Friday, May 10, 2019


The theme of this week’s blog is focused on a group of implements labeled as netsinkers or more precisely, they are identified as notched cobbles or notched and trimmed implements. There are two general types or forms. Many archaeologists identify both forms as netsinkers i.e. being attached to a fishing net to weigh them down in the water or used on throwing nets to catch birds or small mammals. However, it is clear that these two types are made differently and hypothetically, they may have different functions. The purpose of this blog is to make some very preliminary observations on “netsinkers” in the collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania in order to narrow down and identify function. Our database consists of random specimens from our collection and basic metric data from three netsinker caches.

The simple notched cobble is the most common “netsinker “ type and this is illustrated in a cache from 36Da11. This feature contained 80 specimens and the metrics are summarized in the table below. These are simple bi-notched cobbles with the notches generally placed at the mid-point of the long axis. They are made from sandstones and silt stones. The notches appear to be created by one or two blows from a hammerstone on either side of the cobble forming indentations ranging between 10 mm and 20 mm and 2 mm to 6 mm deep. These are relatively small for this type. Larger examples of this type are known averaging 60 mm wide and 100 mm long with notches 15 mm to 35 mm wide and up to 10 mm deep. This type is first identified during Middle Archaic times from sites along the major rivers of Pennsylvania dating to 7500 years ago and extending up through the Late Woodland period.

The netsinker cache from 36Da11.

Interestingly, we found a picture of a cache of notched cobble netsinker blanks from the Faucett site (36Pi13a).

The second type of “netsinker” is represented by two caches; one is a cache of 72 specimens from Santos site (36Pi37) from the Leiser collection and the second is a cache of 25 specimens from Tioga Point (36Br3). Both of these are distinguished from the first type or form as their edges are trimmed around most or all of the perimeter and exhibit a more regular shape. The majority of these tools are the result of splitting a fine-grained sandstone cobble longitudinally. Over half of the specimens from 36Pi37 retain the outer cortex of the cobble. The 36Pi37 specimens are generally rectangular and the 36Br3 specimens are generally round to sub-rectangular. The specimens in both caches are generally thinner than the notched type averaging 5 to 20 mm thick. Although many of the notches appear to be the result of hammerstone blows forming a rounded concavity, more commonly they have a more “V” shaped concavity suggesting they were created by a different type of hammer. Also, the edges on the ends of this type are frequently rounded. This rounding could result from abrasion against some other material or they may simply be the product of the trimming process although the latter seems less likely. This artifact type seems to only date to the Late Woodland period.

Notched and trimmed implements from 36Pi37

 Notched and trimmed implements from 36Br3

If these two types of artifacts both functioned as netsinkers, then what is the purpose of trimming the Late Woodland type into a consistent shape. This second type was found stacked in neat piles at 36Pi37 and at the Harry’s Farm site in New Jersey. The simple notched type is usually found in a randomly placed pile as they are less uniform. Maybe, the stacking allowed for a more organized form of transporting the net which prevented it from tangling. Or maybe the different sizes but regular shapes of the notched and trimmed type were actually part of making the net.

A once neatly stacked set of notched and trimmed netsinkers from the Harry’s Farm site in New Jersey ( Compliments of Kraft 2001 p269)

Alternatively, the notched and trimmed type may have functioned as digging hoes. This is mainly based on the rounded edges of many specimens of this type. The wear patterns on the edges need to be examined in detail but many have asked why are they found in caches? The Harry’s Farm cache contained 32 specimens – who needs 32 hoes and their size prevents them from being attached to handles.
These are just a few of the observations and questions that need to be addressed in determining the function of this artifact type. If you are aware of any “netsinker” caches, please send us pictures and allow us to take some measurements.  
This is just one example of the comparative research that archaeologists perform every day. By examining these changes in tool types and forms we can begin the process of understanding their function to better interpret the past. The benefit of the collections in the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum is that this large repository provides us with a lot of comparative data and aids in identifying the various forms of these tools. We hope to continue to analyze the differences in these notched implements and research other caches of this distinct tool. 

Dr. Barry C. Kent (center)

Finally, the staff of the Section of Archaeology in the State Museum, along with archaeologists throughout the Middle Atlantic region are deeply saddened at the passing of our dear colleague, mentor and friend, Dr. Barry C. Kent. He died on May 8th , 2019.  He was the Pennsylvania State Archaeologist between 1966 and 1986 and shaped what has become the statewide archaeological program for the Commonwealth. Barry implemented design concepts and developed much of the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum.  His extensive field work and research led to significant contributions in Susquehannock culture history, Woodland period pottery analysis, Archaic projectile points typology, gunflints, experimental lithic analysis and the formal establishment of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files (PASS). His regional archaeology program organized at universities expanded site survey, assisted with compliance projects and enhanced the relationships between the professional and the avocational community. He also initiated public outreach programs such as the Archaeology exhibit at the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show. He was always the teacher and mentor, sharing his knowledge freely with professional and avocational archaeologists alike.

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

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