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.
|Pebble core and teshoas from Parker. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.|
|Teshoas from Clinton County, Pennsylvania. West Branch Susquehanna River Valley. 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.
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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
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Kraft, Herbert C.
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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.
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n.d. Overpeck and Diehl Site Report. Unpublished manuscript on file at the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.