorted the nodules of clay. He grabbed handfuls of inspected them and then tossed some of them away and had us pound and sift the rest. Since I was a newcomer, I had an easier job of sifting grog, ground fired clay that is added to the regular clay to prevent shrinkage. There was dried manure that also needed sifting, but it was decided that the student who didn't show up would have that job. I made a mental note to show up as often as possible.
The sifting was done with mesh screens, but in earlier days it was probably done using baskets or by flotation. One of the graduate students realized that more clay needed to be processed than we could possibly have finished and so threw a sheet of plywood over a pile of the dried clay and then ran a forklift over it a few times. It led me to wonder how someone in the Bronze Age would have done the same job using an ox or two. We had a group of twelve students working steadily. In addition to the processing we also wet down clay and stirred it to make slip. This seemed like a good sized group to get enough material processed to provide for molds for everyone until midterm.