Topic: Tools

Indian Axe

Various stone implements of the antique period of the hunter occupancy of America, have received the name of “Indian Axe.” With what justice this term was applied, in relation to the use made of the European axe of iron, it is proposed to inquire. The ancient Indians, prior to the era of the discovery of America, had indeed no use for an axe, in the sense in which we apply the term now a days. Fire was the great agent they employed in felling trees and reducing their trunks to proper lengths. There was no cutting of trees. No...

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Corn Pestle or Hand Bray Stone

The zea maize was cultivated by the Indian tribes of America throughout its whole extent. Cotton was raised by the Mexican and Peruvian tribes; but there is no instance on record in which the plant was cultivated by tribes living north of the Rio Grande del Norte. The Florida and Louisiana tribes raised a kind of melon, and per haps some minor vegetables; but the whole of the tribes situated in the Mississippi Valley, in Ohio, and the Lakes, reaching on both sides of the Alleghanies, quite to Massachusetts, and other parts of New England, cultivated Indian corn. It...

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Stone Block Prints

The Islanders of the Pacific Ocean fabricate a species of cloth, or habilimental tapestry, from the fibrous inner bark of certain trees. This bark is macerated, and extended into a comparatively thin surface by mallets of wood or stone. When the required degree of attenuation has been attained, the pieces are dyed, or colored with certain pigments, or vegetable concoctions, known to them. To impart regularity to the patterns, blocks or prints are applied. The coloring is wholly external; in no instance, of many specimens examined, does it extend through, or on both sides of the bark. A proof entirely conclusive that it has not been dipped, or immersed in a vat. It is not easy to determine whether a mordant has been used to set the dye or decoction. From several specimens from the Owyhee, or Sandwich Island group, herewith figured, in Plate 30, Figures 4, 5, and 6,) which have been deposited in our cabinet for upwards of twenty years, the coloring matter appears to be quite permanent. It has, at least, resisted the rays of light, with but little change, during that period; but it must be remarked that the specimens have been protected, a part of the time, in drawers. It will be observed that the yellows and blacks have endured best. A carmine-red has endured tolerably; a light brick red exhibits no change. From a...

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Rope Maker’s Reed

We can refer to no period of their traditions, when the Indian tribes were destitute of the art of making twine, and a small kind of rope. Although they had not the hemp plant, there were several species of shrubs spontaneously produced by the forest, from the inner bark of which they made these articles. They fabricated nets for fishing, which are referred to in their ancient oral tales. To tie sticks or bundles, is one of the oldest and simplest arts of mankind; and the verb to tie has, therefore, been selected by some philologists, as one of the primitives.12 It is, however, a compound, consisting of a tiling and an act, in all the Algonquin dialects known to us. The process of twine and rope making, from the barky fibre of certain plants, it appears, was one connected with some kind of machinery. From the species of stone reed that is found in some of their tumuli, whose object was, to hold the strands or plies apart, it is probable that a wooden instrument, having the properties of a rope-maker s hand-windlass, was employed to twist them together. Yet if this was not done, and we have no evidence that it was, the reed would afford some facilities for hand twisting. We have two remains of this instrument. The first was found in the upper vault of...

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Funeral Food Vase

The idea of placing food in or near the grave, to serve the departed spirit on its journey to the fancied land of rest in another world, is connected with the ancient belief in a duality of souls. This idea is shown to exist among the present tribes of the United States. 1Proceedings of the New York Historical Society. One of these souls is liberated at death, but the other is compelled to abide with the body; and it is to provide for this, that a dish or vase of food is deposited generally at this day, not in...

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Objects of Indian Art and Tools

There was found, on opening some of the minor mounds of the Ohio Valley, a species of tubes, carved out of steatite, which attracted attention. These tubes appeared to have been bored by some instrument possessing a degree of hardness superior to steatite. One end was entirely open; the other had a small aperture, as if it had been intended to facilitate suction, by a temporary rod and valve. Specimens of these are figured in Plate 32, Figs. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. The same district of country disclosed, by its tumuli, large masses of the silvery...

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Bone Shuttle

In making their mats or rude lodge-tapestry, and other coarse fabrics, the aborigines employed an instrument of bone, of a peculiar construction, which has the properties of a shuttle. It was designed to introduce the woof in preparing these fabrics, as they did, from rushes and other, flexible materials used for the purpose. The art was rude,” and of a kind “to fall into disuse, by the coast tribes, as soon as European manufactures were introduced. It is therefore, when found in opening graves, &c., a proof of the ante-European period. One of these antique implements, herewith figured, (Plate...

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Aishkun, or Bone Awl

Men’s and women’s clothes were before the discovery made of skins, or dressed leather. It was necessary to the formation of garments for the body and legs, and shoes for the feet, that some hard and sharp instrument should be employed, capable of readily penetrating the skin or leather. The method of the ancient species of sewing of our tribes resembled that of a modern cordwainer rather than of a seamstress or tailor. Leather, dressed or undressed, being the material to be put together, this was accomplished by making holes in the edges of the garment or skin, and...

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Stone Bill, or Tomahawk

The pointed mace, found in the early North American graves and barrows, is uniformly of a semi-lunar form. It appears to have been the Cassetete or head-breaker, such as we can only ascribe to a very rude state of society. It was employed by warriors prior to the introduction of the agakwut and tomahawk. All the specimens examined have an orifice in the center of the curve for the insertion of a handle. Its object was to penetrate, by its sharp points, the skull of the adversary. This was not done by cutting, as with the agakwut or mace, but by perforating the cranium by its own gravity, and the superadded force of the warrior. In an attack, it must have been a powerful weapon. A specimen (Figure 1, Plate 11) obtained through the intervention of F. Follett, Esq., from a small mound on the banks of the Tonawanda, near Batavia, New York, is of the following dimensions. Length, eight inches: breadth, one and a half inches: thickness, about one and a quarter inches. The material is a neutral-colored siliceous slate, exquisitely worked and polished. Its weight is half a pound. Another specimen (Figure 2, Plate 11) from Oakland County, Michigan, has both the lunar points slightly broken off, yet it weighs six and a half ounces. It is of the same material, but striped. It is, in all respects, a stouter instrument....

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Mortar

This instrument was used by the aborigines of this continent, for crushing the zea maize, and for reducing quartz, feldspar, or shells, to a state, which permitted it to be mixed with the clays of which their pottery was made. The first use is best exemplified by the excavated block of stone, formerly and still employed by the Aztecs, for making tortillas. Of the mortar for pounding stones to temper their pottery, a specimen is herewith figured, (Figs. 6 and 7, Plate 27.) This ancient implement, which is double-chambered, was discovered by the writer in the Seneca country, in...

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Ice Cutters

All the tribes of high northern latitudes employ, at the present day, a chisel of iron of peculiar construction, during the winter season, to perforate the ice of the lakes and rivers, for the purpose of fishing and taking beaver. This instrument replaces in the history of their customs, a horn, which their ancestors used for the same purpose. The practice prevails particularly among the lake tribes, who rely much on fish for their subsistence, and reaches so far south as north latitude 40°, and as far inland as the streams and waters become permanently frozen. The ancient horn consisted of a single prong of the antlers of the deer or elk. This was tied firmly to a handle of wood, four or five feet long. We should not know of this ancient instrument, were it not that the natives call at our government shops for an iron chisel, to perform the same...

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Fleshing Tools or Stone Chisel

It is known that in skinning an animal, there will always remain some parts of the flesh and integuments to the skin. With a hunter, the operation of skinning is often done in haste, and when there is ever so much leisure, still the fear of cutting the skin, induces the flayer rather to infringe upon the carcass than endanger the value of the hide. In the hunter state of society, it becomes the duty of the women to dress and prepare the skins taken in the chase. For this purpose, the skins are stretched in the green state...

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Household Utensils of the Plains Indians

In a preceding section, reference was made to baskets, which in parts of the Plateau area on the west, often served as pots for boiling food. They were not, of course, set upon the fire, the water within being heated by hot stones. Pottery was made by the Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara, and probably by all the other tribes of the Village group. There is some historical evidence that it was once made by the Blackfoot and there are traditions of its use among the Gros Ventre, Cheyenne, and Assiniboin; but, with the possible exception of the Blackfoot, it...

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