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Indian Tools

by R Edward Moore

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What is a tool?  A tool is something people use to help them accomplish their work.  A basket is a tool for a woman gathering plants.  A handy rock can be a hammer.  A bow and arrows are tools used by a hunter or a warrior.   Someone making a bow would use a stone scraper to shave and shape the wood.  A woman preparing an animal skin might use the same scraper to remove the fat and flesh from the inside part of the skin and a sharp flake of flint to cut it with.  A pottery maker used polished pebbles to shape and smooth their pots.  A woman making clothing would use a stone knife to cut leather with, an bone awl to make holes in the leather and a bone needle to pull sinew thread thru the holes made by the awl.  The Indians had as many kinds of tools as they had jobs to do that needed tools.

When we think of Indian tools it is stone tools that first come to mind.  There is a simple reason for this.  It is the stone tools that have survived buried in the dirt.  The wood, bone, leather and fiber tools disappeared, dissolved back into the soil over the years.  In collections it is also the stone parts of tools that survived the years.  In old private collections the leather, wood and fibers often dried out and cracked till the tool was falling apart and unattractive.  So people kept the stone parts and threw the rest away over the years. 

Indians made many kinds of tools out of many kinds of materials.   They made digging sticks that were simply a long strong stick with a point.  They had hoes made from animal bones and from shells attached to wood handles.  Axes were made often made from ground and polished stone instead of the chipped stone we usually think of. Hooks for fishing were often made from slivers of shells. 

Many tools were made up of several materials combined.  A arrow had a stone or bone point, a wood or cane shaft and feathers, all held together with some kind of cord and often with some kind of glue.

Indian tools were usually made from the materials that were available where the Indians lived.  Indians who lived in woods where trees and wood was available made more tools from wood.  Indians who lived in the desert made more stone tools and made do without wooden handles.  Where workable stone was scarce Indians used bone instead.  A good example is the Eskimos who lived where there was neither stone or wood.  They used animal bones to make almost all their tools.  

Often it took one tool or set of tools to make other tools.  So we find a wide variety of Indian tools once we think about what tools Indians would need. 

Each  culture and each kind of work within a culture uses its own unique tool kit.  This is how archeologist can tell long lost cultures apart.  Different Indian cultures at different times each made its own kind of dart points.  Archeologists can also use tool kits to tell about the activities in an archeological site.  A hunting camp will have tools to butcher animals and process the animal's parts.  A farming village will have pottery and hoes. 

Here are some stone tools  to look at.

Other Kinds of Tools

This Indian woman is using a corn mill.  A corn mill is used to grind, or crush in this case, corn into a flour.  This mill is really a mortar and pestle.  The pestle is the stick with the big ends she is holding.  The mortar is a hollow tree stump.  She is using the pestle to pound on dry corn kernels inside the mortar.  These are wooden tools used to process food.  To read a funny Indian story about a corn mill go to the Caddo Indian page. 

Below.  Here is another mortar and pestle.  The mortar here is a hole in big slab of limestone rock.  The pestle is the rock the man is holding.  This one was used to crush acorns in.  I think the pestle here is way too small, but you get the idea.  I would guess the real pestle was a stick the size of a baseball bat. It was used like the one the woman in the other picture is using.  But, the Indians did use stone pestles too.  Go to the Mortar and Pestle Page to see more about this.

Copyright by R. Edward. Moore and Texarch Associates, all rights reserved,  2004, 2012   Graphics may not be used or reproduced without prior permission. Short parts of text and one or two pictures may be used in school reports. Longer quotes require prior written permission.