Bannerstones are artifacts usually found in the Eastern United States that are characterized by a centered hole in a symmetrically shaped carved or ground stone. The holes are typically ​14" to ​34" in diameter and extend through a raised portion centered in the stone. They usually are bored all the way through but some have been found with holes that extend only part of the way through. Many are made from banded slate or other colored hard stone. They often have a geometric "wing nut" or "butterfly" shape but are not limited to these. More than just functional artifacts, bannerstones are a form of art that appear in varying shapes, designs, and colors, symbolizing their ceremonial and spiritual importance.

Archaic period double-notched butterfly bannerstone from Ohio, ca. 2000 BC. Made of banded slate, a material frequently used in bannerstone manufacture. Bannerstones were used in North America for some 3,000 years beginning in the fourth millennium BC.[1]
Annual report (1916) (18429816591)
Bannestone in use as a weight on a bowstring-style hand drill (recreation) [2]
Bannerstone MET DT259422
Bannerstone, Ferruginous quartz, 2nd millenium BC. Found in Illinois.

Debates over function

Archaeologists have debated over the use of bannerstones. Some have suggested that they are atlatl weights or ceremonial pieces. Others have suggested that they are for drilling, cordage making, or fire making. Robert S. Berg's theory proposed that they are part of a kit of tools used to make and repair atlatl darts. Berg's theory has met with a lot of skepticism and resistance because of the previous works of William S. Webb, who proposed that the bannerstone was actually part of an atlatl. Webb cited "in situ" evidence which consisted mainly of bannerstones found in line with atlatl handles and hooks in graves that archaeologists dug up during the construction of the Tennessee Valley Authority's massive water control system in the southeast during the early part of the 20th century. It seems that "their primary value lay in their symbolic and aesthetic worth rather than in their tool-like efficiency" [3] because of the manner in which they were created and later found in archaeological sites.

The ceremonial importance of bannerstones is related to "the psychological uncertainties and physical dangers of daily life among early hunters and gatherers".[4] These peoples appealed to the powers of the stone, their creator(s)/deities, and the natural entities around them for protection and survival in the harsh life of the Archaic Period. Being killed in the hunt is one danger that they would be trying to protect themselves from, while giving thanks and recognizing the powers guiding their spears thrown from the atlatls would ensure their success in the hunt. As stated in Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South, "[bannerstones'] craftsmanship and materials suggest that they also served as emblems of prestige and status conferred upon hunters coming of age, and as supernatural talismans for increasing the spear-throwers efficacy. They may also have served as emblems of clans or other social units".[5] This is important because it shows the bannerstone going beyond simple function in the hunt to complex symbolic function in various aspects of society.

History and context

Bannerstones, as part of a larger picture, indicate that the societies in which they were a part had greater social organization than those in the past. They also indicate a greater interdependence among tribes of various regions. Brian M. Fagan states that, "the production of elaborate and labor-intensive bannerstones (atlatl weights) and stone vessels makes little sense at a local level, but when produced as objects used in broad exchange networks tied to cooperative alliances, such artifacts have considerable value." This is because, as he further states, "many of the important technological innovations of the Archaic resulted from just such successful alliances which made life more secure in an unpredictable environment of patchy food resources".[6] Therefore, bannerstones can be seen as indicators of ties between societies in the form of trade, whether it is for the stone that the bannerstone is made out of, the region where the finished bannerstone is found, or the way that it is designed. "Innovations" speak of new ideas entering already existing societies and merging with pre-existing beliefs, resulting in artifacts and art forms such as bannerstones.

Fagan also states, that "from the Mid Archaic onward, people invested more labor in fashioning socially valued artifacts and ornaments like finely ground 'bannerstones'"[7] to be used in the networks of trade and formation of "alliances." Bannerstones were created for more than just strict physical survival; they were created for spiritual survival and wellbeing as a part of a cosmological system of belief that both varied between groups of archaic peoples and connected them in the Eastern Woodlands.

The Laurentian is a period of time in the Late Archaic (c. 3200 to c. 1000 BC) that describes the region from New England to Quebec, down into Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Archaic peoples of this region and time period are one example of a group that produced "polished bannerstones".[8]

Bannerstones eventually went out of use as new technologies were invented and spread by trade routes. This includes the bow and arrow which appeared around or before 500 AD.[9] While the bannerstones themselves went out of use, the ceremonial and spiritual importance of these objects did not, being transferred to the new objects that replaced them.

Notable finds

An important archaic site containing numerous graves containing bannerstones is at Indian Knoll, Kentucky. At this site, "few of the bannerstones show signs of use. [. . .] They are carved of exotic imported stones with an exceptional artistry that exploits the natural colours, patterns, and striations of the stones to afford maximum visual satisfaction".[10] This shows both the importance of long distance trade in connecting various archaic societies as well as the importance they placed on the visual appeal of the pieces. This visual appeal would be created in part to please the spirits that the individuals were attempting to persuade for assistance and protection in the hunt, society, and the world as a whole.


  1. ^ Bannerstone at Metropolitan Museum of Art
  2. ^ Annual report (1916), New York State Museum
  3. ^ (Berg, 1998:75)
  4. ^ (Hero, 2004: 22)
  5. ^ (2004:26)
  6. ^ (2005:379)
  7. ^ (2005:416)
  8. ^ (Fagan, 2005:406)
  9. ^ (Fagan, 2005: 133)
  10. ^ (Berlo et al., 1998:75)


  • Berlo, Janet C. and Ruth B. Phillips. Native North American Art. Oxford University Press: Oxford, England, 1998.
  • Fagan, Brian M. Ancient North America, Fourth Ed. Thames & Hudson: London, 2005.
  • Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South. Richard R. Townsend and Robert V. Sharp, eds. Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2004.

External links

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.


A cist ( or ; also kist ;

from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.

A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Eden point

Eden Points are a form of chipped stone projectile points associated with a sub-group of the larger Plano culture. Sometimes also called Yuma points, the first Eden points were discovered in washouts in Yuma County, Colorado. They were first discovered in situ at an ancient buffalo kill site near Eden, Wyoming by Harold J. Cook in 1941. The site, named after discoverer O. M. Finley, eventually yielded 24 projectile points, including eight Eden points, eight Scottsbluff points and one complete Cody point, both other sub-groups within the Plano group. Eden points are believed to have been used between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago by paleo-indian hunters in the western plains.

Eden points are the most common paleo-indian projectile points found today. They have been discovered across the western plain states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.

Prehistoric numerals

Counting in prehistory was first assisted by using body parts, primarily the fingers.

This is reflected in the etymology of certain number names, such as in the names of ten and hundred in the Proto-Indo-European numerals, both containing the root *dḱ also seen in the word for "finger" (Latin digitus, cognate to English toe).

Early systems of counting using tally marks appear in the Upper Paleolithic.

The first more complex systems develop in the Ancient Near East together with the development of early writing out of proto-writing systems.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Rock shelter

A rock shelter — also rockhouse, crepuscular cave, bluff shelter, or abri — is a shallow cave-like opening at the base of a bluff or cliff. In contrast to solutional cave (karst) caves, which are often many miles long, rock shelters are almost always modest in size and extent.


A spear-thrower or atlatl ( or ; Nahuatl languages: ahtlatl; Nahuatl pronunciation: [ˈaʔt͡ɬat͡ɬ]) is a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart-throwing, and includes a bearing surface which allows the user to store energy during the throw.

It may consist of a shaft with a cup or a spur at the end that supports and propels the butt of the dart. The spear-thrower is held in one hand, gripped near the end farthest from the cup. The dart is thrown by the action of the upper arm and wrist. The throwing arm together with the atlatl acts as a lever. The spear-thrower is a low-mass, fast-moving extension of the throwing arm, increasing the length of the lever. This extra length allows the thrower to impart force to the dart over a longer distance, thus imparting more energy and ultimately higher speeds.Common modern ball throwers (molded plastic shafts used for throwing tennis balls for dogs to fetch) use the same principle.

A spear-thrower is a long-range weapon and can readily impart to a projectile speeds of over 150 km/h (93 mph).Spear-throwers appear very early in human history in several parts of the world, and have survived in use in traditional societies until the present day, as well as being revived in recent years for sporting purposes. In the United States the Nahuatl word atlatl is often used for revived uses of spear-throwers, and in Australia the Aboriginal word woomera.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used a leather thong or loop, known as an ankule or amentum, as a spear-throwing device.

Stone row

A stone row (or stone alignment), is a linear arrangement of upright, parallel megalithic standing stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes, usually dating from the later Neolithic or Bronze Age. Rows may be individual or grouped, and three or more stones aligned can constitute a stone row.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

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