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The Ancients of North America - Arrowheads - Stone Tools - Pottery


Stone Tools: The Axe, The Celt, The Plummet  

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Evolution of the stone axe  Dr. Von Zuko 2009©
In the evolution of stone axe technology, the axe blade became simpler and easier to produce as better means of attaching the axe to the handle were developed.
The Stone Axe  
A full grooved stone axe from the collection

A Paleo to Early Archaic period fully grooved stone axe.  10,000 to 7,000 years old.

Tool and weapon:
The stone axe was a critically important survival tool in prehistoric times.  

The stone axe's most prominent use was in butchering large game and cutting wood.  It was also a critically important defensive weapon to be used against man or savage beast.

The stone axe was considered to be the 'high technology' of its day.  The ancient craftsman (depending on the material used) could bring this stone implement to a very fine, very sharp edge. 

Mounted on a 16 to 20 inch long handle, the weight and density of the stone axe head, ensured that its striking force and destructive power was maximized.  In warfare, it was truly the heavy weapon of it's era!  

Status and power:

Quite obviously the heavier and larger stone axes were intended for tasks.  These were also generally a bit more crude.  The axe however, was also a symbol of strength and power and the elite (or warriors) carried more finely crafted and highly polished axes made of the finest materials.

What type of stone was used to make an Axe?

The stone axe required a high level of durability, and was typically made of the hardest stone available, usually an igneous or metamorphic rock.  High-status axes (for the elite ruling class) were generally made of a very tough, dense stone such as a quartzite.  This type of stone was very difficult for the ancient craftsman to work with, but it could take on a beautiful high-polish and hold an extremely sharp edge.  

Where was the stone axe used?

The stone axe is found throughout North America as well as in every important archaeological site of similar age, in the world.

How was a stone axe made?

The stone axe was created through a pecking process, using stone on stone chipping, to roughly shape the tool. Typically, the axe was brought to its final finished form by grinding and polishing with a more abrasive stone.

What was the groove on the stone axe for?

The groove allowed the axe to be firmly attached to a wooded handle.  The groove kept the axe from slipping or wobbling which would have made it an ineffective tool.

The Stone Celt

Tool and weapon:

The celt was an important tool and defensive weapon in Ancient America. The celtís predominant use was as an axe, used for chopping or cutting wood and in butchering large game.

In addition to its utilitarian use as a woodworking tool, its hatchet-like cutting edge made it a formidable weapon for defending territory, resources and lives.

Status and power:

The celt was also used as a symbol of power and authority and there are surviving examples that are very finely crafted of the finest materials.

Widespread use:

The celt is found throughout most of North America but its use seems to have been much more prevalent in the mid-continent regions of what is now Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
Stone celt and plummet @ 2009©
 Stone Celt and Plummet found in Illinois
What is a celt made of?

Celts that have survived the ravages of time are generally made of a very hard stone, usually of an igneous or metamorphic rock.  Early man was resourceful of course, and necessity is always the "mother of invention" so there is considerable archaeological evidence that softer materials were sometimes used.

Bone, such as the shoulder blade of an elk or an antler could easily hold a sharp enough edge to serves as an effective tool or weapon.

How was a stone celt made?

The stone celt was created through a pecking process, using stone on stone chipping, to roughly shape the tool. Typically, the celt was brought to its final finished form by grinding and polishing with a more abrasive stone.

What influenced the celts design?

The size and styles of celts will vary significantly based on the culture of the people and the intended use of the celt. In general however, the shape of a celt is wedge like, with one sharpened cutting edge. Celts do not have grooves carved into them for mounting on a handle, instead the narrow end (called the poll) was inserted in a socket of a carved wooden handle and cemented in place with a pitch or resin based glue.

The stone celt was used by most ancient cultures over a very long period of history and is found at archaeological sites around the world.

The Plummet

The Plummet
The Plummet is without question among one of the most mysterious of ancient implements.  Or is it an implement at all?
The exact  or even likely purpose or use of the plummet has never been definitively decided. There has been considerable speculation and debate on the plummets and their possible uses within archaeological circles for decades. 
There are a number of perplexing questions surrounding the stone plummet.  First, why are they always made in a teardrop shape?  Some may have one or more grooves cut into the top (presumably for suspension on a cord).  There are plummet varieties that have suspension holes drilled into the top.  And there are styles that have neither grooves nor drilled holes.  Regardless, they are always teardrop shape and no other shape.
Some exhibit very high levels of craftsmanship, made from the finest materials, while others are found in much more modest form.  Some are highly-stylized and engraved, hardly what you'd expect for a utilitarian object.

Plummets have been made this way for thousands of years and are found throughout North America and other parts of the world.
So what exactly are they, and what were they used for?  Here are various speculations that have been discussed countless times:

  • Talisman with some form of believed mystical power

  • Personal adornment or attachments for clothing (like capes)

  • Fishing weights for nets

  • Weights for nets to catch water fowl

  • Bolo weights used as weapons or to catch game

To add to the speculation, plummets have been found in burial mounds, old village sites, and in open areas as well.  The largest concentration of plummets found however, seem to be in areas close to large bodies of water, such as costal areas.  Plummets have been found in lakes, rivers, and streams.  Because there seems to be a connection to water, many archaeologists speculate they were related to fishing or waterfowl hunting.

Again, some would argue, that if they were a utilitarian hunting or fishing tool there would be no reason for some to be so ornate and elaborate!

Perhaps we should consider, that while these were the ancients, they were still human beings very much like we are today.  Have you ever seen what an avid fisherman will put into or spend on his (or her) equipment?  Today, much of that equipment it is quite elaborate, expensive and yet still subject to loss or damage.  Or consider today's avid duck hunter that has a fully engraved, finest wood stock, finest Belgium steel available shot gun! 

Are we so arrogant as to assume that the ancients had a bleak austere life devoid of any joy, or passion for what they did or could do?

Articles by: Dr. Von Zuko 2009© all rights reserved.

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