Articles

A Grooved Pick Bannerstone

 

Sometime during the period of four to eight thousand years ago, an early American lost or cached a large curved and bi-pointed stone device in the Piedmont.  Thirty or so years in the past, this odd looking artifact was found on the surface of a plowed field near the state border of Virginia and North Carolina.  This odd appearing device was later discerned to be a very rare grooved pick bannerstone.

There are no clear cut answers for exactly what the tools we call bannerstones were actually used.  The thoughts of most scholars and collectors, today, are that they were used as spear thrower counter weights as well as being emblems of authority by the ancient area rulers.  The shapes of these ancient artifacts vary from very simple river polished pebbles, through which  holes were often drilled, to extremely complex profiles completely crafted from rare lithic materials.  In the Piedmont of Virginia and the Carolinas, the preponderance of bannerstones that have been found, are of the simpler styles such as pick, oval and crescent forms and many of these are made of the regional soapstone or steatite.  Most feature a drilled hole, basically in the center of the tool, with this aperture being in the range of ½ to ¾ inches in diameter.  Since these regional tools are of the simpler designs, the current thoughts are that they were used as throwing stick counterweights during the Archaic and/or Woodland Periods versus being used as standards or guidon contrivances for area kings.   The drilled holes were there so the bannerstone could be slipped onto the spearthrower handle or the ruler’s banner pole.  The implement called a spearthrower was simply a straight shaft, maybe 1 ½ to 2 feet in length, with a haft on one end so the native could grasp it.  The opposite extremity of the instruments length held a small hook onto which to attach the end of the spear or dart not containing the stone projectile point.   The purpose of this tool was so the hunter could gain momentum and force while throwing his missile towards a game animal or an enemy.  The stone weight attached to this handle simply allowed the person propelling the spear to add more kinetic energy to the throwing action thus allowing for a deeper penetration into the target.

This particular tool is of the style called pick bannerstone because the shape is similar to the soil and stone chopping tool that is named a pick.  These pick bannerstones were used by ancient natives throughout the eastern half of the country now called North America.  In the Piedmont, they are often archaeologically associated with the Archaic Period Stanly bifurcated point, which places them in the 5,000 to 6,000 BC time period.  Of course these rare artifacts could have been used, and probably were, well before and after the Archaic Stanly point era.  Drilled pick banners, while not common artifacts, have been found in considerable numbers - but this tool is not a drilled pick bannerstone.                                                                                                   This implement is much rarer than the more common drilled variety because, instead of having a bored center hole, it has two obvious grooves on each face of its ovoid cross-section shape.  These grooves were probably used to tie the ancient implement to a spear throwing stick. Or considering its large size, it could have been attached to a long shaft carried by a king – thus being a stone banner.  It is 9 ¼ inches long and 1 ½ inches in diameter in the center and is made of dark grey steatite.  The grooves are each about 7/8 inches in width and 3/16 inches in depth on each face.  This, Stokes County, NC found tool, most likely was well polished during its usage life but the actions of thousands of years of weathering in the acid soil has removed most of the ancient luster.  During my many years of so studying these elusive Indian artifacts, I have been able to observe and study maybe a hundred pick banners made of slate, granite, basalt and steatite but have only seen four that had grooves instead of a center hole and this one is by far the largest and most well-made of the four.

Since no one truly knows for sure just how these strange artifacts were actually used, they are now and probably always will be considered problematic.  And this one would be considered even more controversial because of the grooves.  But anomalies such as this are a considerable part of the joy of collecting Indian artifacts.  And this particular oddity has been a joy for this writer to study and appreciate – this rare grooved pick bannerstone.

 

REFERENCES:

Brierer, Bert W.                                              1977

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Coe, Joffre L., PhD                                          1964

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Holland, C. G.                                                  1970

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Hothem, Lar                                                    1990

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Hranicky, Wm. Jack                                        1982

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    VARIOUS STATES

Knoblock, Byron W.                                         1939

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Lutz, David L.                                                   2000

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Maus, James E.                                               1998

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Rights, Douglas L.                                           1947

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Swope, Robert, Jr.                                           1982

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Wetmore, Ruth Y.                                           1975

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