Monday, December 22, 2008

What is this artifact?

As I go through the SRAC collections, I come across artifacts that just make me have to wonder....and so I am going to ask you to wonder along with me...

This artifact is from the SRAC/Keir collection and was found at the foot of Spanish Hill in South Waverly, Pa. It is a strange shaped rock with a very small hole pecked through it - - halfway from each side of the rock...

here is the flip side:
Oh yeh - I also found two others like this in the SRAC Exhibit Hall display cases right now...

Note: we only display a small portion of all of our artifacts so I would suppose that we have a few more yet in storage....

First note that the one on the furthest right is made of steatite (soapstone), the center is drilled, and the shape is quite round which may make this entirely different, but because I couldn't find anyone who knew what it was either, I threw it into the mix as well...

Some ideas include:
  • a nut mortar or anvil - meaning the nuts were placed in the hole to hold then in place while another stone was used to crack them open.

  • a fire starter rock- meaning it held the stick that was spun back and forth in the dry leaves mixture (to cause friction and eventually fire)

  • a ceremonial device - meaning spirits were believed to have passed through the hole

From "The Sacred Scrolls of the Southern Ojibway" by Selwyn Dewdney;

"Then his tongue went through as if it were a bullet shot out of rifle. It went right through to the other side. He went right through the little hole and then came out on the other side and took this Life - this Everlasting Life that he was carrying. After looking around he didn't see no earth - nothing. So he got out, he found another wall. He did the same thing- stuck his tongue out and it went right through as if it were a bullet shot out of a rifle. And in that hole he went through with this Pack he had - heavy Everlasting Life. And when these people saw this (here Red Sky pointed to the found manitos stationed around each of the introductory circles on the Migration Scroll) the manito at the east, the manito at the south, manito at the west and manto at the north, they thanked him for the work "

  • a light directional device - meaning light could be directed using the hole.

  • a masher or grinder stone - meaning a grain or other material was mashed down through the hole using a stick or another instrument.

  • a sinker - meaning a hole was pecked into the stone to put a fishing line through to make it sink in the river or lake.

The problem that I have with most of these theories is that the holes do not show any signs of being worn down ... what I mean is that the inside edges of the center hole is as sharp as many points we have on display being struck out from both sides.

However the one side of the artifact from Spanish Hill does show some marks that run across the face of it, sort of anyway, so that it could have been tied to something, but not through the hole...

As I looked out on the internet, I saw that others are asking the same questions as I am - and so I thought I would post this in the hopes of starting a discussion and possibly helping many learn more about these strange artifacts.

Please send your comments by clicking the comments link at the bottom of this posting...You can send them with your name or anonymously.

Together we will always know more than any one of us! Thanks in advance for adding to the discussion!


  1. Sorry, I posted to the list before I read your entire email. I see you already thought of a bow drill, which would be my guess.It could be the socket, or top stone held in the hand on top of the stick. The hole would not necessarily show wear such as rounded edges as most of the friction would be at the bottom of the hole and the stick would bear the brunt of that friction.

  2. Looks like a base stone or socket for a bow drill fire starter. The hot embers caused by the friction at the bottom of the stick would fall through the hole onto the tinder. Modern methods use wood as the fireboard base. Contrarily, it could be the socket, or the part you hold in your hand on top of the stick to steady it as you draw the bow and spin the stick.

  3. Maybe this is an oil lamp. The hole would hold a thin wick of rush or
    moss while the indentation would hold melted animal fat. The hole
    would have to be tiny enough to prevent leaking.

  4. Could
    stones with tiny holes drilled through them be some sort of a visual aid for
    Indians with impaired vision? Consider this...

    I am very nearsighted (myopic) So much so that I lose face recognition on
    someone at about 20 paces. However, way back, when I was a kid, I realized that
    if I made a tiny hole - no more than an 1/8th across - in a piece of cardboard
    and held it near one of my eyes, I could see distant images much more clearly.
    A little hole in an opaque backround can act as a virtual lens. Could a
    hand-held stone with a hole drilled in it have been an ancient Indian monocle?
    I have seen drawings of ancient Japanese eye-glasses which were made of wood and
    had thin slots in them instead of glass lenses, which were not invented until
    much later.

    Crazy idea? If ancient Japanese had eyeglasses and monocles, why not ancient

  5. Hard to tell from a photo, but could the opposing larger holes have met and created the smaller hole.

  6. Yes Bob - for each of the two that are not steatite at least - - larger holes were pecked in from each side and when they met - they made the small hole you see.

    Sorry I wasn't clear before.


  7. I believe they are fishing wieghts but not used as a sinkers for hooks. They are gill nets weights and where used for shad fishing on the Susquehanna and Chemung Rivers. Shad used to have prolific spawning runs from the ocean all the way up the river systems.

  8. Following is a link with several photos of Rocks with Holes from the Midwest USA.

    The presence of chungke stones with holes in them and engravings on both sides indicates another use may have been for gaming? Engravings of the ogee motif favor the theory of spirits passed through the hole.

  9. I also vote for net weights. The more common manufacture, though, was to make a groove or flake the stone into an "hour glass" shape. Fish were pretty important, particularly during the Late Archaic.

  10. Over the years I have found several stones with the same shape as the stone labeled #350 in the photos above. But the ones I have found are much smaller, about an inch in diameter and quite thin. All have a small hole in the center and they have the same notched shape as the stone above.

    Anybody have any ideas what these smaller ones might be? They were found along the Susquehanna in NE Pennsylvania.

  11. I have two or three similar stones in my collection that are not drilled through. I also believe them to have been used in the making of fire.
    They are small enough to carry and could also be used to transport a live coal from one fire to another using the free hand to cup over it protecting the coal.
    I also have several Hammar Heads that are made of granite and quite large, as well as a sandstone piece with a groove worn into it which I believe was used to straighten and smooth arrow shafts.
    The hammar heads have been authenticated by the Smithsonian as probably being primitive Oglala Souix.

  12. Anyone know of an expert on bow drill sockets, also known as stone hand sockets (used for fire making)? Anyone have an image source? My wife found a stone similar to yours along Lake Erie in NE Ohio, BUT there are no holes drilled through the rock. Anyone interested in seeing an image can drop me an email at Thanks for any information you provide. Rich

  13. I found a similar stone in Lake Cayuga (shoreline). It is slightly smaller than a quarter. One side is smooth, shinny, and flat with a small hole near the edge. Turn the stone upside down and you see the main area where it was drilled. Directly above that, there is another smaller hole that is drilled into the rock that bisects the the first hole. You can thread and weave twine in and out of these holes. The stone is about 3/4 of an inch high at it's highest point.

  14. I found about 20 of these April 1, 2012. I was looking in one of our creeks and they were scatterd about in the water. Ill try to send a picture. My email is I am in Paragon IN.

  15. I live in Joppa, Maryland, less than 2 miles from the Chesapeake Bay, which is ~ 19 miles south of the mouth of the Susquahanna River. I found this on the south side of RT. 40, in area that is now the LAST of 360 acres of untouched woods in Joppa and still on the South side of Rt. 40. which has now been surveyed for absolute suburban construction-very angry about this part! Guess I will have to move when they decide to reinstate this project; never got off its feet due to the recession that hit beginning summer of 2007. Anyway, yes I found one that is similar to those found above. Not the fishing weight looking one either, w/ the hole all the way through it! Instead mine resembles the other one. My father said exactly what it was. He explained that the indians would carry it around in their pockets. He said it was a drill bit for starting fires. All I would like to know is how old these things could date back to. What is the range? I believe mine is made out of the same stone too. How much are they worth? Anything? lol.

  16. I'm in Shiawassee County Michigan, between Flint and Lansing and I just stumbled upon this convo while researching the stone I found yesterday out in my back field on a sand hill where MANY items have been found like bone frags, that quickly turn to dust, and also broken clay pot frags, arrowheads, along with post contact items like broken glass and small chunks of red/orange brick. My family has had this property since 1878 and no one ever lived back there where the corn field has been since the land was cleared of forest. The area I found the stone in would make a great camp or burial ground for a Indian because it's the highest and dryest place in the area... So far I'm convinced my stone is a "fire stone" used for starting a fire with a bow. It fits in the palm of the hand perfectly and it has two, NON-connecting holes, with one a little bigger than the other. I've also heard they could be used for paint, to make colors and to keep them seperated making my stone a two colorer? There used to be alot of Indian mounds around here, some going back to unknown ancients living around this long before the ruthless Sauks lived here.

  17. Hey guys, I recently found a stone, about the size of a silver dollar, with an 1/8 inch hole punched through it. The stone is only 1/4. inch thick. I found this intriguing and kept it. After I made it home, I remembered it in my pocket, I examined it a little closer, and noticed large Areas of GREEN, with RED specks. Found this stone in western Travis county, Texas. To me it appeared to be jewelry of some sort, until I read this tread. Not sure how to post a pic on this post. Any ideas? Can send a pic. Via email

  18. I just found one exactly like that here in Florida!

  19. I'm in Arizona and the river beds are just full of what I believe to be broken worn down tools/weapons. In my little collection from years of hunting rocks . I have some with similar holes (not all the way through) I always do scribe them as "flints" because I too, feel they are for a stick, to start a fire. But MINE are worn down with what looks like scotch marks. Then flip side maybe? Because old hole is to soothe to cause friction. So new one is started ?
    Just my theory.

  20. Hello,I also have found a triangle shaped stone with about a dime sized hole in it made of sandstone here where I live in southwest virginia,Im definitely curious about its origins,I have found it by the riverside and have lived and played in the river my whole life and have never seen a stone with a hole in it. There are farm fields all along the rivers that have produced a lot of arrowheads,so Im thinking its Native American ,I can send pictures but dont know where to send them.....?

  21. Send pics to I think I have seen this before... let you know ... thx

  22. It would be nice of we could put photos on here. I have a rock that was found a 3 feet down in a well, Its flat and oval with wholes drilled in both sides.

  23. We have a Facebook page, please post pics there. Thank you!