Discoid: having a flat circular shape
As I have been reading through many old reports on sites in our region of NY and PA, the term "discoidal stone" keeps reappearing. After walking throughout the SRAC exhibit hall, packed with thousands of artifacts, I found many of these artifacts on display, and I thought it was worth posting an article about the term and the artifacts referred to as "discoidal stones."
Today, Ted Keir loaned me an old book compiled by Warren K. Moorehead in 1905, called "Prehistoric Relics" where the author explains the problem with these artifacts:
"The urgent need of the science of archaeology at the present time is a revision of its nomenclature; especially of the classification of prehistoric stone implements. Such uncouth and meaningless names...vague and indefinite terms...should be discarded from our archaeological vocabulary, and replaced with names conveying some specific idea of form, dimensions, or use of the objects....The term "discoidal stone is equally ambiguous and confusing; for among aboriginal stone relics, disc-like, or circular stones of almost every size and variety occur...each serving perhaps a distinct and different purpose."
The best known type of so-called discoidal stones is circular and has concave depressions on each lateral surface which vary in degree and depth, and sometimes a hole occurs in the center. These are most often explained as game pieces for an ancient Native American game called "Chungke."
"The warriors practice a diversion which they call the game of the pole, at which only two play at a time. Each pole is about eight feet long resembling a Roman f, and the game consists in rolling a flat round stone, about three inches in diameter and one inch thick, with the edges somewhat sloping, and throwing the pole in such a manner that when the stone rests, the pole may be at or near it. Both antagonists throw their pole at the same time, and he whose pole is nearest the stone counts one, and has the right of rolling the stone." -Antoine Simon Le Page Du Pratz, "History of Louisiana"(1758)
However, as Moorehead states above, the varying sizes and shapes under the one generalized term, "discoidal stone" most assuredly makes most people think that there are probably different shapes and sizes of disc-shaped stones that were made for different purposes.
Interestingly the most comon disc-shaped stones among the thousands of artifacts from Bradford County PA, and Tioga, Chemung, and Steuben counties in NY found at SRAC are flat sided or have convex shape to one side. In fact, Ellsworth Cowles and William Ritchie referred to these shapes as "muller stones" ... or basically a grinding tool...
But I have to ask why they are so perfectly round and many are so polished...some in fact do not show wear on the edges like other grinding tools.
I also think that it is important to note that in 1883 and 1916 respectively, the Murray Garden and the Murray Farm in Athens, PA had burials((Susquehannock) that included discoidal stones much like the ones found in the images included here, and I have to ask if they were just grinding tools, why would they be included in burials?
For whatever reason, it would seem that these stones were valued by the Susquehannocks in our region as much as they were in other parts of the country.
Lastly, we also have bi-pitted hammerstones that are disc-like that may fit the broad term of "discoidal stones" as well, and would seem to fit Ritchie's definition of "muller stones" more than the more polished versions shown above. As you can see below - they are round, but show the wear and tear of usage and have pits on each side to make them fit into your hand easily - - these are much more easily handled for grinding than the ones without the pitted sides.
So were these "discoidal stones" shown above all game stones? Were they tools? Were they ceremonial? I'd like to know what you think!
I ask that anyone that has more information about these stones to please add your information by clicking the comments link below this post so that others that want to learn more about them can use your information as well. Thanks in advance for your help!