Friday, March 11, 2011

"B" is for . . .

"B" is for bannerstone, bird stone, boatstone or bola stone; all of which are problematic artifacts. What was their function? This week, the bola stone will be the focus of our "alphabetical archaeology".

Artifacts of the Bushkill complex from the Faucett site: A. gorgets; B. unfinished gorget;C. bola stones: D. netsinkers; E. bipitted adze blank; F. celt. - from Kinsey

The bola or bolas is a ropewith a weight attached at the ends. It is a hunting tool often thrown at small game to entangle their feet. Commonly, it has two or three balls generally made of stone, wood or bags of pebbles. Of Spanish origin, bolas were made famous by the South American gauchos. They were also used by Native Americans, notably the Inca and Inuit.

Ovate pebble netsinkers with notched ends. Note imprint on left-hand specimen of double
Cord attachment Morrow site, Ontario Co., N.Y. Photograph courtesy of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences. - from Ritchie

Archaeologically, round stones with pecked grooves around the middle have been found across the continent. However, in many references they are identified as either net sinkers of bola stones. Notched net sinkers are very common in the archaeological record of the East and bola stones could have easily functioned as a net sinker. However, why bother to peck the grove when a notched flat stone was the more common form and certainly less labor intensive. The consensus today is that they were either specialized net sinkers or, the favorite, is that they functioned as bolas.

net sinker

In the Middle Atlantic region they are mainly found on Early and Middle Woodland sites (2900 - 1200 BP). At the Faucet site in the Upper Delaware valley, six were found with the early Middle Woodland Bushkill complex (2500 - 2000 BP). Three were found in close association (representing a three stone bola) with one another and all were found with hunting gear (projectile points, scrapers and knives). W. Fred Kinsey, who excavated the site, concluded they were used along the river to entangle the feet or break the wings of water fowl.

Archaeologists rely on the results of controlled excavations to interpret these "problematic" tools left by prehistoric hunters in Pennsylvania to better understand our past.

Kinsey III, W. Fred

Archaeology of the Upper Delaware. Anthropological Series No. 2 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission 1972

Ritchie, William A.
The Archaeology of New York State. revised ed. The Natural History Press, Garden City, New York 1969

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

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