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Special Event, L'Anse aux Meadows, NHSC

L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, NF, July 2017

In 2017, DARC returned to L'Anse aux Meadows at the request of Parks Canada to help celebrate Canada's 150th birthday and the 20th year of the interpretive program at L'Anse aux Meadows.
The presentation included hundreds of detailed replicas of period objects: domestic goods, cooking equipment, simple textile tools, woodworking tools, basic blacksmithing equipment, weapons, storage, and more. 12 members of DARC spent 10 days demonstrating a number of activities at various stations in conjunction with the Parks Canada staff. For those interested in a full writeup of the visit please visit here.

One aspect of the presentation was a space where we set up a bead furnace. In the past Parks Canada has focused on only presenting actives that are known to, or can reasonably be extrapolated to have occurred at the site within the reconstructed area. In past years activities that did not occur on-site were presented outside the enclosure, or at the Visitor Centre. At their request, an active, hands-on, bead making reconstruction was set up. Many of the staff, and some visitors spent time learning the frustrations of bead making in an environment where wind is a constant and highly variable addition to the process. Robert Schweitzer and Parks Canada staff member Arnora added additional staff to this station as required, assisted by many other people as the need arose for another pair of hands on the bellows. On heavier weather days the setup was moved inside.

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Building Furnaces Remember to eat Breakfast Bead making
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Big Picture Bead making Broken mandrel Burn pattern
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Inside Setup Bead making Beadmaking focus Keiran's Bead
In addition to the experiential nature of the presentations there is always a chance to try adding an experiment or two, or collecting some data in this environment.

The first of these was the oven mitt. The bead furnace seen above has a white line near the top. The furnace above that line lifts off allowing the furnace to be refilled with charcoal. The top is then replaced and sealed with a simple wet clay mix that is painted over the seal. For years we have simply used a modern welders glove for protection when lifting the (very hot) lid. One question that has always been outstanding was 'what might they have used'. On this trip we decided to test a theory we had. Kaðlín used nalbinding to create a mitten like those found in sites such as Iceland using Icelandic wool. It was originally thought that due to the high level of heat (the gases exiting the chimney can be in excess of 1200°C) a complex design such as two mittens with a leather insert might be required. The design tested over the course of several days involved only stuffing one side of the mitten with the remains from the wool being combed for spinning. This proved entirely acceptable for the periods of contact required. The mitten itself received only minor damage over those days. This will be followed up with some additional observations including temperature readings of the external face of the chimney and a time/temperature curve for inside the mitten. A count of usage and damage will also be recorded over time. These results will be published in the future.

This experience also allowed us to partially answer a question we have had for a while on the long-term durability of a bead furnace. This furnace was built, very poorly cured (only dried for about 16 hours before firing), and then fired and used. It was then used for around 5 hours every day for 8 days. While the oven was moved between the longhouse and outdoors for the last five days (for fear of burning the longhouse - as a sidenote, the downward heat of the furnace is sufficient to char through an inch thick plank of wood), it received minimal vibrations from that motion which would cause it to break down. At the end of day eight it was still functional but the cob was much more fragile, and particular care was required when removing and replacing the lid.

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Replacing top Hot mitten One week of use Ragnarr's beads
Furnace after 8 days

      Updated: Jul 2017
Text © Neil Peterson, 2017
Photographs © Individual artists
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