Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Southeast Stone Gorget Interpretation

Curren, Jr., Cailup
1977 Potential Interpretations of "Stone Gorget" Function. American Antiquity 4(1):97-101

Author Cailup Curren Jr. explores possible origins and interpretations of some of the earliest ground and polished stone artifacts, collective called "stone gorgets." Although as is the case with many archaeological typologies for a given region, the usage of the terms "stone gorgets," "banner stones," "atlatl weights," or "forearm bow guards" (97) only begins to describe the ranged of worked stone items appearing during the late Archaic and early Woodland period in southeastern North America. The two goals of Curren’s essay, stated at the outset of the paper were to assess whether there was a chronological relationship between the appearance of worked stone gorgets and the introduction of ceramic tools, and to attempt to interpret the possible function of these stone gorgets in light of this chronological relationship with ceramic development.

Stone gorgets, also known by the names previously mentioned, are described by Curren as flat, stone pieces of a variety of shapes and sizes. They are made of materials such as hematite, limestone, greenstone, and slate; and are noticeably altered by human activities including breaking, grinding and shaping, then polishing to a finished surface. In many cases the gorgets were perforated with one or two holes. As already cited, Curren suggests that the gorgets were possibly used during the production of ceramic vessels and uses as his evidence findings from the Russell Cave site in northeast Alabama where stone gorgets were found in the same soil horizon as some pottery fragments dating to the early Woodland period. Curren goes on to base his argument on the gorgets possible functions by visually comparing gorgets to similarly shaped wood tools. However the argument is lacking for a couple obvious reasons, one being the mention of the gorgets being found as funerary items, as well as other descriptions offered by Curren of the gorgets as "pendants." Additionally the variability of size, shape, materials, and in situ contexts for stone gorgets does not strengthen the likelihood of Curren’s overall hypothesis. For this reason I chose an essay which comments on Curren’s analysis for the next essay in this bibliography.

 

 

Starna, William A.
1979 A Comment on Curren's "Potential Interpretations of 'Stone Gorget' Function" Reviewed work(s). American Antiquity 44(2):337-34

I chose this commentary written by William Starna because of its relevance to the previous essay by Cailup Curren, Jr., and also because it shows the extent to which our expectations as Archaeologists inform the development of our research questions, which in turn affect the outcomes or conclusions of our research. In my opinion, the importance of that fact cannot be understated, especially in light of using contemporary knowledge to interpret the behaviors of past peoples. Additionally I felt these two essays were interesting and important because they illustrate the complexity and variety of worked stone tools for purposes beyond just food processing to being ornamental pieces or used in ceremonial contexts as long ago as the late archaic period.

As the title suggests, Starna’s commentary focuses specifically on the lack of evidence in Curren’s analysis, and asserts that Curren’s thesis that the introduction of stone gorgets in southeastern North America is contemporaneous with the advent of ceramic technology is incorrect. Firstly Starna points out that Curren’s association between form and function of gorgets and tools with similar morphological characteristics is simplistic and not adequately supported by evidence. Additionally Curren’s inference about a possible division of labor is an addendum that is also not thoroughly corroborated by either Curren’s research or cited sources. Most importantly the association between the introduction of ceramic technology and stone gorgets is not as well documented as Curren asserts throughout his work. Starna lists several sites within the southeast region that have the occurrence of gorgets from pre-ceramic groups during the archaic period. Along with overlooking obvious cases where gorgets are clearly in use before the introduction of ceramic technology Starna points out several other serious issues with Curren’s thesis such as the lack of corresponding increase in artifact densities between ceramic sherds and stone gorgets. Furthermore Starna asserts that Curren overlooks the importance of the gorgets contextual relationship with human remains in situ.

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