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Birdstone Theories

by Conrad Kilian, The Dalles, Oregon

Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.52, No.3, pg.126 Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.52, No.4, pg..195


After reading the great, tongue in cheek article by Mr. Larry Scheiber and the theories postulated by Mr. Steven Dowell about Birdstones in our outstanding October 2004, CSAJ 50th Anniversary issue, I got to thinking about an experi­ence I had many years ago regarding a birdstone that had been discovered. I felt it was important to document a person­al account of the discovery as told to me.

I find the different theories concerning the use of birdstones to be interesting. No birdstone that I know of has ever been found in a formal archaeological context in which other artifacts were directly associated.

Let’s look at the facts concerning bird-stones. A serious amount of time went into the very precise construction of these very rare and unusual artifacts. Secondly, their highly stylized finished shape, with drilled holes and all, do not lend themselves to be securely attached to anything.

A great many birdstones were made from slate, which is a relatively soft material. Though others made from gran­ite or porphyry are a lot harder and stronger than the slate types, the connec­tions (drill holes) regardless of the mate­rial, are inherently weak. This is due to the fact, that regardless of what they were tied to, the lashings had to be very small to accommodate the tiny angular drilled holes. So it is most unlikely that birdstones had anything to do with an atlatl or spear thrower. In addition, those tiny attachment holes would not have fared well on any associated object or device that was violently slung around. (This is also true of boatstones and bar amulets, which are probably related, but that is another issue). Mr. Larry Scheiber in an earlier article in the CSAJ, suggest­ed these holes were for manufacturing birdstones and that may well be true.

Many years ago, I acquired a group of fine Buck Creek points from a fellow collector and friend, Terry Allen. With Terry’s help, I traced their origin back to a man in Kentucky who had excavated them in a cave. I know digging is taboo subject, but it happened and I can’t change the past. However, to ignore what happened and fail to report it would also be an enormous mistake. That is why I am making this report. The fellow’s name was Bobby and he lived near Irvine, Kentucky, or at least he did at the time. I called Bobby to see if he could give me more information on the Buck Creek points, and we shared an interest­ing conversation. He told me he also had found a Cannel Coal gorget near the Buck Creek points. I tried to acquire it too, for I thought it would make a fine center piece for the Buck Creek frame and the pieces were probably related, but he was not interested.

As our conversation continued, he told me of another discovery he had made. He had also found a birdstone! Then he asked, ” What do you think it was still attached to?” I told him, “I have no idea”. He said, “A Flute”. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Bobby, you need to tell an archaeologist about your find. This is the only discovery of birdstone and another associated artifact that I have ever heard of”. He was very reluctant to do so, I gathered from the conversation he was more concerned about losing his site than documenting an artifact. It was a very sad situation. Apparently he had been digging for nearly forty-five years, and this was his only source of income. I asked it I could come to Kentucky to see and photograph the birdstone and the flute, but again he was very evasive and reluctant. I felt at this point, it would be best to let it drop. Now I have to be real­istic about the fellow; I never actually met him, and maybe he was just telling a tall tale. But, since he wouldn’t allow me to see the birdstone and the flute, what possible reason would he have to lie about it? I guess we will never know. I lost touch with him and don’t know what happened to him. Since that time, I haven’t heard of a birdstone attached to a flute surfacing anywhere. And this one to the best of my knowledge hasn’t appeared.

Our conversation and the previously mentioned articles got me to thinking about what Bobby had told me, and it makes perfect sense. A flute in the prop­er hands could sound like a bird. Also many birdstones have slightly rounded bases, which permit them to slide up and down the top of the flute as it is being played.

The minute holes at the front and back of the birdstones would allow for a loose attachment, which would also be practi­cal for playing and attachment. Now not all birdstones have these features, but maybe this is how birdstones began. In conclusion, although this is the best explanation for the use of the beautiful artifacts that I have ever heard of, unfor­tunately it has not been substantiated. My further attempts to contact Bobby have been unsuccessful. This modest theory is my own and is only food for thought, but it might motivate another author, which is good for American archaeology and finest amateur archeo­logical journal in existence, the Central States Archaeological Journal.

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