Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Local Indian Rock Art Published in 2009 "Making Pictures in Stone"

Blue slate amulet found locally and published in "Making Pictures in Stone."

"Making Pictures in Stone - American Indian Rock Art of the Northeast," was published by the University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and written by Edward J, Lenik. Lenik is a registered professional archaeologist and well-known author of several works concerning American Indian Rock Art. The book is an illustrated resource concerning rock art created by the Indians of Northeast America for research purposes. Remarkably, some of the examples used to represent notable rock art in the book is local rock art supplied to the author by the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC.)

Rock art is a term used for various forms of human artistic expression by incising, etching, painting, pecking, or otherwise physically changing the faces of rocks or the walls of caves, or simply by moving or piling rocks on the landscape to form a design or pattern. Rock art subsets include petroglyphs, pictographs, engravings, geoglyphs, and petroforms.

The specific rock art from our region that was used in Lenik's recent book includes an animal effigy hearth discovered by Ellsworth Cowles in 1933, a "grid stone" tablet from the Ted Keir/ SRAC Collection, and a blue slate amulet from the Cowles/SRAC collection that is incised with many designs including a wolf or bear figure.

It is both exciting and very significant that our local archaeology is being used as a resource for ongoing research on a national level and this is just the beginning now that SRAC finally has their artifacts accessible to the public at our new Center in Waverly.

Anyone interested in learning more about these artifacts or others found in our region can visit SRAC at 345 Broad Street in Waverly, NY. The Center exhibits thousands of locally found artifacts and is open from 1-5 Tuesdays through Fridays and Saturdays from 11-4pm.

Monday, December 29, 2008

SRAC Presents -"Local Archaeological Excavations" January 6th

SRAC's next installment of History's Mysteries will be Tuesday, January 6th from 6:30 - 7:30 pm at the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC) at 345 Broad Street in Waverly, NY.

SRAC's Ted Keir will present information and show actual photos from many archaeological excavations in Northeastern PA and Southeastern NY. Many artifacts from these digs will be on display and collectors who want to display locally found artifacts at this event are welcome to do so. (Doors open at 6pm for setup of any displays.)

The admission price of the event will be $4 for adults, and $3 for students and SRAC members. The SRAC Exhibit Hall filled with thousands of locally found artifacts will be open at 6pm and will be free to view by all event attendees.

For more information, please call Ted Keir at 570-888-2718, or email info@SRACenter.org.

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!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our Center's One Year Anniversary!

SRAC Board Members Deb Twigg, Dick Cowles, Ted Keir, Mary Ann Taylor, and Tom Vallilee at The Valley Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting at SRAC last month.
(Board members Susan Fogel and Janet Andrus not present.)

In 2007, SRAC set out to write a new chapter in our region's history, as well as our own. After 4 years of being together and founding SRAC in order to preserve our local Native American archaeology, such as the Ellsworth Cowles collection (which all of the local museums claimed they could not keep together because of it's sheer size), our fledgling nonprofit had finally raised enough funds to buy our first location for our Center.

After looking at several locations, on December 7, 2007, we bought our building at 345 Broad Street in Waverly, NY.

Over the past year, we have successfully renovated 1/3 of the building, the main floor which houses our Gift Shop, Lecture Hall, and Exhibit Hall which together covers 5,000 square feet.

I know on the surface this may not seem like such a big deal but, this is what the main floor looked like in December 2007:

We literally had the place rewired by one of our members and then were challenged with building walls and putting other crumbling ones back together...later we had to add a public restroom and patch and repair the floor as well...

It is no exaggeration to state that the number of volunteer hours donated to us during the past year is in the thousands. As a result, the friendships that were made are strongly forged from working so hard together for so long. Together, we reached towards a goal that many believed we could never grasp; but together - we succeeded!

Today we are proud to say that we survived our first long hard year, and today we are proud to have our main floor that looks like this:

Our Gift Shop is manned by all volunteers and open
Tuesdays - Fridays from 1-5, and Saturdays from 11-4pm.

Our Lecture Hall seats 65 - 70 people. We rent it with or without
AV support. and we host historical lectures every month!

Our Exhibit Hall houses thousands of locally found artifacts and is open
Tuesdays - Fridays from 1-5, and Saturdays from 11-4pm.!

To sum up the past year, let me just say that I refer to it as "Stone Soup" in that the whole community put something in this pot and made something special. Amazingly, because we had so many friends who donated time, resources, furniture, cases and supplies, we renovated and built ALL of this on our main floor for under $8,000! As incredible as this seems, other expenses such as our mortgage, utilities, insurance, security, bills related to printing the SRAC Journal, and operating expenses cost much more. But we survived, and paid all of our bills as well!

Now it is time to roll up our sleeves and look forward to 2009. As exciting as it is - just because we have the main floor functional, we are far from self sufficient. We still have many expenses we will face on a monthly basis, and that does not even address further renovations that will be necessary.

While everyone who comes in our doors is awed by what has been accomplished, we are far from finished and financially able to exist without your support.

We still need your help.

We need your support to continue to provide this unique Center for our surrounding communities...We call ourselves a Center because we are more than a museum - operating 5 days a week with all volunteer staffing and already providing bus trips and school field trips an engaging presentation about our prehistory that accompanies a tour of the exhibit hall - making the group's experience more active and interesting than just looking at cases filled with artifacts.

We hope that you can see by the first year what dedication we have to the dream that began 5 years ago - and we hope that you are inspired to support us in all that we hope to accomplish in the coming years.

A simple donation of just a few dollars will be used help us continue to invest in our community's understanding and appreciation of our local history that spans thousands of years using artifacts as evidence of the cultures that lived here as well as allows us to preserve these artifacts in a way that can be used to allow the research and learning to continue.

SRAC is a 501(c)3 and as such will make your 2008 donation to us tax deductible.

Please consider putting SRAC on your Christmas list today!

You can donate now by using the button below:


Mail donations to:
Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC)
P.O Box 12, Sayre PA 18840

Co-Founders of SRAC - Ted Keir, Deb Twigg, and Dick Cowles

On behalf of all of us at SRAC - we thank you in advance for anything that you can do to help us keep our dreams alive for generations to come!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Shop AND Support SRAC!

Looking for something special for that history buff or that person who is hard to buy for for Christmas? Visit SRAC's Gift Shop at 345 Broad Street in Waverly, NY! It is open from 1-5pm Tuesdays through Fridays and 11-4pm on Saturdays! And while you are there, stop in and visit our exhibit hall filled with thousands of locally found artifacts!

SRAC has a huge assortment of titles in stock relative to our region's early history!

We also have Native American and other types of art galore:

(pencil drawings by Sue Hakes - Local Artist)

(Beadwork, keychains, glasswork, arrowhead reproductions, and hand made jewelry!)

(Paintings and Prints by artists including Albert White!)

(hand made beaded jewelry)

Incredible wood carvings by Bill Underwood!

(Wood Bracelets )

(Dream Pouches)

(Daisy Wooden Rings)

We also have many other items for kids:

(Activity rocks learning kits and break your own geodes)

(the ever popular snake in a box!)

We also have over fifty different types of polished stones and geodes!

So don't forget to stop by SRAC and browse the store - - you may just find that special gift that you have been looking for while you support a wonderful community initiative.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Problematic Forms: Bannerstones

The image above is from the Ted Keir collection and on display at the SRAC Exhibit Hall. It is today called a winged bannerstone. Incredibly, banner stones are said to have been made by the people who lived in the Archaic time period in our region - that is - approximately 10,000 to 3,000 years ago.

Wikepedia claims: Banner stones are artifacts usually found in the Eastern US that are characterized by a centered hole in a symmetrically shaped carved or ground stone. The holes are typically ¼” to ¾” 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 interestingly colored hard stone. They often have a “wing nut” or “butterfly” shape but are not limited to these.

(different shaped banner stone)

It is drilled ever so carefully through the center and it is truly an art form especially when you consider that the people who made these did not have any metal tools to use to make it.

Because they were made so long ago, researchers have long debated on their specific use, but below you will find all the uses that I am aware of that have been theorized at one time or another:

Bannerstones Video from Ohio History Central:

The above video claims that the name "Banner stone" came from the early antiquarians believing that each stone and shape was placed upon a staff representing the kingdom it represented, like a banner...

(broken banner stone)

Today some specialists claim that these banner stones were a "Swiss army knife" for drilling, cordage making, or fire making for the ancient people who made them and that they are quite handy in performing many tasks in stone working. Some of these people in fact use them in this way today...proving that they can be used for such tasks without a doubt. Of course whether or not they were made for that purpose is still under debate...

(unfinished winged granite banner stone)

On the other hand, many archaeologists today agree that some of these may have been used as weights on a spear thrower called the "atlatl." The atlatl was a tool with several parts. It usually had a wooden shaft about two feet long. There was a hook of an antler at one end and a handle at the other. Shell weights or banner stone weights would have been fitted onto the wooden shaft. By using a weighted atlatl, Archaic hunters would have been able to throw their spears further and with greater force than before. This has also been proven as many people still use the atlatl and know that the weight is necessary.

(broken highly polished wing of a banner stone)

Lastly I have read that the material in use and the shape may have in fact defined different social groups and generations and that research in that direction might just help us to understand more about the many shapes of the banner stone.

I am no scientist and can only tell you that personally I find it hard to believe that anyone would use these things so roughly as they are polished and many seem to be quite delicate. I also think that after looking at all of the variations used under the broad term "banner stone" that maybe this term was and is being used too broadly. Furthermore, I think there is a good chance that there may have been more than one use for like objects...but again that is my opinion...

(broken highly polished banded slate banner stone)

In his 1917 book, "Stone Ornaments," Warren K, Moorehead offered up his thoughts about these "problematic forms" as follows:

"The winged objects with their various subdivisions constitute the
largest class of problematical forms.

Many of the pendants and ornaments from their position on skeletons, may be taken out of the unknown class, thus reducing it. Therefore, it is proper to say that the greater number of objects under study in this volume belong to the winged class and its subdivisions. Quite likely Professor Holmes when he used the word problematical had in mind various forms of winged perforated stones, rather than ovate and rectangular forms. Excepting a few regions in the East or South, the material selected by the Indians for winged objects was quite different from that employed in the manufacture of axes, pestles, celts and other utility tools. An inspection of the hundreds of photographs and drawings, illustrations in books and specimens spread out before the author as he writes these pages, seems to indicate a general line of thought which may be subdivided as follows:—

First, most of them are made of unusual materials; that is, the ancientIndian selected a bright, clear stone, a stone with well defined bands, of a fine-grained banded slate, or dark-brown sandstone, or red or blue shale, or a bright granite, or quartzite. He did not use ordinary limestone, and he employed gray slate or black slate without bands when he could obtain nothing else. He preferred the brighter colors. The very material and its treatment indicate that these objects in their purpose stand apart from the ordinary run of common artifacts.

(this winged banner stone is made of chlorite)

Second, he brought these objects to a state of high finish, all of which involved a deal of labor.

(unfinished banner stone)

Third, he was very careful in their manufacture. Pictures illustrating the progress of the double-winged problematical form from the block of slate to the finished specimen have been given in numbers of places in this book.

Fourth, he cast away broken axes or celts, and we seldom find a broken spear that is rechipped, unless for use as a scraper. But it is significant that he made use of nearly half of the broken problematical forms. This may seem trivial, but it is important; for we must inquire into every detailwith reference to these objects because it is only by such study that we shall learn anything about them.

Fifth, he made his perforations at right angles to the grain or bands of the stone, which should be noted. The exceptions are rare. If he drilled with the grain, the stone would chip, and before he finished the object, it might break.

(another banner stone shape showing the right angle drilling discussed above)

Sixth, he drilled the specimen before it was completed, knowing that the drilling was a dangerous process at best. And if he did not prize the specimen very highly, he would not have cared when he drilled it.

Seventh, he buried many of these short-winged stones with his dead. He placed specialized forms in altars, or under other conditions which stamped them as peculiar and valuable...

Moorehead went on to talk about his personal theory about the winged bannerstone stating:

"The thunder-bird myth is one of the most widespread through northern, central and eastern United States. It has been referred to repeatedly in the reports of those who have investigated the mythology, tradition and folk-lore of the Indian tribes. Perhaps there is no animal, bird or other form of life, around which more traditions and beliefs are centred than this same thunder-bird. Bay-bah-dwung-gay-ausch, the old blind Ojibwa shaman of Pine Point, Minnesota, now aged eighty-nine, told me in the summer of 1909, many interesting things concerning the Ojibwa belief in the thunder-bird. During a severe electrical storm one night in July, when we were camped at Big Medicine Lake, Bay-bah-dwung-gay-ausch arose and sang his medicine songs and burned some tobacco to propitiate the thunder-birds and drive them away. He informed me that in the olden times his people used charms to counteract the evil which these birds sometimes wrought.

My own theory concerning the bipennate or winged forms is that they represented the body and wings of the thunder-bird, and to this stone body were added the head and tail which were made of perishable materials.

This theory requires some explanation. It will at once be asked why was not the entire bird effigy carved out of stone? For the same reason that the pipe-stem and the ornamentation accompanying pipes are of different material. The head of the pipe being of stone or clay is always preserved; the stem of wood disappears as do the feathers or other decorations. It was inconvenient for the Indian to carve an entire bird effigy out of stone, and it was difficult. The entire effigy would be too large. Small effigies he did make. He found it simpler to make the body of the bird out of stone and add the head and tail feathers, just as he found it easier to make the stem of the pipe out of something else." Warren K. Moorehead, Stone Ornaments, 1917

Interestingly on page 425 in Stone Ornaments Moorehead shows a winged banner stone with what he describes as follows: "Material: dark greenish slate. Found by A. B. Winans near Battle Creek, Michigan. This is not perforated. It clearly shows the scratches made by the flint cutting-tool. Remains of hand-hammer action will be observed in the centre. This specimen well illustrates the method of manufacture and how that the Indians left a protecting ridge in the centre."

I found this of interest because I knew of the winged banner stone in our Keir collection shown below. If you look closely at this particular banner stone found locally, you can clearly see the incised markings that seem to me to represent an outstretched wing design, and they match the banner stone Moorehead referenced above.

Truth is that we can never say with 100% certainty what any of these "problematic forms" (otherwise known as "banner stones") were used for - or if they were all used for the same purpose.

I hope that after reading this post that you understand the importance of preserving our local artifacts and sharing them with others. They are not just pretty rocks....In these pictures you are seeing
evidence of a people who lived here thousands of years before us. By using this evidence we all can celebrate our past and learn more about how people lived here before us.

*All of the bannerstones shown on this page can be seen in the SRAC exhibit hall at 345 Broad St, in Waverly, NY.