Friday, March 25, 2011

D is for Diversity... and drills, dovetails and discoidals

D is for drill, dovetail and discoidal. To be sure, all three artifact types are associated with the prehistoric archaeological record of Pennsylvania. As well, they are found in other regions of the continental United States and their morphologies differ greatly. These objects served a variety of functions and some are only found during certain periods in human prehistory.

Examples of stone drills

DRILL: Talk to any flintknapper or experimental archaeologist and they will tell you to successfully fashion a fragile six inch long stone drill takes much time, know-how and above all, a good deal of luck. Hence it is not surprising that most of the drills found in the Susquehanna and Delaware River Valleys dating to the Transitional period (ca. 3000-4000 BP) are broken. The wear patterns exhibited on these tools show striated and polished edges that are oriented perpendicular to the long axis of the bit. This wear occurs from drilling into a hardened surface such as a steatite bowl or slate pendent. However, some of the longer specimens do not show any wear patterns at all, suggesting some other function or a non-utilitarian role within this society. Some are obviously hafted and some are not. Hafting a drill is simply a matter of notching its basal end (the part opposite the tip). Drills without a hafting element were likely secured into bone or wooden handles thereby allowing for easier manipulation of the tool during the drilling process.

Various examples of hafted drills including a pumped, revolving disc drill

Assorted drilled steatite vessel and pendant examples

Drilled gorgets

Dovetail Point

Dovetail: In Pennsylvania, dovetail points and knives are commonly associated with the Middle Woodland Hopewell Period (ca.1500 – 2100 BP). These artifacts occur in burial mounds of the Squakie Hill Phase in western and northwestern Pennsylvania. The associated habitation sites are rare and poorly known. Dovetail points and knives are usually carefully made from high quality cherts, jaspers and chalcedonies traded from quarry sites far from their places of discovery. This observation argues that some form of trade and exchange of goods was operating between groups of the Middle Woodland Period. In the mid-west this manifestation has been named the Hopewell Interaction Sphere. Since prehistoric cultures were never static, it is no wonder that dovetail points have been found on many sites in numerous geographical settings but their numbers are never great at any one site.

Discoidals found in Pennsylvania

Discoidals: Discoidals or chunky stones seem to appear at sites dating late in Pennsylvania prehistory. In southwestern Pennsylvania they are principally found on Late Prehistoric villages (1100- 500 BP) of the Monongahela Culture. Discoidal stones look much like a prehistoric hockey puck, although they were not used for that purpose! Instead they were used in the game of chunkey. This game allowed a person to hone their spear throwing skill by throwing a stick at a rolling chunkey stone, hoping to either knock over the stone or land their stick closest to where the stone stopped . A few specimens have a concavity on each of its flat sides that can end as a perforation in the center of the stone. Some discoidals are made from fine to medium coarse grained sandstones from local source outcrops. While the more elaborate examples generally found at Mississippian sites further west in the Ohio/Mississippivalley or in the south, are often made from more resistant stone such as granite. Examples of discoidal stones in the archaeological collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania reveal some hint as to their method of manufacture. A discoidal starts out as tabular stone that has been roughly chipped into a disc-shape. The irregular rough edges are then ground down to create the final shape. Engraved shell gorgets and pipe stones discovered at some Mississippian sites of the mid-West depict discoidals being used in contests whereby the individual is seen in a crouched posture ready to roll the discoidal along the ground.

A color example of a shell gorget found in Kentucky picturing a chunkey player

A chunkey player carved in pipe stone found in Oklahoma

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

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, thank you.