Five things you might not know about Native American lithic artifacts

By Jessica Munday-McGee

The Scott Antique Markets have high standards when it comes to quality antiques, and there is no exception to this rule when displaying pre-historic and historic lithic (stone) artifacts of Native Americans. It is imperative that the items on display be genuine. Scott Antique Markets proudly stands behind a strict code of ethics and honesty. In light of September 26 being Native American day, I have compiled a collection of interesting facts you may or may not be aware of when it comes to primitive stone tools that interest so many collectors.

Native American lithic (stone) artifacts are easily assembled into impressive displays — especially since they are relatively affordable. Shown here are 27 Northwest Coast points. Photo courtesy Seahawk Auctions, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada; www.seahawkauctions.com

Native American lithic (stone) artifacts are easily assembled into impressive displays — especially since they are relatively affordable. Shown here are 27 Northwest Coast points. Photo courtesy Seahawk Auctions, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada; www.seahawkauctions.com

Disappointingly, this holiday is only observed in three states, but we won’t let that stop us! Whether you have an interest in Native Americans or the discipline of archaeology or not, you will likely dig this feature!

1 If you really want to impress people, teach them the difference between an arrowhead and all other point types. Most people reference all stone tools with a point as an arrowhead, but a greater percentage of the time the item being identified is actually an atlatl point, spear point, knife, drill, or other point type. True arrowheads are those points produced to attach to the end of an arrow, and are usually fairly evenly triangular in shape. Atlatl points and spear points, comparatively, were around thousands of years before arrowheads.

No definitive date has been established for the emergence of the true arrowhead, but the tool definitely appears in multitude in the archaeological record in the United States during the Woodland period.

2 An atlatl is a spear (dart) throwing device used in pre-historic times by many indigenous tribes. Utilizing the atlatl adds greater velocity and force, as well as a much greater distance when released. This is due to the lengthening of the arm that the Atlatl provides, increasing the amount of thrust and power of the weapon. Evidence of atlatl use to “bring home the bacon” has been found on all continents except Antarctica.


This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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3 Quarry blanks are roughed out pieces of flint, usually in pre-form stages, to be carried great distances. Basically, flint was crudely worked down for easier transportation. Quarry blanks are more often referred to as cache blades because the preform blanks were often buried in the ground until needed. Some cache discoveries have been directly associated with burials, leading experts to speculate about ceremonial attributes. Commonly, these were used in trade with neighboring, as well as long distance tribes. Quarry blanks are also referenced as trade blanks; however, this implies that we know more than we do about intent. It could very well be that these blanks were for the tribe or person collecting them and not intended for trade at all. After all, it seems to be a basic human instinct to collect things. The antiques market is a testament to that! And even I had a rock collection as a child!

4 Sometimes a worked piece seems unfinished, when in fact it is actually complete. The ancient Americans sometimes only did what was necessary to accomplish their daily goals or current task. At times, the only way to tell a quarry blank from a finished piece is by examining the technique applied to the worked edges or by microwear analysis, which is employed by archaeologists on stone tools to obtain a more complete understanding of the economic activities performed with a finished product. Certain wear patterns can tell archaeologists if the tool was used in hide preparation, to saw plant material, or to whittle. Past societies made superb use of the resources at hand.

5 The reduction process takes some unique tools. Percussion flaking requires a large

For more information about lithics..

LITHICS An American Heritage: An Acquired Mastery Of The Natural Environment And Material Resources Is Clearly Demonstrated By High Quality Hunting Tools & Projectile Points

stone tool called a hammerstone. This process is meant to take larger pieces off to give the tool a more defined shape. Generally, hammerstones are recognized by the chipped edges left from wear impacts or battering damage. After the general shape of the blade is complete, refining and sharpening is done with either wood, bone, or antler flakers. This is the part where we sharpen things up. Flakers are used in what is described as pressure flaking. This part of the manufacturing process results in the sharp serrated edges of the lithic tool. The final stage of creating a point is to prep it for hafting or fastening to a spear, dart, or other projectile by notching or stemming the base of the tool. This step is also created by pressure flaking.

There are many types of stone artifacts that were used in all facets of life for the early Native Americans. Stone technology was used to start fires, crack open nuts, to chop, to grind, and even to make other tools. Studying these objects has allowed archaeologists to develop a greater understanding and respect for political economies, trading patterns, survival adaptations, religious institutions, social interaction, and many other critical components of the Native American cultural evolution.

Even though modern Native Americans no longer have a functional use for these basic tools, several stone implements are still employed during competitions, festivals, and ceremonies. Thus, these artifacts still play an imperative role in modern Native American societies.

Scott Antique Markets marvels at such beauty and quality, while articulating the utmost respect for Native American culture. Superior examples of authentic lithic artifacts can be admired and purchased at the Scott Antique Markets in Atlanta, Georgia, on the second weekend of every month, as well as monthly, November through March, in Columbus, Ohio.

I hope everyone takes the time to learn about Native American culture and tradition, especially during the month of November, which is right around the corner. November is officially Native American Heritage Month. Although archaeology can provide scientific insight into the past, it is the Native American oral traditions and personal knowledge of their heritage that compliment and, in fact, complete a total understanding of the content and evidence of the evolution of their profound culture. Besides, archaeological careers are in ‘ruins’! (Giggle)

About our contributor: Jessica Munday-McGee has a degree in Archaeology and is currently finishing her degree in Anthropology. She has a passion for research and writing, making Scott Antique Markets the perfect outlet for investigating antiquities.

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