Monday, May 1, 2023

Teshoa: A Chipped Stone Tool of Many Uses

This week in Pennsylvania archaeology (TWIPA) has defined many different types of stone tools found on Pre-Contact archaeological sites over the years. Tool-types like spearheads, arrowheads and axe heads are easily recognized by their distinctive forms while other stone tools, are frequently misidentified or overlooked by professional and avocational archaeologists alike. This week, we recognize the teshoa, one such often overlooked artifact in the prehistoric tool kit. Teshoas are simple multi-purpose hand-held flake tools most commonly made from river cobbles of quartzite, siltstone, or sandstone. Used in a variety of ways — to butcher meat, cut reeds and grass, scrape animal hides, and scale fish, to name a few — their presence in the archaeological record dates back in time many millennia.  

Nineteenth century first-hand accounts document Shoshone women from the North American southwest using cobble flake tools to process buffalo skins (Leidy 1873). It is from these accounts and others of the Shoshone tribes that the tool name was derived. The word teshoa linguistically originates from Shoshonean words tossawi [Fort Hall Shoshone tribal language] and tocawig [Washakie Shoshone tribal language] (Gatschet 1888; Schmidt-Wartemberg 1889). Frances Eyman (1968), who has done extensive research on teshoa tools, stated that both terms have a shared meaning for what archaeologists call a teshoa today. Joseph Gebow (1868) and Harry Hull St. Claire II (1902) associate the root of the word tsekah or tcikaa, “to cut”, with the term teshoa.

More than a century after ethnographic and linguistic information was published, examples of teshoa tools were recognized at archaeological sites in different parts of eastern North America. According to Herbert Kraft, the tool form has a broad distribution, “. . . from the Delmarva peninsula through New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and eastern New York and New England . . .” (Kraft 1966). Restricting this discussion to Pennsylvania-based archaeological discoveries, we’ll review the presence of ‘teshoa’ tool forms to the Delaware and Susquehanna valleys.

Examples of teshoa tools have been found up and down the Delaware and Susquehanna River shorelines. These are frequently overlooked because of their water worn appearance.

Teshoas recovered from the Susquehanna River shoreline, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Image courtesy Kelly Baer.

The first formal recognition of the teshoa in Pennsylvania archaeology was John Witthoft and the Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) investigations at the Overpeck site (36BU5) located near Kintnerville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  

Teshoas from Overpeck; middle row left – teshoa pebble core. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Early and Late Woodland soil strata at Overpeck contained teshoa tools and the cobble cores from which they were made along with the diagnostic artifacts such as pottery and projectile points that demonstrated clear cut cultural associations. Subsequently, teshoas and teshoa-like tools have been reported from other investigations at Pre-contact sites in the Delaware River valley and elsewhere.

        Prior to the proposed construction of the Tocks Island Reservoir, archaeological excavations conducted by Herbert Kraft, Seton Hall University (1972), David Werner, Lenape Chapter 12, SPA, and Fred Kinsey, Franklin and Marshall College (1972) recovered teshoas and teshoa related tools from the Miller Field, Zimmermann, and Faucett sites, respectively. Other sites in the region continue to yield these unique tools in similar Delaware Valley contexts.

          Stone tools that fit the teshoa description are also found on Archaic and Woodland age sites located in the Susquehanna Valley of central and southeastern Pennsylvania. One of these is the Parker Site (36Lu14), a Wyoming Valley Complex Late Woodland settlement dating to the 15th century C.E., located on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. The site was investigated in the early 1970’s by Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) archaeologists (Herbstritt 2019; Smith 1973). Apart from a single teshoa core of granitic rock, all teshoa tools from Parker were made from indurated siltstone and sandstone cobbles. 

Pebble core and teshoas from Parker. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

         Archaeological excavations at a site near Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, occupied around the same time as 36Lu14, also recovered an assemblage of teshoa tools manufactured from silt and sandstone cobbles.

Teshoas from Clinton County, Pennsylvania. West Branch Susquehanna River Valley. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Teshoas recovered from PHMC excavations at the deeply stratified Archaic site on Piney Island, in the lower Susquehanna valley were made from a greater diversity of stone material (Kent 1970).  Locally sourced quartzite and diabase cobbles were the preferred raw materials used to manufacture teshoas and teshoa-like cobble tools at the Piney Island site. .

Teshoas from Piney Island. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

             Experimental archaeology research into teshoa tool use and function provides further insights into the archaeological and ethnographic/linguistic record. Lithic technology experimentation with replicated teshoa tools has assisted with interpreting the potential functions of this class of artifact as it applies to stone tool use in prehistory (Coles 1973; Roberts and Sant 1983). Comparing the distinct wear patterns from cutting different materials such as wood, bone, skin, etc. on experimentally replicated tools to the wear patterns on archaeologically recovered teshoa tools can help identify and infer an artifact’s function or multiple functions over its use-life.  

Replicated examples of teshoa tools and pebble core. The State Museum of Pennsylvania. 

We hope that you have enjoyed this blog on a unique, and often overlooked artifact type in the archaeological site record. Please visit us next time for another topical presentation from TWIPA.


Coles, John

1973    Archaeology by Experiment. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York


Eyman, Frances

1968    The Teshoa: A Shoshonean Woman’s Knife: A Study of American Indian Chopper Industries. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 34(3-4):9-52.


Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14

1980    The Overpeck Site (36BU5). Pennsylvania Archaeologist 50(3):1-46.


Gatschet, Albert S.

1888    Words of the Shoshone Language, as Spoken at the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho Territory, May 1888. MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 749. Washington


Gebow, Joseph A.

1868    A Vocabulary of the Snake or Sho-sho-nay Dialect. 2nd edition. Green River City. Wyoming.


Herbstritt, James T.

2019    Becoming Susquehannock: The West Branch and North Branch Traditions in: The Susquehannocks: New Perspectives on Settlement and Cultural Identity. Edited by Paul A. Raber. The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Kent, Barry C.

1970    Diffusion Spheres and Band Territoriality Among the Archaic Period Cultures of the Northern Piedmont. Doctoral dissertation. The Pennsylvania State University.


Kinsey, W. Fred III

1972    Faucett Site 36-Pi-13A Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.


Kraft, Herbert C.

1966    Teshoas and Elongated Pebble Tools. The Archaeological Society of New Jersey. Bulletin Number 23: 1-6.

1972    The Miller Field Site; Warren County, New Jersey in: Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.          


Leslie, Vernon

1973    Faces in Clay: The Archaeology and Early History of the Red Man in the Upper Delaware Valley. 1st Edition, T. Emmett Henderson, Publisher, Middletown, New York.


Leidy, Joseph

1872    On Remains of Primitive Art in the Bridger Basin of Southern Wyoming. In: A Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, 6th Annual Report, edited by F.V. Heyden, pp.651-54. Pls. 7-12. Washington


Roberts, Daniel G. and Mark B. Sant

1983    A Preliminary Replicative Analysis of Teshoa Flake Production. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 53(1-2):28-41.      

Smith, Ira F.

1973    The Parker Site; A Manifestation of the Wyoming Valley Culture. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 43(3-4): 1-56


St. Claire, Harry Hull, II

1902    Shoshonean Dictionary. MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 2948A, pp.74-266. Washington.


Schmidt-Wartemberg, H.

1889    Shoshone, Waskakie, Box Elder Creek, Utah. (On Powell’s printed vocabulary Schedule sheets.) MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 789. Washington.


Werner, David

1972    Zimmerman Site 36-Pi-14 in: Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.


Witthoft, John

n.d.      Overpeck and Diehl Site Report. Unpublished manuscript on file at the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

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