As a second part to our series on the artifacts of the Larson site, this blog post is about the objects in the collection that are made of bone.
Our continued effort to catalog and rehouse the Larson site collection has seen much progress the past month. We started the project in 2015 with approximately 8200 catalog numbers to organize, re-catalog, and rehouse and now only a few numbers remain! The collection spans over ten storage units at the Museum Support Center (MSC), two of which primarily store the bone artifacts. The following images show a before and after comparison of our rehousing work with the bone artifacts.
As a farming community, the people of the Larson site were not only dependent on the landscape for cultivating their crops, but also for providing faunal resources for food, clothing, and tools. The bone tools found in the Larson collection were adapted for farming, fishing, hunting, and hide-working functions from animals such as bison, elk and deer. As a material, bone is softer than stone and harder than wood, so it can be shaped into a variety of tools with only slight modifications. Because of their versatility, bone tools are heavily represented in the archaeological record. The Larson inhabitants most likely used stone tools for manufacturing bone tools. There are several bone tool manufacturing techniques that involve the use of stone objects. Bones can be crushed by large stones such as hammerstones and anvil stones. Bone can also be sawed and serrated with stone knives. By soaking the bone in water for several days, bone can be softened for easier grooving and chiseling with a modified flake tool.
Many tools represented in the Larson collection were used to process animal hides and to produce leather. The largest of the bone objects in the collection is the thong stropper. A thong stropper is made from the scapula, or shoulder blade, of a bison (see picture above) and used to shape and soften leather pieces. The scapula bone was used to make several tools, but the thong stropper is unique in its construction. As you can see in the image below, the thong stropper has a large hole pierced into the center of the wide blade. The presence of smoothed edges around this center hole is a potential indicator of frequent use of this type of tool. This hole was used to repeatedly pull leather thongs or strips through it while under tension.
Other types of bone tool found in the collection are bone awls and perforators. These tools were used for decorating and sewing hides and leather. Both tool types have sharp, finely pointed tips that are used to puncture the hides for sewing clothing together and adding decorations like beads (pictured below) and metal tinklers. These tools were possibly made from deer ulnae or splinters of rib and long bone which were then ground and polished to form the sharp tip.
The most common bone tool in the collection is a farming tool called the scapula hoe. Made from the scapula of bison or elk, this tool was made by sharpening the wide blade, mounting it on a split and notched wooden handle, and securing it with leather cords or rope. The hoe was then used for tilling fields, like modern hoes are used today. We know from the collection that the people of Larson cultivated maize. We have several catalog numbers that contain multiple charred corn cobs.
In addition to farming tools, the collection also has bone tools used for fishing and hunting along the Missouri River. Fishhooks are made from small bones, possibly from deer toe bones that were cut, split lengthwise, and then ground down to reveal the hook-shaped ridge inside. In the picture below, you can see how the fishhooks in the Larson collection have notches at the top of the hook. These notches were used for attaching fishing line, most likely made from plant fibers.
We also found arrow-shaft wrenches in the collection. These tools were made for shaping branches and twigs into straight arrows. When the arrow shafts were heated, the bone wrenches could remove warps and irregularities more efficiently than if it was done by hand. The wrenches were made from rib bones of bison and elk, and potentially even from long bones of deer. As you can see in the image below, this object has drilled holes of similar size that made uniform arrows.
After we finish cataloging the remaining objects, we will begin the process of assigning Smithsonian catalog numbers to each object we have rehoused at MSC. This will aid in future research of this collection as the new catalog numbers will be entered into our collections database, parts of which will then be made available for public research. Until then, we will continue this blog series on the artifacts we find within this big collection.
Next, we will explore the ceramic objects found at Larson. We are excited to share these objects because some of the vessels were reconstructed in the past and are quite photogenic.
Authors: Kendra Young with Kelly Lindberg and Lotte Govaerts
Interested in further reading about bone tools? Check out these useful online resources we found:
Bell, Robert E. 1980. Oklahoma Indian Artifacts. Norman: Contributions from the Stovall Museum, University of Oklahoma, No. 4, 1980. http://www.ou.edu/archsur/OKArtifacts/toc.htm
Morrow, Toby. Bone Tools: Series in Ancient Technologies. The Office of the State Archaeologist, University of Iowa. Web. May 5, 2016. http://archaeology.uiowa.edu/bone-tools-0