Friday, January 22, 2010

A Cache of Notched Implements from Berks County, Pennsylvania

A remarkable cache of stone tools was discovered when Chuck Forsyth was digging a foundation on his property in 1984. They were found in a rectangular cluster approximately 15 by 12 inches in size. The site is situated on a slope of land overlooking the Schuylkill River at Douglassville, Pennsylvania. It has been recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (P.A.S.S.) as 36BK572.

The cache includes 40 stone objects grouped into two categories – notched implements (n=35) and cobblestones (n=5). Dr. Robert C. Smith, Pennsylvania Geological Survey, (Retired) kindly identified the lithic materials used in their manufacture. The lithic materials include sandstone, quartzite and crystalline limestone. These are all locally available in the nearby Schuylkill River gravels.

Although made from different lithic materials, the shapes and sizes were remarkably similar. They were all shaped using a stone hammer. The quartzite specimens were made on large flakes whereas the sandstone and limestone pieces were generally bifacially flaked (i.e. flaked on both faces) from large angular blocks. The cross-sections were evenly divided between bi-convex and plano-convex. There is a tendency for the blade element to be slightly wider than the rest of the tool. Most of the poll elements show slight to no modification with a few maintaining the smooth cortical surface of the original stone.

All of the specimens are uniformly bi-notched on their lateral faces. Notching was completed by making two well pronounced u-shaped indentations that, in turn, were rounded to remove most of the ridge scars which we attribute to the manufacturing process of percussion. It is assumed that the notches were part of the hafting mechanism that is attaching the implement to a wooden handle.

The function of these implements is problematic. They could have been used as axes but the sandstone and limestone are soft and would not have worked well. The quartzite is harder but the bits on this material are relatively thin. Our working hypothesis is that they were used as hoes for digging and weeding. This is not the first time this shape has been found but this is the largest collection from a single site. Why were so many left in one spot? If they were hoes used in farming, why don't we see more at other Native American farming villages? It has long been recognized that stone hoes are not common on farming sites. It is felt that perishable digging sticks or elk scapula were used for this purpose and because they are made from organic materials, they are very rarely recovered in archaeological excavations. We would like to a conduct microscopic examination of their working edges to solve this mystery but budget cuts have delayed this type of analysis.

Unfortunately there is little information that can lead us in the direction as to the age of the cache. We know for example, that plant cultivation began somewhere in the Late Archaic Period when gourds, seeds and tubers were among the incipient elements of plant husbandry. This would date the cache to around 5,000 years ago. It is highly unlikely, however, that the cache dates to that early period, because stone hoes are not usually associated with Archaic period artifacts. On the other hand, crop cultivation is usually associated with the Late Woodland Period of 1000 to 500 years ago in the Piedmont region of Pennsylvania. It was at that time when corn, beans and cucurbits such as pumpkin squash and a few other crops became mainstays for humans then living along the Schuylkill and other drainages of Pennsylvania.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

No comments:

Post a Comment