Another theory is that they were used as weights on the end of a throwing stick or atlatl. Excavations conducted during the 1930’s under the WPA (Works Projects Administration) by William S. Webb, from the University of Kentucky at the Indian Knoll site recovered 42 bannerstones including “elements of throwing sticks know as atlatls” (Blume 2021).
It is suggested that adding the weight of the bannerstone to the atalatl , increased the velocity of the spear that was thrown, as pictured above. Subsequent research has questioned the weighted atlatl as having little to no additional benefit.
Yet another theory is that they were used as a spindle whorl in the production of twine or cordage. . Suspended fibers could be attached to the bannerstone spindle which could then be spun to consolidate t the fibers creating twine. The winged shape would make the spinning an easy action.
The Archaeology collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania contain hundreds of complete and fragmented bannerstones. As some of our ardent followers may recall Sam Azzaro, a 2014 intern from Dickinson College worked with some of our bannerstones creating a detailed inventory that included descriptions, weights, and measurements. He blogged about his research on January 30, 2015. A subsequent intern Naomi Ulmer created a similar database with our axe collection. She was able to build on the bannerstone data by including 25 bannerstones with the many axes that she and former Senior Curator Dr. Kurt Carr and Dr. Robert Smith, Pennsylvania Geological Survey analyzed, to determine lithic types for both axes and bannerstones. Of those analyzed the majority were made of serpentine, a metamorphic rock composed of various minerals, as a result it can appear in many colors, but the eastern variety is often tan or beige (Carr, 2015).
Blackwall is an igneous rock that transformed over time, becoming a form of serpentine schist.
Greywackes are characteristically hard, dark gray-green coarse-grained sandstone.
|Hornblende is a metamorphic rock with a high silica content.|
Steatite is a very soft, metamorphic stone often referred to as soapstone.
Other anomalies of the bannerstones include the question of why so many are found with incompletely drilled holes. Sometimes the appearance is of a clearly unfinished bannerstone, so not being drilled is understandable, but in many cases the artifact appears “finished” and is highly polished but exhibits only a partially drilled hole. Approximately 32 percent of the bannerstones analyzed by Sam Azzaro were either not drilled or only partially drilled.
Many of the bannerstone fragments recovered feature intentionally drilled holes in the wings. These may be repair holes to rebind the broken pieces back together. Were the bannerstones special beyond
their function? Their significance may have been so important that even after they broke, they were redrilled and reused as pendants, sinew, or tally stones.
|Broken wing from a bannerstone with 2 drill holes. Image from the collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.|
Drilled bannerstone fragment, image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania
As with so many things, especially archaeology, the more we learn the more questions we have and clearly many questions remain about this enigmatic artifact, the bannerstone.
We hope you have enjoyed this blog and will continue to visit us as we highlight the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology. We invite you to view additional pieces from our collections.
Baer, John Leonard 1921 A Preliminary Report on the So-Called “Bannerstones”. American Anthropologist 23(4):445-459.
Blume, Anna 2021 Bannerstones, an Introduction. Smarthistory, accessed 2/24/2023
Carr, Kurt 2015 Analysis Notes
Herbstritt, James 2023 Personal Communication
Knoblock, Byron 1939 Bannerstones of the North American Indian. Self-published, LaGrange, Illinois