Galax Middle School Students spent the week at Matthews State Forest learning primitive technology as part of their intercession enrichment. A primary goal due to the on-slaught of rain, was shelter! Students spent two days cutting, lashing and erecting a longhouse that was used as shelter from the elements. Patrick Shell, Aaron Floyd, Scott Jackson-Ricketts and Lisa Benish assisted thirteen boys and girls build this structure strong enough to climb upon and keep them all out of the rain. They learned lashing techniques and structural principles.
Additionally, they learned about other essential things needed for survival using materials found in their surroundings. Clay, donated by Hoffman Pottery, was used to build vessels that could hold food and/or water. Students were given small slabs of clay and using different techniques, made small pots or bowls. They made pinch pots and coil pots. Pinch pots can be formed and shaped by hand using a methodical pinching process in which the clay walls are thinned by pinching them with thumb and forefinger. Using the coiling technique, it is possible to build a thicker and/or taller vessel. To do this you take the clay and roll it into a long roll. It is then built up by placing one coil on top of the other. Leaves, bark and acorns were collected and used to make impressions in the clay for decorative purposes. There were lots of unique creations made by the students.
Another type of vessel made by the students were baskets. They gathered vines from the forest that were of an appropriate thickness and yet still flexible enough to bend without breaking. Oriental bittersweet and virginia creeper were excellent sources of material. Also collected was inner bark from green maple saplings used to make the longhouse. This became the lashing material for the base structure of the baskets due to its strength. Students connected the rib structure using the inner bark and then commenced weaving the virginia creeper vine and smaller oriental bittersweet around the ribs to form their baskets. Handles were attached using more of the inner bark lashings. The end results were quite impressive!
Tools were another necessity throughout the entire week. Aaron Floyd brought his collection of arrowheads and primitive artifacts to share with the students. A short geology lesson and types of local materials that would have been used were discussed and shared. The fun began as Aaron demonstrated flintknapping, a primitive method for making stone tools. All students donned safety glasses and leather gloves ready for making arrowheads. Leather across the thighs readied the students for the flakes that were removed by the billet, an antler that is used to strike the chert or flint to remove flakes for thinning the stone. The pointed end of the antler, the pressure flaker, is used to remove small flakes and shape the tool. Everyone attempted to leave with a tool. It was discovered that tool making is not such an easy feat.
Students ended the week with a better understanding of the basic materials available for use in providing food and shelter. They learned how innovative, difficult and time consuming meeting our basic needs can be when restricted to collecting materials from nature. Great fun was had and new skills were learned by all. Thank you Matthews State Forest for hosting the mini-camp and Mr. Parnell for assistance! If you would like to see the long house structure you can visit Matthews State Forest on the north side of Hwy 58 and walk along the trail/road to the left of the cabin.