A Little Bird Told Me: Use-Wear Analysis and Replication Studies as a Means to Identify the Function of Birdstones

Author(s): Sarah Teel; Leslie Dunaway; Billie Follensbee

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Textile Tools and Technologies as Evidence for the Fiber Arts in Precolumbian Societies" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Among the most enigmatic ancient North American artifacts are the objects collectively known as birdstones: Small ground stone objects, usually made of banded slate, that take the generalized form of a simplified bird or a bird’s head, sometimes with protruding "popeyes." The vast majority of birdstones are surface finds or were recovered from trash pits; among the few published finds discovered in context, the birdstone was placed in or above a cremation burial, in a manner ambiguous as to purpose. A variety of hypotheses have nevertheless been proposed for the use and meaning of birdstones, including the possibilities that they served as ornamental amulets, totems, or insignia on objects or on people, or as functional objects such as game pieces, corn huskers, atlatl weights, or atlatl handles—but none of these hypotheses has been thoroughly tested, and scholars have not reached strong consensus on birdstone function. In recent analyses of birdstone collections from throughout North America, however, clear patterns of use-wear have emerged on different types of birdstones. Further experimentation strongly suggests that this use-wear was caused by wrapping with cordage, and ongoing replication studies that explore these use-wear patterns are clarifying the more likely functions of these enigmatic artifacts.

Cite this Record

A Little Bird Told Me: Use-Wear Analysis and Replication Studies as a Means to Identify the Function of Birdstones. Sarah Teel, Leslie Dunaway, Billie Follensbee. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 451882)

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 23406