New Book Available: Chiefdom on the Cumberland

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog is proud to announce the publication of a new book on Middle Tennessee archaeology.  After many years of dedicated research and writing, Mr. Donald B. Ball has just completed a book presenting the history and evolution of archaeology in Middle Tennessee and focusing on the Mississippian archaeology of the Middle Cumberland region. The title of the new book is Chiefdom on the Cumberland.  This hardcover book contains 408 pages, including the main text, copious annotations, 12 appendices, more than 65 pages of references, and an extensive index.  The publisher is Borgo Publishing, a full-service, independent publishing company headquartered in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  This is the same excellent company that published Mr. Ball’s recent, 2-volume editorial work entitled Stone Age Man in the Middle South.

Cumberland Chiefdom

You may read more about Chiefdom on the Cumberland and Stone Age Man in the Middle South in the following flyer from the Borgo Publishing Company:

Borgo Publishing Flyer

We believe Chiefdom on the Cumberland and Stone Age Man in the Middle South are must own books for anyone interested in the Mississippian archaeology of the Middle Cumberland region of Tennessee, Middle Mississippi Valley, and Southeastern United States. The Archaeology in Tennessee blog highly recommends both books to you. You may purchase the new book right now at or the Seattle Book Company for the price of just $55.  Stone Age Man in the Middle South is also available from  Please click on one or the other of the following links to make your purchase of the new book:

Donald B. Ball has a B.S. degree in history from Middle Tennessee State University (1970) and an M.A. degree in anthropology/archaeology (1977) from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee. Upon completion of his graduate studies, Don accepted a job offer for an archaeologist position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Louisville District, in Louisville, Kentucky. He managed cultural resources for USACE until his retirement in 2004. Throughout his long career, Don has maintained an unusually wide range of professional interests that include (but are not limited to) prehistoric archaeology, historical archaeology, the history of American archaeology, history of Tennessee and the United States, Southern Appalachian folk culture, grist mills, historic cemeteries, and firearms artifacts. His list of excellent professional publications is both long and formidable. For a number of years, Don was the editor of the Proceedings of the Symposium for Historic and Urban Archaeology. Currently, he serves as the editor of two regional journals, Ohio Valley Historical Archaeology and The Millstone: Journal of the Kentucky Old Mill Association. In addition to being a member of several professional organizations and archaeological societies, Don is a Registered Professional Archaeologist in Kentucky.

Theme Song for the Archaeology in Tennessee Blog

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog has been going full steam for nearly three years and with no end in sight. Everyone in our household loves music―classical, rock & roll, pop, opera, disco, bubble gum, rhythm & blues, country, bluegrass―you name it. Dad and mom have been music aficionados for decades, and our two children have continued the tradition by playing violin and viola for many years in the award-winning string orchestras of the Oak Ridge school system. Music is all around us and everywhere. Considering this omnipresence, it has occurred to me on several occasions that the Archaeology in Tennessee blog ought to adopt an official theme song. On and off, I have been listening for just the right song for the past three years―something special and spot-on that embodies the sometimes very serious and sometimes quite whacky personality of the blog—but also captures what it is truly like to work (and play) in the unusual little world of professional archaeology. No matter how much I listened, no song ever seemed quite right. That ended today, and the blog now has its theme song.

Before you play the song at the end of this post, I would like to lay out a bit of the thinking behind the choice of this song and how it relates to me personally, the blog, and the world of professional archaeology. Unfortunately, those of you who are incessantly focused on presenting a very cold and clinical view of American archaeology to the public and private sector business world, so people will one day respect archaeologists as professionals in the same sense that they respect attorneys, medical doctors, engineers, and corporate executives, may not like this way of thinking. However, I hope you can find a way to adjust. Here are some thoughts related to the theme song:

1) After receiving my graduate degree in anthropology/archaeology at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) in 1982, I was burned out on too many years of school and too much archaeology. Along the way I had accumulated a great deal of unhappiness and disillusionment about the weird little world of professional archaeology and the many things that were just plain wrong—morally and socially unconscionable—within the “system” nationwide. I was upset about it too.  Therefore, right after my graduate degree was in hand, I intentionally gave up my long-held Ph.D. dream, decided to leave American archaeology cold turkey, and insisted that I would never come back to it again.   (Normally, I am not a quitter.  In fact, throughout my professional career, I have been the one person who doggedly stayed to finish the job when the other 99 people wimped out early.)  Some of my professors and closest colleagues probably thought I had lost my mind for laying it all aside. Nonetheless, the sense of putting a lot of space between me and American archaeology, starting all over again, working in a new professional arena, and just having some time off from the incessant archaeological grind was both scary and exhilarating. It all felt so right—a little bit crazy too—and my emotions really did echo in all of that newly empty space between me and American archaeology.

2) I came back to American archaeology, slowly at first, in 1995 as part of my newly found environmental protection career and have not looked back since that time. Some fortune and blessings fell my way, alleviating some of the old concerns that I had had about American archaeology and the “system.” It was not necessary for me to live as a modern-day gypsy like so many people in CRM do, and my jobs were always very high-paying jobs with a full range of benefits. I indeed had the time of my life and enjoyed American archaeology once again.  You might say that I was fortunate enough to have my archaeological cake and eat it too in a way that many American archaeologists never have an opportunity to do.

My advice to others (in all things) would be to do something I failed to do at the start of my college days. Think twice. Think twice about studying archaeology and working in archaeology. Make sure it is what you really want to do with your work life. Find out all you can about the anthropology/archaeology discipline and the ”cursed system” before jumping into the pond.  Ask yourself whether you can live physically and emotionally with the many unusual ways it can impinge upon a normal life and family life. Ask yourself if you can move frequently all over the nation and enjoy a feeling of not being rooted in one place. If you grew up dirt poor like I did, ask yourself if you can enjoy a life of poverty or the always looming shadow of the poverty wolf scratching at your door.  For those of you who are already in the American archaeology pond, “think twice” before making major career and professional decisions. If you fail to do that, things can get crazy fast. Always think carefully and twice in all that you do.

3) It sometimes concerns me that many professional archaeologists have tunnel vision and are out of touch with both themselves and reality. One really could ask the question: “Who do you think you are?” If you sit back and “think twice” about a lot of things in American archaeology, you become aware that the true circumstances, social problems, and systemic problems in American archaeology are grossly incompatible with the numerous hyperinflated egos one encounters. One of the chief problems is that many American archaeologists have deluded themselves into thinking that they have a level of control they do not really have in the context of American society as a whole. A clinical psychologist would call it a unique form of dissociation.  The notion that Ph.D. archaeologists garner special status and deference in our society as a whole is more a dream than a reality. In the private sector business world, archaeologists (regardless of degree) are often thought of as occasional “necessary evils,” and real respect and appreciation for what we do is often minimal at best.  I know because I have worked there and seen it first hand. Private developers still ignore us and destroy archaeological sites on a grand scale—while we look the other way as if it is not really happening.  We are, more often than not, absolutely powerless to stop them.  In addition, professional archaeologists have waged an often vicious but highly unsuccessful war against artifact collecting for the past 60 years. The original goal was to bring an end to artifact collecting and thereby protect archaeological sites from context-destroying digging. It may have worked to some degree with federal and state property.  However, by any reasonable measure, this effort has been a miserable failure overall. With the advent of the Internet, the hobby of collecting Native American artifacts (and all of the buying, selling, trading, and digging that goes on with it) has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years and is still growing. This is what artifact collectors all over the nation tell me. So, after looking at all of this, do you really think you are in control? Where did you ever come up with that delusion?

4) Some of us might not have known it at the time, but we were really going out on a limb when we got involved in professional archaeology―just like many of our heroes did in the decades before us (Jimmy Griffin, Tom Lewis, Madeline Kneberg, Lew Binford, and many more). Like gibbons swinging from tree to tree, we all wanted to be just like them and be out on that tree limb with them. The Archaeology in Tennessee blog is one of my tree limbs, and I enjoy going out on the limbs.  American archaeology is all about living out on the edge in ways that people in most other careers rarely experience.  Just like medical doctors, we are professional archaeologists 24 hours per day all year long.

5) Do you remember when you were a member of the liddle peeple? We were all little people at one time, and many of us enjoyed playing in the dirt. It looked like fun!!! It was no mere coincidence that we entered the world of professional archaeology. We loved the subject matter and were attracted to the mystery like iron filings to a magnet. When you were young, they called it passion. Working on this blog and my own private research projects has reignited my passion for archaeology, which is why I am often writing an informative post or researching some topic just for fun.  Some of us need to find a way to reignite our lost passion and think of archaeology as being fun again. It is the F-word. The F-word is key: FUN!!! It was no coincidence that we got into archaeology. It was an irresistible attraction to the subject matter we loved—and it was fun!!! I plan to have fun with archaeology on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog and through the Oak Ridge Archaeological Research Institute (small scale and pretentious though it may be). I have a lot left to do, and I can die in peace when it is done.

6) I know. I know. You think I am more than a little bit loony after reading this, but you have to remember that we all had to be a bit crazy to go into American archaeology like we did.  Click on the following URL to listen to our theme song:

Mihaela Noroc and the Atlas of Beauty Project

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog appreciates excellence in photography, especially photography focusing on anthropological and archaeological subject matter.  I was surfing around the Internet a few nights ago and came upon a series of outstanding and hauntingly beautiful photographs of young women in various cultural contexts around the world.  The brilliant photographer who took these wonderful photographs is Ms. Mihaela Noroc, and she posts these photographs on her project website Atlas of Beauty (  We who work in anthropology and archaeology around the world know well the importance of funding,  Therefore, we here at the blog are encouraging our readers to donate funds so Ms. Noroc can continue this worldwide photography project.  You may do so at the following link:

All of Ms. Noroc’s photographs are excellent, but I was particularly struck by her photograph of a Kichwa girl in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador.  In this particular Native American culture, girls marry when they are 15 or 16 years old.  The picture of this young lady was taken on her wedding day, and she is dressed in her wedding outfit and wearing the appropriate facial cosmetics and feathering for the occasion.  Here at the blog, we think she is beautiful, and we wish her and her new husband the very best in life.

Kichwa Girl

Flint Fishhooks and Ivory Soap (Part I)

As the century was drawing to a close, Lame Beaver had lived half of it and seen many things―and now he had been told that he would see a god.

—James A. Michener (1978)

1.0     Background

Although most citizens of Tennessee do not work as professional archaeologists or collect Native American artifacts as a hobby, it would be fair to say that a very large number of Tennesseans own a prehistoric lithic artifact that was found quite by accident, taken home, dropped into a drawer, and soon forgotten. Many of our citizens have an old King Edward, Swisher Sweets, or Roi-Tan cigar box full of assorted lithic artifacts that were found or otherwise accumulated during childhood. Some of these artifacts are referred to as arrowheads by the average citizen, but most of these items were too large to be used on the business ends of arrows. They were used as spear thrower (atlatl) dart points or knives, and professional archaeologists often refer to them as projectile points/knives or use the initialism pp/k when talking or writing about them.

Many of these fine citizens remember where they stashed their cigar box 35 years ago. If you bring up the subject of Native American artifacts in a living room conversation with one of these people, he will quickly run to his attic or garage, grab the box, and show off the artifacts inside it. He will proudly present his whole pp/k’s, broken pp/k’s, drill bits, and other assorted lithic tools―and then―just like with Lame Beaver―say that you will soon be seeing a small god. Then he will reach for the old, yellowed handkerchief in the corner of the cigar box, carefully unfold it, and say, “This’un here’s my pride and joy, the very best one in the whole box. It’s my rare flint fishhook.” If you look really amazed and interested, the owner may tell you who found it, how it was found, when it was found, and where it was found. Flint fishhooks are often accompanied by a background story.

2.0     Morphology of Flint Fishhooks

Flint fishhooks come in various shapes and sizes, and they tend to be less than 7.62 cm in length (Figure 1). The most commonly seen ones are similar in shape and style to the dark-colored one in the bottom row (middle) of Figure 1. This is the typical J-shaped flint fishhook. The J-shaped flint fishhooks sometimes have an expanded, T-Shaped top for securely tying on a fishing line. Others have only a slightly expanded top for this purpose.  Still others have one or two top notches (sometimes circumferential) to hold the fishing line.  The bodies (sometimes called “shafts”) of J-shaped flint fishhooks are much wider than the bodies of our modern metal fishhooks, which leave the factory in a J shape. The pointed end of the flint fishhook is designed to sink deeply into the oral flesh of the fish, allowing a fisherman to snag and haul in his catch.

Although not shown in Figure 1, some small of the small, J-shaped flint fishhooks have narrow, thin, fragile-looking bodies with an exterior spike that protrudes downward from the bottom curve of the J.  This spike is sometimes straight, or it can be curved forwards or backwards. This extra spike was presumably added to better hold a fish on the hook, but its position often looks as if it would pose a hindrance to any fish that might want to bite on the hook.   Occasionally, a person will encounter a U-shaped flint fishhook, either with or without canine-tooth barbs.

Flint Fish Hooks II

Figure 1.     An Assortment of Flint Fishhooks

3.0     Lithic Raw Materials Used to Make Flint Fishhooks

Flint fishhooks are usually made from high-quality, easily worked flint (hence their name), which is more commonly referred to by petrologists and archaeologists as chert, a cryptocrystalline silicate stone that occurs naturally in Tennessee and many other states. This is the brittle, waxy rock from which most prehistoric lithic artifacts are made. Chert shatters easily during knapping and exhibits conchoidal (bulb-shaped) flaking scars as a result of the knapping process. Flint fishhooks are made from many different types and colors of chert raw materials.

More properly, flint fishhooks should be termed chert fishhooks, but we have retained use of the term flint fishhook throughout this series of five blog posts because it is the term used most in recent American history and the term that is still used in casual conversation among ordinary citizens.

4.0     Distribution of Flint Fishhooks in the United States

Flint fishhooks are commonly found in private Native American artifact collections across Tennessee and the nation, and some museums have them in their collections and on display to the public. One such museum that has 12 of them on display is the state-supported Lenoir Museum Cultural Complex, which is located in Norris State Park near Norris, Tennessee. They have the common J-shaped flint fishhooks and the fragile J-shaped fishhooks with barbs that protrude from the bottom of the curve in the J.  Flint fishhooks are almost never encountered in the Native American artifact collections obtained from professional archaeological excavations and curated by American universities, federal museums, and federal/state archaeological research facilities. Another place where flint fishhooks are almost never seen is in the collection of an avocational archaeologist or a well-educated Native American artifact collector.

5.0     Folklore and Dogma about Flint Fishhooks

Considerable folklore surrounds the flint fishhook, and as is the case with all true folklore, it is usually passed from one person to another orally rather than in writing. It arises in conversations among professional archaeologists and among average citizens who are interested in Native American artifacts. Some of this folklore has become dogmatic in nature. For example, one often hears that no flint fishhook has ever been found by a professional archaeologist on the ground surface or in an excavation square on a Native American archaeological site. Most avocational archaeologists and knowledgeable Native American artifact collectors will tell you the same thing. This is usually followed by the casual statement that “all flint fishhooks are fake artifacts.” If a person states otherwise in a conversation, it immediately raises eyebrows, and another conversant is quick to step in and correct their obvious error. Turner, Hester, and McReynolds (2011;38) have issued the strongest dogmatic statement on this subject in the recent professional archaeological literature:

One of the most common fakes is the chert fishhook…and all experts agree―there is not, and never has been, a single authentic specimen of this form. Bone and shell hooks dominated the fishing technology of American Indians.

Another aspect of this dogma is the strong belief that a flint fishhook is not thin enough and sharp enough to puncture the oral tissue of a freshwater or marine fish. This dogma goes on to say that flint fishhooks are too fragile and brittle to withstand the intense struggle of a frightened fish that has latched onto one. In support of these strong personal convictions, people point out the fact that ancient Native Americans had several more effective and efficient means of catching fish, including flexible fishhooks made from animal bone, shell fishhooks, weighted fish nets, fishing spears of various types, portable fish traps, and weir traps constructed in stream beds.

Parts II through V of this series will address: (1) the history of flint fishhooks in the United States and Western Europe; (2) the issue of whether any credible archaeological evidence for ancient Native American flint fishhooks exists; (3) the practicality of actually catching a fish with a flint fishhook; and (4) some derived conclusions about the folklore and dogma associated with flint fishhooks in the United States.

6.0     References

Michener, James A. 1978. Teleplay for the television miniseries Centennial (Episode 1). Based on the 1976 historical novel Centennial and later syndicated in DVD format by Universal Studios.

Turner, Ellen Sue, Thomas R. Hester, and Richard L. McReynolds 2011. Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians. Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing.

Photograph Credit – Mootsman. (Forum: Arrowheads and Indian Artifacts, Thread: For the Non-Believers….Flint Fish Hook), September 9, 2013.

Flint Fishhooks and Roi-Tan Cigars

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog would like to take this opportunity to apologize to our many readers for the time that has elapsed since our last post.  In addition to coping with job hunting, occasional family health issues, and being quite literally iced in at our house in Oak Ridge (mayday—send bread and milk), we have been researching and writing a five-part series of posts on flint fishhooks.  (We just heard a roar of laughter go up across Tennessee and the nation as we were typing the last part of that sentence.)  Yes, going into the matter, we too thought it would be a ridiculous topic that could be dispensed with in an easy, quick-and-dirty post.  However, as we proceeded on with our research, we quickly ran into a couple of totally unexpected things that, quite frankly, floored us with eye-crossing surprise.  Looking more deeply into those issues required additional time and effort—and resulted in even more surprise.  We are still doing some of the research, and we have completed about 70 percent of the writing in first draft form.  The title of this series is Flint Fishhooks and Ivory Soap.  Part I should be posted early next week.

This series of posts is part of our continuing 2015 effort to reach out to the average Tennessee citizen with information about archaeological issues (small and great) that often touch the lives of ordinary people in one way or another.  While writing Part I, we noted the fact that many ordinary Tennesseans have a cigar box full of lithic artifacts that were accumulated by various means during childhood.  We further noted that such boxes are sometimes Roi-Tan cigar boxes.  This brought to mind an old TV commercial for Roi-Tan cigars that dates back to the 1960s.  We were unable to find this particular commercial on You Tube or anywhere else on the Internet, but we do have some memory of it.  It was narrated by a young Hispanic woman with a sultry voice.  (No, it was not Edie Adams with a Spanish accent.  She was the spokesperson for Muriel cigars.)

Well, best as possible, we managed to recall the Roi-Tan slogan the Hispanic lady used, which was an abbreviated variation on a closely related slogan that went “Man to man—smoke a Roi-Tan.”  We also must note that some Roi-Tan cigar boxes during the 20th century were marked with “El Roi-Tan” instead of just “Roi-Tan.”  While writing about flint fishhooks, we were overcome with joy about this old commercial and decided to inject a small intermission item into the Part I post just for fun.  Unfortunately, it stuck out like a sore thumb in the middle of coldly serious archaeological writing—totally out of place.  Therefore, we decided to move it into this somewhat lighter post to have some fun.  If you feel inclined to do so, please join us in a little joy as we jointly pay vocal tribute to this old commercial and one type of informal Native American artifact curation box used by the average Tennessee child many years ago:

(Intermission: Just for fun, let us repeat this famous Roi-Tan cigar slogan from the 1960s and do it with our best sultry Spanish accents so the next-to-last, stretched-out syllable sucks hard on your uvula.  The phonetics are already provided.  All together now: “Mahn to mahn. El h’ r-r-r-r-r-oy Tahn!”  Many of you are probably too young to remember this old commercial.)

Yes, we sometimes go totally silly here at the blog,  However, we would hasten to add that the Archaeology in Tennessee blog is a strong supporter of Hispanic civil rights.  Never forget that most Hispanic people in the United States have a strong dose of Native American genes and culture, and Hispanic rights issues are, in a very real sense, Native American rights issues at their very roots.

Please come back and read our 5-part series of posts on flint fishhooks.  You too will be surprised and amazed by the same things we were.  Some of you will leave saying, “Oh my G… I would have never…”

Oukonunaka – Set Your Atlatl Darts on Stun

For the past three years, the Archaeology in Tennessee blog has published numerous posts aimed at audiences that were presumed to already have significant knowledge of Tennessee archaeology and American archaeology. These target audiences were professional archaeologists, museum professionals, avocational archaeologists, and artifact collectors. One of our goals for 2015 is to reach out even further with posts designed to inform the average Tennessee citizen about assorted matters (both small and great) in Tennessee archaeology. This post starts out small by examining a bifacial lithic tool that sometimes arises in casual conversations among citizens in Tennessee.

Some Star Trek fans are familiar with the smallest language details written into the scripts for the early television episodes and later movies. One such detail is when Captain Kirk orders Spock and other members of an Enterprise away team to “set your phasers on stun.” At some unknown point in Tennessee history, someone introduced the average Tennessee citizen to the notion that ancient Native Americans in our state could set their projectile weapons on stun.

It was 1960, and I was just 8 years old. At about that time, a relative of mine who collected Native American artifacts took me with him to a plowed field near Portland, Tennessee. I was told we would be spending our afternoon eyeballing the ground surface for something called Indian rocks. This broad term subsumed the term arrowhead, which I already knew about from watching sagebrush sagas on television.

The average man on a Tennessee street in the 1960s knew about as much about Tennessee archaeology as he does now―almost nothing. Raw material for flaked lithic tools was called flint in those days. If a flint artifact had an acute point on its distal end, two sharp blade edges, and an area on the proximal end for hafting it to a wooden or cane shaft, it was called an arrowhead. In reality, most of the so-called arrowheads that people found in plowed fields dated to the Archaic Period (8,000 – 700 B.C.) and were never used on arrows. Instead, they were used as knives or as dart tips for an ancient American dart-throwing device known as the atlatl. This unusual term was derived from the Nahuatl language, which was spoken by the ancient Aztecs in Mexico. Anthropological linguists later classified it as a member of the Uto-Aztecan language family. In Tennessee, use of the atlatl was common throughout the Archaic Period, but its use declined during the later Woodland Period (700 B.C. – A.D. 900), eventually giving way exclusively to the bow and arrow. However, the Aztecs in Mexico were still using the atlatl when Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes and his men arrived on their lands in A.D. 1519.

Our plowed field near Portland exhibited a very high density of prehistoric artifacts dating primarily to the Archaic Period. Even as a child, I knew what prehistoric dart points looked like and found a number of them at various locations as we walked the corn rows. Every once in a while, I was surprised to encounter a dart point that looked as if its tip had been broken off―and the broken area had been finely flaked into an excurvate edge all the way across while also creating a steep, angular profile on the newly flaked edge. Figures 1 and 2 show examples of this commonly found lithic artifact.

Hafted Endscraper I

Figure 1.  Highly Excurvate Putative Stunner

Hafted Endscraper II

Figure 2.  Projectile Point/Knife Flanked by Four Putative Stunners

I asked my uncle why the ancient Native Americans did this reshaping of dart points, and he did not know for sure at that time. Throughout the rest of my childhood, I sometimes wondered why ancient Native Americans did this lithic reworking on the distal ends of broken dart points. There were no Tennessee archaeologists in the Nashville area to consult about the matter, and the poorly stocked Sumner County Memorial Library had no reference books to clear it up.

During my teenage years, a local man and his colloquial wisdom briefly entered my life. To this day, I cannot recall who he was, but he is most likely dead by now. The subject of these rounded-off dart points came up in a conversation with this guy, and the old man’s wisdom flowed forth something like the following:

“Why boy!!! I know what them thangs are. Them’uns is stunners. The Indians used normal arrowheads with sharp points to kill their game, but sometimes they just wanted to stun their prey rather than kill it. They would take a broken arrowhead, round off the end, put it on an arrow, and let the flying force of the arrow stun the game when it hit.”

I did what most teenagers do―look upon such adult wisdom with skepticism. Why would an ancient Native American want to stun an animal when he could just kill it with a single shot? Stun an animal so he could kill it later? Either way, it was going into the boiling bag, so why not just kill the beast outright? Did he want to start a small Native American petting zoo? Considering the frequent and widespread occurrence of this artifact type throughout the Nashville area, that would have been a whole bunch of Archaic Period petting zoos, which seemed a bit left field at best. It also seemed unlikely that the force of a rounded-off point on an atlatl dart or arrow would stun a large animal like a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginanus). In short, the old man’s explanation made no sense to me.

The old man was indeed wrong. This type of lithic artifact is not a stunner. No such thing as a lithic stunner exists anywhere in Tennessee archaeology today, and it never has at anytime in the past. It is pure mythology. However, this piece of archaeological mythology was not just confined to one old man in the 1960s. Today this stunner mythology still circulates across Tennessee and anywhere else in the United States where this type of lithic artifact is found. It even circulates among people who have at least some knowledge about Native American artifacts―but should know better. If you are ever inclined to visit the many websites where ancient artifacts are bought, sold, and traded, it is not at all unusual to see the words “Stunners for Sale.”

The original source of stunner mythology is apparently unknown. An on-line search using several different keyword queries was conducted in hopes of finding some reliable historical information about who originated this “stunning” notion, where it began, and how it spread. One would think that at least some information about it would be floating around in cyberspace, but this inquiry turned out to be fruitless. On a related and amusing note, in an item published in the 20th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1896), Gerard Fowke notes that Charles Colcock Jones, Jr., the famous 19th century Georgia historian and antiquarian, believed Native Americans in the southeast designed this artifact as a special projectile tip for shooting off the heads of birds. Why would ancient Native Americans want to shoot off a bird’s head rather than shoot some other part of its body? You can travel back through time and ask C.C. Jones that one.

In archaeological reality, what is this odd lithic artifact? Archaeologists who specialize in prehistoric lithic analysis refer to it as a hafted endscraper or endscraper reworked on a projectile point/knife. The latter is most accurate because other kinds of unifacial and bifacial endscrapers could also be hafted. Most of these endscrapers are made from the proximal ends of accidentally or intentionally broken atlatl dart points or knives―or versions of these artifacts that got resharpened nearly to nubs and cried out for one last alternative use. Archaeologists believe they were hafted to short handles (about 20 cm long). They were used for scraping animal hides and other soft materials such as wood. The steep, angular bit end of this tool is generally considered to have been the ideal geometry for scraping tasks, although some of these ancient endscrapers exhibit sharp, straight edges rather than excurvate, steeply beveled ones. As previously noted, these artifacts are most often found on archaeological sites that date to the Archaic Period in Tennessee, particularly the Middle Archaic Period (6,000 – 2,500 B.C.) and the Late Archaic Period (2,500 – 1,200 B.C.). However, they are not exclusive to such sites, meaning they can also show up in archaeological sites and components dating to later time periods, perhaps sometimes as redeposited artifacts, as curated artifacts that were found and used, or as old projectile points/knives that were found and reshaped for scraping.

Photographs – Mr. Peter A. Bostrom at the Lithic Casting Lab in Troy, Illinois, kindly gave us permission to use his two photographs of endscrapers reworked on projectile points/knives.

Historic Preservation and Auschwitz

The Archaeology in Tennessee blog notes, along with many others of late, that we are approaching the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet soldiers at the end of World War II.  Why do we fight for historic preservation at places a normal human mind would want to forget?  I could write my usual long post here, but Rod Serling said it briefly and best at the end of this old episode from The Twilight Zone.  Please watch this free 20-minute episode at the following link, hear what Rod Serling has to say at the end of it, and never forget it:

Never forget it.