Stone (not Brass) Knuckles?

Posted on Sep 10, 2013 in Prince Rupert Update, What's New

GbTo 54 2108 (Click to view in 3D)

OK, a brief respite from the harpoons; we’ll get back to those soon. “And now for something completely different”: this is yet another remarkable artifact from the 2012-13 Prince Rupert excavations.  When you click on the image on the left for 3D, you’ll open a window where you can use your mouse to roll the artifact around.  There are some other interesting things you can play with in the options.  If you can’t see it at all, leave a note and we’ll upload a video showing both colour and grey-scale 3D images.  Or if you like, check out the 3D video below!

The artifact is obviously made for a right-handed individual with big hands.  It has a thumb groove and four finger grooves, with the index finger angled sharply upward.  Holding it now gives you a remarkable and special feeling of having a direct connection with the hand of the Coast Tsimshian ancestor who made it for his grip (or maybe hers?) a thousand years or more ago.


Gordon working his magic with the 3-D scanner. Click to enlarge. The scanned artifact (a different one) is on the left of the table on a rotating stand, and the scanner is the grey box just left of the screen. Red laser beams that do the scanning can be seen on the wall.

The scan was made by Gordon Dudoward of Lax Kw’alaams using our NextEngine 3D scanner.  Gordon, working in the Prince Rupert lab, learned all kinds of tricks to build great models that had eluded regular Millennia staff in the previous year of intermittent use. This is actually the low-resolution one!

The 3-D version shown here is grey scale; we couldn’t find a way to easily bring you the mapped colour textures which the NextEngine also produces.  At the bottom of this page the artifact is shown in high-definition colour (and much more detailed than the scanner takes).  Click on the bottom photo by Andrew Eckert (permanent Millennia staff member), and then use the “+” zoom button (doesn’t always work properly on iPad).

So what is it?  Most guys seem to assume its a weapon when they see it and pick it up; women are much more likely to think it had some less violent use (that could be another blog entry….)  The artifact has no wear at all on the ends, like hammerstones do, although there may be some wear on the face away from the palm-side (you can see the pitting on the 3-D).   It seems unlikely that its a glorified hammerstone; why would so much work be made for a prosaic tool when you can pick up a hammerstone on the beach?  And this seems to be unique; if it worked really well as a hammer, wouldn’t we find lots of other examples?

We can’t find any other analogous artifacts in Northwest Coast artifact assemblages or museum collections.  The closest things are two-handed stone pile-drivers with pecked finger and thumb grips, used for pounding in stakes.  Duff’s 1975 “Images Stone BC”  book has photographs of four such pounders, two of them with indented grips (images 97-100). Duff describes as these objects as for pounding fish weir stakes.  Probably they could be used for driving in poles to make drying racks, benches inside houses, and many other reasons people need stakes for.  Others are listed in museum catalogues; sometimes with specific reference to eulachon trap construction, but they seem very rare.  The Prince Rupert object seems a little small for this purpose, but it is probably heavy enough to drive smaller stakes. If it’s not a weapon, its probably a one-handed pile driver?





  1. LOVE your blog you guys!!! Just too cool. Great stories, great artifacts! Love it:)

  2. Lots of cool stuff on your blog – nice to see some very high quality photos, and newer digital visualisation techniques coming into BC Archaeology at last.
    I have been experimenting with some of these same techniques, and while the free software is glitchy as all get out, the process is now really quite simple – the only obstacle to wide spread use is the time it can take to learn the methods, and implement them.

  3. Hi All,

    Thanks so much for these great posts.

    Just one month ago, an artifact very similar to this was found on Lasqueti Island. It’s my new favourite artifact. I was looking for analogues as well. The one we found is HUGE — only the men with large hands can hold it and use all the finger grooves. It has wear from pounding on the body of it — both sides, but mostly one side, so mostly right-handed. I assumed it was pounding stakes.

  4. I meant to say that I thought this was used for pounding wedges — not stakes (though that’s possible as well, of course). But, it works best for pounding in a side-ways motion — or so all the men who have held it think! It was found in what would have been forest — quite a ways in land from the beach and way back from the rest of the site.

  5. I found one of these made of solid cast iron with very similar finger grooves. Have no idea the age or origin, but it would certainly make a very effective and discreet weapon.

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