Thursday, February 23, 2012

Non-Projectile Lithics: The Woodlands

Staats, F. Dayton
1986 Late Woodland Cobble Flake Tools of the Delaware Valley. Archaeology of Eastern North America 14:79-87.

After the potential threat of lost dig sites was made clear, a dig was implemented in the Delaware Valley. There, several cobble flake knives were discovered after several years of no new discoveries of the sort. These cobble flake knives were dated to be Late Woodland, however previous discoveries have found pieces placed in the Archaic.
                Flakes of this kind appear naturally in streambeds, ready-made tools for scraping or dismembering scavenged carcasses. However, because these do not occur consistently, these flake knives would have been created by those living during virtually any period of inhabitance in the Northeastern Woodlands.
                These flakes are created with the use of a hammerstone contacting another stone, the resulting flakes forming two-sided, jagged tools perfect for butchering and hide scraping; one side (the outer form of the stone) smooth to be handled, and the inside rough from the interior of the stone to be used for scraping. This single sided smoothness is also indicative of how the tool was used, much like a modern day wood working plane, sliding the tool back and forth. These cobble flake knives are also referred to as “teshoas,” or the Ute word for “stone knife.” The most common form of a flake is the elliptical shape, which becomes an all purpose knife.  
                While these tools were used for the majority of the pre-history of the region, very few have been recorded or documented, potentially due to amateur archaeologists and the tools’ resemblance to naturally occurring forms. This fact has some serious implications for archaeology—since people were taking clues from the nature for creating their tools, have we overlooked other potential remnants of culture? Is it possible that there are other tools, like the cobble flake knives that have nearly identical nature-made and man-made forms?

Halsey, John R.
1984 The Ceremonial Pick: A Consideration of Its Place in Eastern Woodlands Prehistory. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 9(1):43-62.

                A continuation of the subject matter of his dissertation, Halsey writes about various discoveries of so called “ceremonial picks,” found across the Northeastern Woodlands. These picks are shaped in a crescent on one side, yet flat on the other, and approximately between 6 inches and 20 inches long. The picks are created only in a few materials, such as blanded slate, or schistose.
                The exact purpose of these picks is undetermined, though they are generally assumed to be ceremonial in purpose. However, as Halsey points out, there is little to no evidence ever used to support this assumption. In the article, Halsey suggests a few uses for these picks. Since there is no real evidence of chipping from hitting other stone, the picks may be used to dig out burned logs to create canoes, or to be used with other wood-chopping purposes, as that use would not leave much if any evidence on the pick. The flat and crescent edges of the same pick also suggests that it may have been a part of a tomahawk (to be slid into a wooden handle) rather than a tool on its own.
                While these suggestions offer alternatives to the idea of a ceremonial tool, they also support the idea. The smoothness and carefully crafted blade show evidence of care and value, in addition to supporting the wood-use hypothesis. Additionally, these picks are relatively uncommon, adding value to the tool.
                These blades are also carved into at the end; white shells accompany the carvings, and when placed on a wooden handle (like a tomahawk), the carvings and shells suggest a face, with the shells as eyes, and the crescent shape of the blade a distortedly large tongue.
                These blades have been discovered in burial sites in the Northeastern Woodlands. If they are in fact meant to be tomahawks, there is a suggestion of even further value—the tomahawk is associated with war, and tomahawks are traditionally buried with warriors. If these picks are evidence of a burial belonging to a warrior, they may offer more of a context for that burial site; other items, such as medicine, found with the pick may be identifiable as a part of a war bundle. This discovery also hints at a potential need to re-evaluate other tools, to search for multiple functions, and provide more of a symbolic aspect if applicable, as well as contextual ability for the archaeologist.


  1. Although none of the burials I read through held these intriguing ceremonial picks, that your second article talks about, I am utterly fascinated. It would be interesting to see if they had any physical use, as you've stated the article has no concrete evidence for anything other than the fact they were buried with people. In connection to an article we read in class, Kehoe mentions war bundles that were used. Perhaps this could have been somehow related? All in all, this is a very perplexing sort of object you've presented. The fact that they could potentially have faces is very cool. It would be interesting to dig up more information on this topic and see if there has been any progress in finding out what these picks were used for.

    Kehoe, Alice Beck. 2007. Osage Texts and Cahokia Data. In Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms: Interpretations of Mississippian Iconography, edited by F. Kent Reilly and James F. Garber, pp. 246-261

  2. After reading your annotated bibliography on non-projectile lithics, I found the first article on cobble flake tools interesting because it relates to my article: Projectile Point Size and Projectile Aerodynamics by Andrew L. Christenson. Through my research in this article Christenson says three things. One is “projectile point” or “point” will be used to mean the tip of a weapon, regardless of whether it was thrust, thrown, or shot.” (Christenson 111). Another thing he said is “knife” will be used to mean a handled implement, regardless of the particular way in which it was used.” (Christenson 111). So it is really fascinating that there may or may not be natural rocks that look like cobble flakes.

    works cited:

    Christenson, Andrew L.
    1986 Projectile Point Size and Projectile Aerodynamics: An Exploratory Study. The Plains Anthropologist Vol. 31: 109-128