Sunday, November 20, 2011

Unidentified, funny, little rocks

Spear throwers or "atlatls" are sticks used to extend the length of the thrower's arm, perhaps even adding some "whip" to the throw. These were in use well into the more recent times, even after the bow and arrow became popular (around 0 AD around here). For example I think they found a spear thrower on the body of a hunter whose remains melted out of the glacier in British Columbia and these were dated to something like 1100 AD. Anyway, here is an example of a spear thrower from the website Tangible Sanctity:This has two features of interest: a handle, and a hook at the back to hold the butt of the spear. Missing is any example of a counterweight - something added on the shaft to make the whole shaft heavier, or to change its recoil/follow-through characteristics.

For years, I have been bringing back curios from my surface collecting and imagining them to somehow be involved with spear throwers. Here is one of the nicest:It is slightly polished and - to me - clearly an artifact. There was a book (can't find it on my shelf at the moment) that called these things "bow tie" spear-thrower counterweights.

I found lots of other much less clear examples of similar rocks. Like this one made of slate, and obviously ground smooth in some places, flaked a bit in others.[A back story on this is that I did not collect it when I first saw it, then got to thinking and went back. It took most of the summer before I spotted it again.]

Here is something from the Google, a bit along these lines:So let's stipulate that there was some kind of a spear-thrower counter weight. Formally a "banner stone" that had a hole through it and, informally, a whale-tail or bow-tie shaped item that was bound to the spear-thrower. For better or worse, here are the objects I kept. You can say whether they even look like artifacts; let alone fitting my theory of spear-thrower counterweights.
But then there is a class of small rocks that I think of as "sharks" and which I bring home out of puzzlement rather than any understanding. Maybe these played the role of the "hook" at the distal end of the spear-thrower:I am convinced these are artifacts. Voice your objections in comments.

Meanwhile, here is in modern version of the spear-thrower hook from the Google:All the discussion of bird stones reminded me of the topic of spear-throwers and the question of the function of bird stones - their uniformity as well as the holes drilled through them, make it clear that they had a specific function.

Update: Here is some interesting stuff about the B.C. Iceman (from here)

Scientists believe Kwaday Dan Ts'inchi was a hunter, who lived roughly 300 years ago — but possibly longer. He appeared to be in good health when he died an accidental death on the glacier.

Among the findings, researchers have determined:

  • He was in his late teens or early 20s when he died.
  • He wore a robe, likely made from about 95 gopher or squirrel skins, stitched together with sinew.
  • He carried a walking stick, an iron-blade knife and a spearthrower.


Chris Pittman said...

This is great stuff. These belong to a class of tools that I am undoubtedly missing when I look for artifacts. I went out and bought some regional stone tool typology books this weekend and Fowler's "A Handbook of Indian Artifacts from Southern New England" labels the first item you show a "Bowtie Atl-Atl Weight." Most types of atlatl weights are perforated, yours are not but the resemblance to the "whale tail" type is remarkable and assuming you are finding these at sites with other prehistoric cultural material I think it is not unlikely that these were lashed to atlatls. I'm not sure what to make of the "sharks," the polished surfaces seem to me to be ill suited for gripping the butt end of the dart shaft.

pwax said...

Yes these are from sites where I find arrowheads.

Geophile said...

Interesting. I recently found an odd smooth stone nowhere near a river. It also has a few shallow holes in it on one side and one of those holes has three shallow incised lines pointing to it. It seems extremely unlikely that part is not done by humans--I will try to get good pictures.

I showed it to one man, an archaeologist, who dismissed it after a barely cursory glance as a river stone, but as I said, it's nowhere near a river and it is completely unlike any other stone where I found it, a place where I have spent a lot of time doing amateur geology over the years. This place was adjacent to a known Lenape village, documented by the Moravians, within a few yards of a cave that was filled in within living memory.

The upper side seems to have a couple lines incised on it, too, and the whole thing fits extremely comfortably in the hand, even having depressions that match two fingers. When you hold it that way, it naturally places a sharp part, a little broken off but still sharp, in a position that would make it possible to make holes in something or to incise pottery or the like. Very odd thing and in some ways similar to your, pwax.

Tim MacSweeney said...

Photo #7: I'd have to say that I find a ton of stones like these. Some have been identified as "shaft abraders," altho one Archeologist used the term "spoke shave" - as if Indians were busy making wooden wheels instead of spear or arrow shafts, club and axe handles. I've got some larger "two hands" types that were probably for smoothing wigwam poles (where I live was called the Nonnewaug Wigwams just 350 years ago or so). I've also got some that have more than one "notch" in them, sort of a "Swiss Army abrader stone." There seems to be a difference in them comparable to grits of sandpaper. The roughest perhaps de-barkers/shapers and graded down to the very fine polishers...

pwax said...

So that BC iceman is really something: an iron knife and a spear thrower. This means some people never adopted the bow or, given the choice, picked the spear thrower for its superior....???

b4u2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
145thdems said...

I found a rock in our stream bed in an area of Upper Bucks County, PA that had a Lenape population. I can't figure out what it is because I haven't seen anything like it on any artifact sites. It has 3 sections which are separated by what seems to be chiseling
And a noticeable hole in center part. Any ideas? I can send pic if I figure out a way to attach it.