Stone Miniature Chisels

Posted on Oct 25, 2014 in Prince Rupert Update, What's New

Another new artifact type from the Kaien Siding project is what we have called the miniature stone chisel. Three exceptionally small, finely finished green stone and possibly basalt chisels were recovered from GbTo-54. These are highly polished on all surfaces and taper toward the distal tip (see below). All were made by incising or sawing along the long edges to groove then snap the stone, and then the point was made by grinding facets. GbTo-54:188 is complete. They must have been hafted into handles to allow fine manipulation as they are much too small to hand-hold. Functionally, they would have served to carve fine lines or relief in detailed work; perhaps some of the 100 antler bracelets or the inferred goat horn bracelets at these sites. The working tip of :188 is less than 1 mm wide, and much thinner. To our knowledge, no other comparable artifacts have been noted for any Northwest Coast assemblage. miniature stone chisel
A119 - 20130819_193830

detail of tip :188 on the ‘narrow’ face.  Rotated to 90 degrees, the working bit is almost straight and less than 1 mm wide.A130 - 20130819_195114Yes, those are fingerprint ridges in the background, that show just how tiny these tools are!  This microscopic photo shows the multi-facetted tip of GbTo-54:3106.


  1. These are really neat; also a testament to excellent field recovery methods. Well done. There are bone analogs to these in the North Coast Prehistory Project assemblages — i.e. the same shape. We classified them as small fixed points. I am not claiming they are tiny chisels, but…
    We have stone carving tools at Meier, but they are chipped stone also beaver incisors. If anyone wants to get a sense of the size of objects such tools could have been used on, look at Figure 10.2 in “Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia” edited by Boyd, Ames and Johnson (shameless plug). It’s a tiny carving in the Lower Columbia style.
    As Quentin points out in his blog post, these tools coupled with the bracelets opens a remarkable window into Northwest Coast art and artisanship.

  2. These are so cool. There’s a good analogue for the left one from Alaska, same bevelled tip, approximately the same size, made of nephrite. Thanks for posting this. More posts please!

  3. This form doesn’t allow me to upload images but I have an artifact — made from a type of soapstone used to create a pipe, possibly from the Pitt Meadows area — that exhibits deeply-incised lines forming a repeated gill-like pattern. This kind of controlled artistic work might indicate one possible application for extremely tough but small-tipped implements. Let me know where I can send a sequence of shots if you’re interested.

  4. I may have missed it but is there a date on these objects? To me, they look more like a stylus, with rounded tips. Is there any copper-working at this site? This is the type of tool I would hope to find with copper working. At Cahokia, we have copper workshops under Md. 34. They are making copper plates in the Braden style, at that mound. They would use a tool to press copper “foil” into a pre-engraved form. There are some very fine lines on these copper plates and a tool similar to the ones you show, would be ideal for such work. A tool with a very fine point, but polished, seems appropriate. Perhaps, there is a similar chore, being performed at your site?

  5. Thanks for the kudo, Ken! You could always scan Figure 10.2 for those of us too poor to buy the book 😉
    Quentin, that is indeed very similar; I’ve seen nothing else so close great spotting!
    Mike, try our facebook page, the blog is linked from there and you can post comments with images (and give us a ‘like’ of course while your are there!)
    Larry, a stylus as you describe would be perhaps an even better description. I think we have fine engravers in the form of quartz crystal microliths and some very unusual beaver and porcupine very narrow and extremely sharp incisors. Some of the tooth ones are outside the range of anything Susan Crockford has seen in her many years of looking at archaeological animal teeth and tools.
    Two of these are in our Component 3, which dates from about 50 BC to AD900; the other is in COmponent 4, which dates from AD900 to shortly before contact, but with most activity halting roughly AD1400. We have everything broken up into spatial/temporal Analytical Units (AUs, a la Ames) but I’ll leave it as ‘component’ for now. We don’t have direct evidence for copper; the Alaskan copper doesn’t become available till about AD1000; but Tsimshian myths talk about copper originating from two sources, one in Alaska and one in the headwaters of the Skeena (and I’ve had geologists show me native copper nuggets from that area). There is copper with some of the Prince Rupert Harbour burials that predate an Alaskan source, and perhaps the Skeena source is actually earlier? I think an analysis of some of the ‘box hearths’ for copper residues might be revealing; we didn’t see green staining, but I’m betting there could be trace amounts there.
    We have abundant antler bracelets that are being engraved and we strongly infer mountain goat horn bracelets as well. So there was lots of fine carving to be done at these sites…..

  6. mike, do try the Facebook page to post photos. There is no steatite /soapstone here and I believe there was none, or very very little, in the huge NCPP project in the harbour in the 60s and 70s.

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