Variously known as cupstones, "anvil stones", "pitted cobbles" and "nutting stones", among other names, these roughly discoidal or amorphous groundstone artifacts are among the most common lithic remains of Native American culture, especially in the Midwest, in Early Archaic contexts. The hemispherical indentation itself is an important element of paleoart, known as a "cupule". Cup and ring marks are also common in the Fertile Crescent, and India, then later in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Alpine regions of Europe, sometimes associated with complex petroglyphs or megalithic monuments.[1]

Cupstone, Poculolith, Pitted Cobble, Nutting stone
A cupstone with a pen to demonstrate a size reference
A cupstone
CategoryArchaeological Artifact


One encyclopedia of archaeology treats "pitted stone", "cupstones", and "nutting stones" as synonyms and says that they "may have been formed by cracking nutshells, though this activity lacks adequate confirmation through ethnographic examples or published experimentation."[2]


These objects have received little study, perhaps because edged tools and weapons have more intrinsic interest to private collectors, but closer study of them might reveal something of domestic practices and toolmaking technology. There is no agreement upon their purpose or purposes, which may have included the processing of food, medicine or pigments, storage, arrow-production or fire-drilling. As such, they could represent a primitive form of mortar and pestle. The age of these man-made structures are difficult to ascertain, but generally they are believed to have been produced in the bronze-age and Upper Paleolithic although some, for example in North America and Europe, were generated at a later date.

Visually, they may resemble omarolluks, a naturally occurring feature of sedimentary rock occurring exclusively in the Belcher Islands, an archipelago accounting for 0.25% of Hudson Bay, whence they are thought to have been spread by glaciers.[3]


Similar objects can be found on all continents except Antarctica. They are associated with Celtic Europe, prehistoric Australia, Borneo and the Middle East. Some of the earliest cupules can be found at the Bhimbetka cave site in India, dating to 290,000-700,000 BCE, but in Europe they do not pre-date the most recent cold phase (the Würm or Weichselian glaciation). Some scholars insist the items are "false" artifacts, that is, their form results from natural processes rather than human activity. However, no one has yet described processes that might both produce such effects and also explain the distribution of the effects and the objects. Certainly air-bubbles in stone, broken open and eroded, could produce some of these phenomena. The objects are familiar in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, and occur elsewhere as well.

The pattern, size and number of concavities is not predictable, nor is material—impressions are found in soft sandstone and hard granite. Cupstones may exhibit a mixture of large and small indentations, perhaps indicating multiple uses over a considerable span of time. Indentations range from barely visible 1/16" to 6". Examination under magnification suggests the impressions were at least in some cases formed by rotary grinding, particularly in softer rocks. In most cases, archeological evidence of cupstones on hard rock surfaces and monoliths indicates that they were created by direct percussion with rock hammers. Typical impressions are of the simple pit type, though some cavities have been excavated to produce an opened-sphere type of pocket, by means and for reasons unknown. Very large specimens weighing several tons and with dozens of impressions several inches across are thought to be cult objects; they have been found throughout the Mississippi Valley.

Historic accounts

There are several ethnographic accounts of the Native use of nutting stones in the historic times.[4][5] One account says "the Virginia Indians in 1587 tells us that each household had stones for cracking nuts and for grinding shell and other materials." It goes on to say that "This statement would doubtless be equally true if applied at that time to almost any tribe inhabiting the section east of the Mississippi."[6]

In Hawaii, cup and ring marks are associated with petroglyphs, and those occurring in the boundary regions of Apuki and Puna lands have been used as depositories for a child's navel cord, a custom also observed in other Polynesian peoples.[7]


Early observers saw the processing of mast using stones, and one later recreation achieved similar results: nuts were placed, one at a time, on stone (an "anvil" stone") and then struck with a smaller "hammer" stone: "As nuts were cracked in this manner a pit developed in the lower stone; the pit deepened as additional nuts were cracked, and this facilitated the cracking process since nuts were held rather stationary in this 'seat.'"[8]

The most likely interpretation seems that these artifacts represent a single technique of shaping or adapting stone for multiple purposes, some unguessed (for instance, the function of the smallest pits) and that the objects could be used by single or multiple individuals over long periods of time, and for various purposes. Indeed, the apparent randomness of their distribution may indicate that they were left lying as modified natural resources, whether with benevolent intent or because they did not represent a sufficient investment of time and labor to justify transporting them ("opportunistic" tools). More simply, perhaps the users intended to return to the same area during the next year's mast-gathering period.

The now traditional term "nutting stone" may be justified, as may "straightening stone" or "shaft-anchor" (for straightening arrow-shafts) within a larger class we might call "poculoliths" (<L. poculus, "small pocket", "cup"). While an equivalent to "pitted stone", the proposed term has the advantage of wider comprehensibility among international scholars as the worldwide distribution of the form becomes increasingly evident.

Another interpretation of these structures is fossilization. Anatomical structures of the orbit, skull, joints, organs, antler and dental cavities are similar. Fragmentation may have occurred before or after fossilization, natural human smoothing and polishing. The structure becomes a ubiquitous, multipurpose tool for humans to exploit.

Cupstone sites in Northern Italy, Switzerland and the Atlantic regions, also known as "druid altars" or "Opferkessel" (sacrificial bowl), are associated with places of worship due their locality close to glacial erratics, view points and treacherous alpine trails. Some of the prehistoric stonecup sites north of the Alps along the Jura mountains, for example near Grenchen, show a row of cups with possibly astronomical orientation. However, cupstones are usually not associated with calendar functions as this is sometimes the case with menhirs and megaliths.


Omar with hemispherical bubble

Nutting stones can be very similar in appearance to omars. Omars are naturally formed stones that have hemispherical bubbles in them.

See also


  1. ^ Gansser A. Cupstones, Prehistoric Cult Objects Verlag Dr. C. Müller-Straten, München (1999). p. 18ff. ISBN 3-932704-66-5.
  2. ^ George H. Odell, "Pitted Stones" in Archaeology of prehistoric native America: an encyclopedia, ed. Guy E. Gibbon and Kenneth M. Ames. (Privately printed in the United States, 1998), 652.
  3. ^ Dutch, S. (n.d.) Leaverites - Features in Sedimentary Rocks. Downloaded October 28, 2009
  4. ^ C. Allan Jones Texas roots: agriculture and rural life before the Civil War (College Station : Texas A&M University Press, 2005), 23.
  5. ^ Sarah H. Hill Weaving new worlds: Southeastern Cherokee women and their basketry (Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 10.
  6. ^ Earnest Hooton, "Indian Village Site and Cemetery Near Madisonville Ohio" in Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, (Cambridge, MA: The Peabody Museum, 1922), 56.
  7. ^ Martha Warren Beckwith. Hawaiian Mythology. University of Hawai'i Press (1970). ISBN 978-0-8248-0514-2. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  8. ^ Talalay, Laurie Talalay, Donald R. Keller, and Patrick J. Munson, "Hickory Nuts, Walnuts, Butternuts, And Hazelnuts: Observation and Experiments Relevant to Their Aboriginal Exploitation in Eastern North America," in Experiments and Observations on Aboriginal Wild Plant Food Utilization in Eastern North America, ed. Patrick J. Munson, (Indianapolis : Indiana Historical Society, 1984), 351.
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.

Court cairn

The court cairn or tomb is a megalithic type of chamber tomb and gallery grave, specifically a variant of the chambered cairn, found in western and northern Ireland, and in mostly southwest Scotland (where it may also be called a horned cairn or Clyde-Carlingford tomb), around 4000–3500 BCE, but many remained in use until as late as the Bronze Age transition, c. 2200 BCE. They are generally considered to be the earliest chambered cairn tombs in Scotland, and their construction technique was probably brought from Scotland to Ireland.

In Scotland, they are most common in what today are Argyll and Dumfries and Galloway (where they form the Clyde-Carlingford group), though a small outlying group have been found near Perth.

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.


A cupule is a small structure shaped like a cup, including:

In archeology: cupules are circular man-made hollows on the surface of a rock or a rock slab; also a cupstone.

In botany: the base of an acorn, see calybium and cupule.

In entomology:

A sucker on the feet of some flies.

A structure on the head of certain aquatic beetles.

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.


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.

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.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.