Sunday, Mar. 14, 2010
Amateur archaeologist to be awarded top honors
When Larry Kinsella was farming the land that now is Pleasant Ridge Park in Fairview Heights, he used to get the tractor and cultivator going straight on a row and then jump off and look for arrowheads in the fresh-turned ground.
"Of course, you had to get back on before you reached the fence," he said.
But still, it was a harbinger of things to come when he would become immersed in amateur archaeology.
The nationally renowned flintknapper will receive the Don Crabtree Award next month at the Society for American Archaeology's annual meeting in St. Louis, April 14-18. The award is in honor of Crabtree, who is the dean of American flintknappers and among the first to establish experimental archaeology, which figures out how ancient people might have created things.
Kinsella said it was probably the most prestigious award an amateur can get.
"It's very flattering, he said. "Someone has to nominate you, and then they ask for letters of recommendation. I hear they have them from people all over the country. I hope I can find out so I can thank them."
Kinsella, who is 65, and his wife, Marilyn, a well-known storyteller, live next to Pleasant Ridge Park in Fairview Heights on land that used to be part of his father's farm.
"I've been interested in archaeology since I was about 19 years old," he said. "I would find arrowheads on the farm and it piqued my interest."
Now he is so well-known that professionals call him to find information. He got a call from an archaeologist around Chicago who was working on a stockade.
"He wanted to know how long it would take to cut five- or six-inch trees with a stone ax," Kinsella said. "That way he could figure out the man-hours in the stockade."
Having cut about 400 trees with a stone ax he had made, Kinsella was able to tell him. He also was amazed to learn that he didn't have to sharpen the stone ax even after all that.
Kinsella said his fascination started with collecting and proceeded when he got to wondering how anyone could make such fascinating work.
"In 1973, I saw a flintknapper at Cahokia Mounds," he said. "I was sitting there watching him for eight hours each day. So a buddy and I started trying. We found we didn't know anything."
That is how the Devil's Hole Knap-In got started. The 30th edition of the event will be in early June. Flintknappers from all over the country come to Pleasant Ridge Park to learn, share what they know and trade materials.
"For the first one we sent letters to every flintknapper we could find, asking them to gather," Kinsella said. "Six or seven showed. One of the guys was a counterfeiter who hoped we knew more than he did. He left right away."
Kinsella said that once you make an arrow point, you want to make the arrow to use it. Then you want to shoot it, so you have to make a bow. Then you find out there were atlatls before there were bows, so you have to make them. You're branching out in all directions.
"You get into primitive skills. You have to make cordage so you can string your bow," he said. "That gets you into processing sinews."
Eventually you become so fanatic that you ask your surgeon to operate on you using a flintknapped black obsidian knife rather than a scalpel. The surgeon politely passed, but Kinsella noted that it had been done before.
He formerly worked as a carpenter for his uncle's company, Kinsella Construction. Even then he was volunteering during evenings and weekends.
Now that he is retired, he is able to do what he really loves. Currently, he is working on a site in Chesterfield, Mo., as a part-time archaeologist on contract.
He is partly responsible for a new generation or artisans who, he said, are doing wonderful things.
"It used to be that people made fakes so they could sell them as real. Now they are made as collectibles with more exotic materials and marked and signed," he said.
Kinsella travels the country, going all over teaching at workshops and flintknapping gatherings.
"We want to pass on what we learned," he said.