Two Mystery Artifacts from 40DV434

My 1972 surface collection effort at the Hart site (40DV434) in Middle Tennessee contains two mystery artifacts I am a bit unsure about.  I was wondering if any of the readers who come to the Archaeology in Tennessee blog can more precisely identify these two artifacts. That should be fun. Some artifact description information and several photographs of the artifacts are provided for you below:

(1)  The first artifact is a small rim sherd from a ceramic vessel (Figures 1-4). I took some precise measurements of the sherd using the metric scale on my Mitotoyo digital calipers. Looking at this rim sherd in standard profile position, the very top of the lip is excurvate, and it curves gently inward toward the interior of the vessel. The exterior edge of the lip curves gently outwards and projects outwards 2.7 mm from the exterior body of the vessel. Still in profile position, this excurvate outward projection of the lip then curves down and inwards toward the exterior wall of the vessel. The vertical height of this exterior lip projection is 6.7 mm.  The exterior surface of the lip projection is smooth. The vessel wall thickness at the bottom of the sherd is 10.5 mm.

The interior surface of the sherd is even and quite smooth. The exterior surface of the vessel immediately below the lip bears some sort of curvilinear design impression. At first, I thought this might be some sort of curvilinear, complicated stamped design. However, the carved designs in the ancient wooden paddles used to stamp wet clay vessel surfaces (before firing) usually had very crisp and evenly spaced lines in the designs, which is not the case with this rim sherd.  Of course, I guess this could have been stamped with a very irregular and poorly made paddle design. Optionally, the exterior surface of this sherd could reflect cord marking or fabric marking.  The only problem I have with that is the parallel curved lines in the design and the absence of clear cord twists, knots, evidence of weaving, and so forth that one normally expects from ancient textile impressions in wet clay.  Another problem is the immediately-below-rim location of these impressions in the ancient ceramic vessel from which this sherd came.  Ancient potters had some “tight going” (for lack of a better term) in putting paddle and textile surface treatments in this specific area of a pottery vessel. This often makes it a bit harder to identify surface treatments for small sherds like this. A much larger sherd from the main body of this vessel would normally make pottery type identification much easier.

The sherd is really hard and in excellent condition. However, the tempering material is a major concern. I cannot determine what it is with certainty.  I am fairly certain it is not shell tempering. The paste contains no visible ground freshwater mussel shell or gastropod shell—and there are none of the numerous, tell-tale void spaces that are left behind when acidic soil dissolves the shell in pottery. No pieces of ground quartz, quartzite, or limestone are present, as one normally sees in Early Woodland and Middle Woodland period ceramics from Middle Tennessee. I am quite familiar with the sand-tempered Middle Woodland ceramics of East Tennessee, and I do not see anything in this sherd that clearly registers as sand tempering. A few small, but sparse, particles of gritty material are present, but I think these are natural inclusions within the clay paste. I see nothing in the paste that looks like ground up particles of ceramic material from old pottery vessels.

A Mississippian period component is known to be present at 40DV434. Because of the many straight stemmed pp/k’s in my 1972 surface collection from this site, we also know a substantial Early Woodland component is present at this site.  Most likely, this sherd is associated with one of those two prehistoric components. However, a very small number of Middle Woodland pp/k’s is also present in the surface collection sample.


Figure 1. Exterior of Vessel Lip and Surface Treatment on Sherd from 40DV434


Figure 2.  Closer View of Exterior Vessel Lip and Surface Treatment on Sherd from 40DV434


Figure 3.  Surface of the Excurvate Lip on Sherd from 40DV434


Figure 4.   Profile View of Sherd from 40DV434

(2)  The second artifact is made of either animal bone or deer antler (Figures 5-7). It is 34.8 mm long.  The diametric dimensions of its large end are 13.7 mm and 11.5 mm, and the diametric dimensions of the tapered end, right before the tapering begins, are 9.1 mm and 8.5 mm.

The main body of this artifact exhibits numerous, parallel, surface cut marks that are perpendicular to the long axis of the artifact. These are located near the large end of the artifact. The large end of this artifact was created by a cutting process that involved circumferential scoring, which was followed immediately by snapping the end off. The ring-shaped score area appears to have been rather crudely smoothed by abrasion after the end was snapped off. Numerous abrading tools made of dark red sandstone were found on this site.

An irregular concavity, either intentional or a natural bone marrow cavity, is present at the center of the large end on this artifact. The small tip on the other end of this artifact is rounded off, apparently from use wear. This tip exhibits one flat facet and two adjacent excurvate facets. The facets suggest it was used for pressure flaking during the knapping of chipped stone tools, mostly made from local Fort Payne chert. However, considering the amount of pressure required and the associated hand/wrist leverage necessary to flake chert in this manner, its use in knapping no doubt occurred when this was a much longer artifact—before the large end was ever scored and snapped.  This, of course, raises two obvious questions.  Why was the scoring and snapping done to create such a small artifact?  What was the subsequent use for such a small artifact?  No wear patterns on this artifact suggest a particular subsequent use. Perhaps this small artifact was simply a piece of waste material that was cut off from a larger length of bone or antler so the larger piece could be reshaped for some purpose.

I have seen artifacts exactly like this one in excavation reports for other Middle and Late Archaic sites in the Southeast and Ohio Valley. Once upon a time, I thought Lewis and Lewis (1961) had a description and photograph of this bone/antler artifact type in their famous report on the excavations at the Eva site in Benton County, Tennessee. A perusal of that report did not identify any description or photographs of such an artifact. I may have been thinking about William S. Webb’s report (Webb 1974) on the 1939 WPA excavations at the Indian Knoll site near Paradise, Kentucky. I do not have a handy copy of that report to consult here in my office. Therefore, I am reaching out to you (just for fun here at the blog) and to one of my archaeological colleagues who is far more familiar with bone and antler artifact assemblages from Middle and Late Archaic period archaeological sites in Tennessee and the southeast.


Figure 5.  Bone/Antler Artifact from 40DV434


Figure 6. Large End of Bone/Antler Artifact from 40DV434


Figure 7.  Faceted Small End of Bone/Antler Artifact from 40DV434

If you know what these two mystery artifacts are in more specific typological terms, please feel free to contact me. Just click on the “Contact” button at the top of this blog page and send me a message.


Lewis, Thomas M.N. and Madeline Kneberg Lewis 1961. Eva: An Archaic Site. The University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, Tennessee.

Webb, William S., 1974. Indian Knoll. The University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, Tennessee.

Photograph Credit: Leah C. Decker and Tracy C. Brown

Note: Leah Decker and I were just messing around for fun when we were taking these artifact photographs. Our main purpose was to keep the artifacts in sharp focus to assist with identification. We would do much better than this, particularly on the out-of-focus measurement scales, if we were taking photographs for a formal archaeological report. But hey.  This is social media where things are far less formal, so what you see is what you get.

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