Digging stick

In archaeology and anthropology, a digging stick, or sometimes yam stick, is a wooden implement used primarily by subsistence-based cultures to dig out underground food such as roots and tubers or burrowing animals and anthills.[1] The stick may also have other uses in hunting or general domestic tasks.

They are common to the Indigenous Australians but also other peoples worldwide. The tool normally consists of little more than a sturdy stick which has been shaped or sharpened and perhaps hardened by being placed temporarily in a fire. Fashioned with handles for pulling or pushing, it forms a prehistoric plow, and is also a precursor of most modern agricultural handtools.[2]

It is a simple device, and has to be tough and hardy in order not to break.

Root digging stick at Rocky Reach Dam Museum 2
A digging stick

By region

Mexico and the Mesoamerican region

In Mexico and the Mesoamerican region, the digging stick was the most important agricultural tool throughout the region.[3][4]

The coa stick normally flares out into a triangle at the end and is used for cultivating maize. It is still used for agriculture in some indigenous communities, with some newer 20th-century versions having the addition of a little metal tip.

Other digging sticks, according to Native Americans of the Columbia Plateau, have been used since time immemorial to gather edible roots like balsamroot, bitterroot, camas, and varieties of biscuitroot. Typical digging sticks were and are still about 2 to 3 feet in length, usually slightly arched, with the bottom tip shaved off at an angle. A 5 to 8 inch cross-piece made of antler, bone, or wood was fitted perpendicularly over the top of the stick, allowing the use of two hands to drive the tool into the ground. Since contact with the Europeans in the 19th century, Native Americans have also adapted the use of a metal in making digging sticks.

Ethiopia and the Harar region

The most common digging stick found in Ethiopia is the ankassay in Amharic, a Semitic language spoken in Ethiopia and the second-most spoken Semitic language in the world. The ankassay is a single shaft that is about 4–5 feet in length with a socket-hafted pointed iron blade as the tip.[5]

Two other digging sticks are unique to the Harar region located in East-Central Ethiopia, which are considered to be unusual due to their function beyond the basic use of other digging sticks, and the use of one as a plow.

The deungora is a particularly long digging stick is about 110 centimeters, or approximately 3.6 feet, in length with a socket-hafted pointed iron blade as the tip. What's unique about this digging stick is that a bored stone, about 15 centimeters in diameter, is attached at the opposing end. This stone shares the same form as other bored stones that have been discovered in archaeological sites in Africa.[5]

Maresha is the Gurage name, also the same word used by the Amhara, for a digging stick that differs in construction because of its forked form. It is used primarily to dig holes for construction, planting, and harvesting roots and tubers. This tool is used as a plow to turn over the soil of an entire field before planting. It is used to break clods of soil in areas where the soil is hard or in areas that may be too steep for plowing, and to dig holes for construction or to transplant domestic plants. When compared to the ankassay, this digging stick can perform the same duties and in addition can be used as a hoe.[5]

East-Central New Guinea

The Kuman people of this region were horticulturists who used basic tools such as the digging stick, wooden hoe, and wooden spade in their daily lives. Eventually they started to use more sophisticated tools such as iron spades and pick-axes.[6]

Two main types of digging sticks both shared a similar shape but differed in size:

  • A larger and heavier digging stick with a diameter of about 4 centimeters and 2 meters in length, used for the purpose of turning over the soil surface for new gardens
  • A smaller and lighter digging stick with a diameter of about 2 centimeters and 1 meter (or less) in length, mainly used for basic horticulture tasks[6]


  1. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved July 24, 2008
  2. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved March 26, 2015, from Britannica.com website: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/163245/digging-stick
  3. ^ Study the Digging Stick Mexicolore.
  4. ^ Uictli Mexicolore.
  5. ^ a b c Simoons, Frederick J. "The Forked Digging Stick of the Gurage", "Zeitschrift für Ethnologie", Berlin, Retrieved February 27, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Nilles, John. "The Kuman people: A study of cultural change in a primitive society in the Central Highlands of New Guinea." Oceania (1953): 1-27.

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.

Charles Montague Cooke Jr. House and Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau

Charles Montague Cooke Jr. House and Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau is a property in Honolulu, Hawaii. The house, also known as Kualii (also spelled Kualiʻi), was built in 1911–1912 for Charles Montague Cooke Jr., and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The listing's boundaries were increased in 2000 to include the Kūkaʻōʻō Heiau (Tax Map Keys 2-9-19:35 and 2-9-19:43, respectively).

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.

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.


In the mythology of the Aboriginal people of south-eastern Australia, the Karatgurk were seven sisters who represented the Pleiades star cluster. According to a legend told by the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, in the Dreamtime the Karatgurk alone possessed the secret of fire. Each one carried a live coal on the end of her digging stick, allowing them to cook the yams which the dug out of the ground.

The sisters refused to share their coals with anybody, however they were ultimately tricked into giving up their secret by Crow. After burying a number of snakes in an ant mound Crow called the Karatgurk women over, telling them that he had discovered ant larvae which were tastier than yams. The women began digging, angering the snakes, which attacked. Shrieking, the sisters struck the snakes with their digging sticks, hitting them with such force that the live coals flew off. Crow, who had been waiting for this, gathered the coals up and hid them in a kangaroo skin bag. The women soon discovered the theft and chased him, but the bird simply flew out of their reach, and this fire was brought to mankind.Afterwards, the Karatgurk sisters were swept into the sky. Their glowing fire sticks became the Pleiades star cluster.

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.

Nuu-chah-nulth mythology

Nuu-chah-nulth Mythology is the historical oral history of the Nuu-chah-nulth, a group of indigenous peoples living on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Many animals have a spirit associated with them; for example, Chulyen (crow) and Guguyni (raven) are trickster gods.

Two brothers, Tihtipihin and Kwatyat, were willingly swallowed by a monster because they needed to rescue their mother, who had already been swallowed. The brothers then cut through the stomach and, with their mother, escaped.

Andakout was born from the mucus or tears of a woman whose children had been stolen by Malahas (a malicious forest goddess). He rescued the children and killed Malahas.

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.

Platysace maxwellii

Platysace maxwellii, commonly known as native potato or karno, is a shrub that is endemic to Western Australia. The Noongar names for the plant are karno and yook, with the latter name also referring to the closely related species Platysace deflexa which grows further south.

The shrub has a slender, erst to straggling habit and typically grows to a height of 0.3 to 1.2 metres (1 to 4 ft). It blooms between October and April producing white flowers. Found on plains and hills with a scattered distribution from the Mid West through the Wheatbelt and into the south west of the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia where it grows in sandy, loamy, clay or lateritic soils.Initially described by the botanist Ferdinand von Mueller in 1892 as Trachymene maxwellii in the article Descriptions of new Australian plants, with occasional other annotations in the journal The Victorian Naturalist It was later reclassified into the Platysace genera in 1939 by C. Norman in the Journal of Botany, British and ForeignAborigines used the plant as a food source since it produces large numbers of round tubers about 0.5 metres (1.6 ft) underground which are accessed using a digging stick. The younger tubers closest to the surface are preferred and can be eaten raw or roasted over a fire.


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.

Soil Bureau

New Zealand Soil Bureau was a division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research specializing in soil-related research and development. Originally formed as the 'soil survey group' of the 'Geological Survey,' they became the 'Soil Survey Division' in 1936 and 'Soil Bureau' in 1945. Established adjacent to Taita College on approximately 90 acres on the Eastern Hills of Lower Hutt north of Wellington, the foyer featured a large mural by Ernest Mervyn Taylor depicting a cloaked figure using a kō (Māori digging stick). Soil Bureau completed nationwide soil surveys of New Zealand.

The impetus for forming a separate unit related to soil science was work in the 1930s by L. I. Grange and N. H. Taylor which showed a correspondence between soil type and bush sickness in cattle, which led to the discovery that ash-based soils in the central North Island were Cobalt deficient and that cobalt-enriched salt licks could open up tens of thousands of acres to dairy farming.Soil Bureau was renamed as DSIR Land Resources in 1990 and then reformed into Landcare Research in 1992 by the Crown Research Institutes Act 1992, but the name remains protected under the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981. Many Soil Bureau publications were digitised by its successor organisation.

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.

Wonnerup House

Wonnerup House is a heritage-listed farm precinct in Wonnerup, Western Australia. The current house was built in 1859 by George Layman Jr., one year after the original house built in 1837 by his father, George Layman Sr., was destroyed by fire. The dairy and kitchen survived the fire because they were separate from the house. Stables and a blacksmith workshop were later additions to the farm. In the 1870s, when the lack of a school in Wonnerup was an issue for the local residents, George Layman Jr. donated land near Wonnerup House for a school, which was built in 1873. In 1885 a teacher's house was constructed. The precinct was purchased by the National Trust of Australia in 1971 and opened to the public in 1973.

The name Wonnerup comes from the Nyungar term. Wanna describing a woman's digging stick, up meaning water.

Yanyuwa language

Yanyuwa is the language of the Yanyuwa people of the Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria outside Borroloola. (Yanyuwa burrulula) in the Northern Territory, Australia.

Yanyuwa, like many other Australian Aboriginal languages, is a highly agglutinative language with ergative-absolutive alignment, whose grammar is pervaded by a set of 16 noun classes whose agreements are complicated and numerous.

Yanyuwa is a critically endangered language. The anthropologist John Bradley has worked with the Yanyuwa people for three decades and is also a speaker of Yanyuwa. He has produced a large dictionary and grammar of the language, along with a cultural atlas in collaboration with a core group of senior men and women.

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