Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bannerstone Discovery

This week at Burrell Orchard proved very productive, despite the almost daily rain showers that flooded some of our most promising excavation units (Figure 1). Nevertheless, our valiant crew slogged through the swamp, screened for artifacts in the rain, and kneeled in mud to make good, steady progress.
Figure 1. Rain-soaked floor of Unit 496N 512E.
Spirits were greatly heightened by the unexpected discovery of a rather rare artifact known as a bannerstone. “Bannerstone” is the name given to a class of expertly carved and ground slate artifacts that many archaeologists consider to have been weights on the “atlatl” spear-thrower. Despite this rather mundane function, many bannerstone were so carefully made and artistic in form that it seems that they would have also carried some degree of ritual or symbolic significance. In any case, yours truly turned one up while examining some dark soil stains on one of the unit floors. Interestingly, the bannerstone was partially buried beneath a section of clay floor, as if it had been deliberately sealed into the small pit subsequently found below.

Our specimen is broken, perhaps intentionally, and represents about one half of its original form (Figure 2). This variety is known as a “winged” or “butterfly” bannerstone for the wide flanges extending outward from the central bore hole. It is thought that the bannerstone was inserted over a cylindrical portion of the spear-thrower. Our specimen does not appear to have been finished, since many scratches from smoothing the stone are still apparent. Also, the artifact is neatly broken at the central bore hole, which suggests that this destruction was the result of poor drilling technique. It is also possible that the bannerstone was intentionally broken or “killed” by its owner, possibly as a sacrifice or an effort to release the spirit of this fine object. The fact that it was carefully buried under a clay floor in a small pit points to the making of an offering, perhaps during the renewing of the house floor with another clay layer. We will never know for sure, but the discovery of such a rare object in an otherwise artifact-sparse section of the site leads me to think that its placement here was intentional and had great significance.

Figure 2. Two views of slate bannerstone fragment found in Unit 496N 516E (arrow points to central hole).

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