Articles

A NICE GNEISS CELT

 

The Tar Heel state is blessed with copious amounts and types of minerals and rocks.  Most modern-day farmers would probably say that there are really too many large and smalls stones in their Piedmont and mountain agricultural fields but the natives who lived in the region for well over ten thousand years certainly made use of this abundance of dense minerals.  One type that is very common, but is possibly unknown to many contemporary Carolinians, was used by an ancient Indian tool maker to create this rather nice gneiss celt.

 

Gneiss (pronounced as NICE in the English language) is a coarse-grained metamorphic rock that consists of light colored layers of minerals (mostly feldspar and quartz) alternating with dark colored mineral stratums (mostly hornblende and biotite which is commonly known as black mica).  Gneiss was created by metamorphic action millions of years ago and in some areas it was formed in the Pre-Cambrian Period over 3.6 billion years in the past. This metamorphic activity used great pressure and heat (over 1100 degrees Fahrenheit), deep under the Earth’s crust, to transform igneous and sedimentary rocks into this gneissic form.  The sedimentary minerals were mostly slates and schists and are known, today, as paragneiss and the igneous stones were such as diorite and granite and are now scientifically called orthogneiss.  This extreme intrusive pressure and heat caused the minerals to separate and essentially become semi-molten and to reconstitute into foliated irregular bands or layers of the elements as the rock cooled.  The odd name Gneiss comes from an old German language word “gneist” which translates as spark and this mineral was given that name because the black mica in the stone causes it to glitter or seemingly spark.  As mentioned above, gneiss is a very common stone but since it was formed very deep under our planet’s mantle, it is not often seen on the surface where we live.  It is occasionally found in the Piedmont of the Old North State and more often seen in the Appalachian Mountains since, geologically speaking, gneiss is associated with ancient mountain building.  There is even a town named Gneiss located in the gneiss mineral producing mountainous region of Macon County, NC.  Gneiss rocks in this mountain range are in the 1.1 to 1.2 billion years old range and were formed during the episode of mountain shaping called Grenvillian Orgeny.  This era was a long-lived Mesoproterzoic event dated from about 1.0 to 1.6 billion years ago during the formation of the Rodina supercontinent which encompassed much of current North America.

 

This celt (also known as an un-grooved axe) is made of orthogneiss or in laymen’s terms granite gneiss.  It was found near the Yadkin River in the northern foothills of North Carolina and would have had a manufacturing date being the Late Woodland into the Mississippian Period or AD 500-1600.  It is 7 ½ inches long and was probably much longer prehistorically before it was re-sharpened, most likely, many times.  The artisan would have started with a long and slender piece of the gneiss material and slowly pecked at the surface with a hard hammer stone until the desired size and shape was attained.  The cutting bit would have then have been sharpened and polished using abrasive stones and sand/water at which point in time the celt could have been used to cut firewood or a multitude of other village chores or even as a weapon of war.  Ancient tools made of the mineral complex called gneiss are quite rare because the stone is normally not found on the surface anywhere on Earth.  The chunk of rock with which the axe maker began to fashion this tool could have been eroded out in any one of the mountainous regions and slowly tumbled along the Yadkin River until found by the tool maker.  Or it could have weathered from the soil along the river in this foothills territory. There is no way to determine just where it was geologically formed or even where it was manufactured into its current axe form.  But where is not as important as the fact that it does exist because it is a very rare example of ancient stone tool making and it is also an extremely nice gneiss celt.

 

REFERENCES:

Blatt, Harvey & Robert J. Tracey                                1996

     PETROLOGY: IGNEOUS, SEDIMENTARY and METAMORPHIC

Dietrich, R. & B. Skinner                                             1979

     ROCKS AND ROCK MINERALS

Fundaburk, Emma L & Mary D. Foreman                  1957

     SUN CIRCLES AND HUMAN HANDS

Hranicky, Wm .Jack                                                    1995

     PREHISTORIC AXES, CELTS, BANNERSTONES AND OTHER LARGE TOOLS IN VIRGINIA AND

     VARIOUS STATES

Maus, James E.                                                           2010

     “The Celt”, JimMausArifacts.com

Rights, Douglas L.                                                       1947

     THE AMERICAN INDIAN IN NORTH CAROLINA

Wetmore, Ruth Y.                                                       1975

 

     FIRST ON THE LAND: THE NORTH CAROLINA INDIANS