Bannerstone, Double-Notched Ovate


Not on view

Made between 6000 and 1000 BCE, bannerstones are amongst the oldest finely carved lithics in the Americas. Indigenous Archaic North Americans created them from Michigan to the tip of Florida and from the Mississippi Valley over to the Atlantic coast. They carved and polished them with a peck and grind technology using a vast range of materials from soft sedimentary shale, to metamorphic slate or harder rock such as granite or quartz. Though bannerstones have been found in twenty-four different shapes, each one is a unique composition where sculptors appear to delight in the interplay of geologic characteristics in relation to the forms they sculpt. Using a hollow river reed, twisting it back and forth between their hands, adding water and sand to bite into the stone, they would drill a 1 to 2 centimeter hole down the center of the bannerstones for them to be hafted onto a shaft and hoisted to be seen. In some Archaic burials, bannerstones were found intentionally broken at the perforation where they are most fragile and carefully placed next to or on the body of the dead. This mortuary ritual use of bannerstones placed with and beside men, women, and children, attest to their importance in life and to their role in the act of mourning and remembrance. Some bannerstones were found in other burials aligned with atlatls, throwing sticks that extend the flight of a spear, leading scholars to hypothesize that they may have been hafted to atlatls as accessories or weights. Many bannerstones are far too large or small to be used in this manner leaving open the question of why they were only made in the Archaic period in Eastern North America and ceased to be made after 1000 BCE when atlatl use would continue for several centuries before the advent of the bow and arrow. Many bannerstones were found in areas at great distances from the geologic origin of the stone, revealing deep interest in stone texture and color and long distance travel and trade amongst Archaic sculptors. Whatever their purpose, the thousands of bannerstones in private and public collections are testament to the importance of stone for individual aesthetic expression during the Archaic Period in North America.

The slate of this Double-Notched Ovate Bannerstone has been carefully oriented so that the natural dark banding moves diagonally across the sculpted composition of the stone, echoing and in visual play with the curved sculpting shape. The top and bottom notches are angled inward, and the sculptor has carved a subtle ridge on one side of the stone parallel to the perforation. The entire surface has thin scratch marks from the peck and grind technology used to shape and polish the stone. Other than a few small chips along the edges, this bannerstone shows little or no signs of wear. Its “hypertrophic” (relatively large) size is twice the weight of most bannerstones, suggesting that this pristine work of art was used in performances or ceremonies. Branch Co. Mich B-41 is written in black on one side, presumably indicating where this bannerstone was found in south-central Michigan.

Anna Blume, Professor of the History of Art, Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York 2023

References and Further Reading

Knoblock, Byron. Bannerstones of the North American Indian. LaGrange: LeGrange: Bryon Knoblock, 1939.

Sassaman, Kenneth. “Craftworks of Structure.” The Eastern Archaic Historicized. New York: AltaMira Press, 2010, pp. 97-142.

The Archaic Bannerstone Project. Fashion Institute of Technology,

Webb, William S., “Indian Knoll, Site Oh2, Ohio County, Kentucky,” Reports in Anthropology and Archaeology 4, no. 2 (1946): 115-365.

Lutz, David L. The Archaic Bannerstone: Its Chronological History and Purpose From 6000 B.C. to 1000 B.C. Newburg: David L. Lutz, 2000.

Bannerstone, Double-Notched Ovate, Banded slate, Archaic

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