When arrows were cutting edge To light a fire under modern folks, Cockeysville nature center steps back to a time...

April 29, 1994|By David J. Williams | David J. Williams,Special to The Sun

Need a light? In these modern times, fire is just a butane lighter or book of matches away.

Hungry? Check the fridge, drive to the grocery store or pick up the phone and order take-out.

But roll back the clock a few thousand years and you wouldn't find anything open 24 hours a day except the Big Outside and your own wits.

A close-up look at how our ancestors got through the day will be provided when the Oregon Ridge Nature Center holds its sixth annual Primitive Technology Weekend tomorrow and Sunday in Cockeysville.

Here visitors can try their hands at a wide variety of skills that were once essential to everyday survival, including flintknapping making arrowheads), making fire without matches, using stone axes and hammers to chop wood or break open walnuts, shooting primitive-style bows and arrows, and making baskets and rope from bark.

"By learning something about these technologies -- whether it's fire, stone, cordage or hide tanning -- we learn something about ourselves at the same time. We learn how it must have been for our ancestors to survive, at least in some small way," says Kirk Dreier, senior naturalist and director of the Oregon Ridge Nature Center.

For example, consider the simple stone arrowhead -- the highly functional, working end of hunting and warfare that is, at the same time, elegant and graceful. While an arrowhead may reflect the varying skill of an individual knapper, the technique for creating one is virtually uniform throughout the world.

You gain an appreciation for a projectile point," says Mr. Dreier. "Although it's a primitive point, it does not have a primitive edge. Many of the stone edges cut with razor sharpness.

"We may think of Stone Age people as being backward or primitive -- they weren't. They were highly advanced mentally to work this stone, because you can't just break it in any old way. It breaks in a predictable fashion, but you must take certain steps, and each step sets the stage for the next."

The program features a series of presentations and demonstrations by archaeologists, craftsmen and other primitive technology experts.

Highlights of the Primitive Technology program include:

* Impact analysis of arrowheads:

To illustrate the effectiveness of primitive arrows, participants will shoot stone-pointed arrows into a variety of materials such as wood and animal skin. Experts will then evaluate the results by assessing how deeply the arrows penetrate the targets and how well they retain their edges. (Saturday, 3 p.m.)

* Supervised archery range:

Visitors can give primitive-style bows and arrows a shot. (Saturday and Sunday at various times)

* Lakeside campfire presentation:

Archaeologist Mike Johnson of Fairfax, Va., discusses clovis points and other artifacts excavated from a flintworking site in Wenatchee, Wash. Plastic casts of the three largest points will be on display. (Saturday, 8 p.m.)

* Traditional "Aboriginal" Bow Shoot:

To demonstrate the skills needed in primitive hunting and

warfare, participants will follow a "roving" course that includes forest and field, allowing them to shoot at targets in a variety of situations. (Sunday, 8 a.m.)

* Demonstrations:

Primitive lenape pottery construction, rope and basket-making, painting with natural pigments, hide-tanning, cooking, setting traps and dead falls.

The event, a cooperative effort between the Oregon Ridge center and the Society of Primitive Technology, is free and open to the public. It attracts everyone from history buffs to some of the most respected professional craftsmen, archaeologists and specialists in primitive technology on the East Coast, says Mr. Dreier, and attendance has grown from a few dozen to hundreds of people.

One of those visitors will be Darrell Duggins, of Baltimore, who has attended every year since the event moved to Baltimore County from northern Virginia in 1988.

Mr. Duggins found his first arrowhead as a child, but says he could never find the time to pursue his enduring interest until retiring after 32 years as a Baltimore City policeman.

Since learning the skills of flintknapping five years ago at Oregon Ridge, Mr. Duggins has made more than 500 arrowheads.

He says his craft is therapeutic, like whittling.

Even though he's surrounded by arrowheads of his own making, Mr. Duggins still gets excited by the genuine article.

Recalling a recent discovery, he says, "When I realized that I picked up a genuine, manufactured arrowhead, my first reaction was: 'I found a trophy.'

"But the secondary thing was: 'My god, how long has it been here, how was it used and how did he make it' and that thing has never left me."

LOW-TECH WEEKEND

What: Sixth annual Primitive Technology Weekend

Where: Oregon Ridge Nature Center, 13555 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday

mission: Free

Call: (410) 887-1815

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