Archaeologists classify celts and axes as ground stone tools, although they are also known as pecked and polished stone tools, these descriptive terms refer to how they were made. Celts and axes were either made from large flakes cleaved from river cobbles or from cobbles that are similar in size and have a general shape of the desired finished product. Native Americans in this region frequently chose dense volcanic or metamorphic rocks for these tools. The first step was to chip them into the general shape of the tool called a preform. This was followed by hammering the piece (called pecking) with a hammerstone until all of the flake scars were removed and the piece achieved it’s near final form. Axes have a groove for hafting and this would be pecked into the pole end running perpendicular to the long axis of the tool. Essentially the entire surface was crushed by this pecking process enabling the final step of polishing. Polishing was completed using a fine textured rock or a mixture of sand and lots of water to achieve a smooth finish. This process was especially important for the bit end. It is important to note that for an average size implement such as those from the City Island cache, this process of chipping, pecking and grinding and polishing could easily require twenty hours or more to complete. Axes start off very large, 30 to 40 cm long and are gradually worn down in size through re-sharpening the bit subsequent to breakage and dulling. The pole end of an axe frequently shows damage from being used as a hammer. It is unclear, how or if, celts were hafted. One experimental form designed and successfully used in the construction of several dugouts (Carr, McLearen, Herbstritt, Johnson 2006) consisted of inserting the pole end of the celt into a large wooden handle.
The Cache Discovery:
The celt/axe cache designated Feature 26 was recovered from within an area of the site near the bottom of a buried A horizon. The artifacts were stacked in parallel fashion, aligned northwest by southeast. This feature measured 27 cm north-south, 32 cm east-west and was 18 cm deep. The smallest specimens were placed on the top of the larger ones, with the largest on the bottom. Two nearly finished celts were on top, followed by the five other blanks. Located on the bottom was a very large flaked stone biface, and a large unfinished axe.
Catalog #1398.1 Unfinished axe, Not part of cache
The cache feature demonstrates that celts and axes were being made by the same people and were used during the same time period. However, the obvious question is why were these artifacts from Feature 26 neatly stacked, placed in a hole and never retrieved? They probably represent 50 to 75 hours of work. This cache inspired us to build several dugout canoes but we will never know what was on the minds of the prehistoric technologists who left these behind over 4000 years ago.
We would like to thank Bob Smith (retired geologist from the Pennsylvania Geologic Survey) for identifying the lithic material types of these artifacts. He has helped us many times over the years and we sincerely appreciate his detailed descriptions of lithic types and where they may have originated.