The Archaic Bannerstone by David L. Lutz
Affectionately known as "The Dreamsicle"
Hourglass bannerstone made of pink ferruginous quartzite highlighted with red and black inclusions. Found by my father, Howard Lutz, north of Boonville in Warrick County, Indiana on May 24, 1978.
Welcome to "The Archaic Bannerstone" Book. It is such an interesting story that was just waiting to be told. Over twenty enjoyable years went into this undertaking. I would describe it as "a labor of love". Especially inspiring were the small discoveries, those eureka moments whenever a piece to this quizzical puzzle was found. Not often in this day and age, especially here in the US where it seems every rock has been turned over, are there unresolved archaeological mysteries waiting to be discovered. For over a hundred years, the professional and amateur archaeologist, and the curious have been investigating and excavating many of the thousands of prehistoric campsites and earthworks that dot the North American landscape. It would seem impossible from all that activity that there could be anything of importance left to report upon. Somehow the Archaic bannerstone has managed to escape the attention of researchers and its interesting history has practically gone unnoticed. Now, for the first time, this book describes the bannerstone's 5000 year long history in the Central, Southeastern, and Eastern United States and where its many patterns fit in time.
Bannerstones are found in approximately forty major patterns and occur from 6000 B.C. to about 1200 B.C. They are sometimes referred to as atlatl weights because of the undeniable circumstances in which they are found - often with their central perforation in perfect alignment with an atlatl handle and antler hook. But this study had difficulty in professing to such a utilitarian role, believing instead their sole purpose was to adorn a ceremonial atlatl awarded for achievement or status after death.
Bannerstones have been difficult to analyze because they are rarely found at excavations and little was known or understood of the period when they occur. Only a handful of useful radiocarbon dates are found in the literature. In an attempt to resolve these difficult problems, I have traveled to many parts of the Midwest and southern states where most are found to photograph and gather information on these emblematic stones. I also wanted to record any additional facts of their discovery such as their placement in caches and their association with other related artifact classes such as projectile points, conch shell gorgets, and atlatl sets which could be useful for cross dating.
There have been over 250 contributors to the book with many specimens selected from the outstanding collections of Townsend, Caldwell, Beutell, Helman, Tully, Brockman, Ritter, Lewis, Bapst, Pyle, Hart and Weidner. Other valuable information and bannerstone specimens were found in university and museum collections which were studied and photographed. They include the Universities of Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, and Southern Illinois. The collections curated at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield and the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma were also a great help.
Over 1700 authentic bannerstones are illustrated, many in color. But, most important, for the first time the major patterns have been sequenced in the order of their appearance as they slowly evolved through a 5000 year history, beginning with the Reel type at approximately 6000 B.C. and concluding with the Rectangular Barreled at approximately 1500 B.C.
In the absence of firm radiocarbon dates for bannerstones, it was imperative that a means be found for arranging these specimens. This was accomplished in several ways, one being diagnostic projectile point styles, but that in itself was not enough. It was essential to find other methods for dating and arranging these various bannerstone styles if any success was to be realized. It was discovered that variations in the style of the bannerstone's barrel had temporal significance and could be a fairly reliable means to arrange Middle Archaic bannerstone patterns. Another technique found for arranging both the Middle and Late Archaic specimens was their relationship with conch shell gorgets and antler atlatl hooks. These artifacts were also found in a progression of styles that had never been fully analyzed and arranged chronologically. Even these simple tools to position bannerstone patterns required several years to develop into a workable chronology.
There were many other noteworthy achievements along the way such as the discovery of an ancient mortuary practice which has been named the "Three Atlatl Cache Mortuary Trait". The premise of this unique ritual states that only a precise number of atlatls be placed with the deceased which was undoubtedly a person of high standing to be awarded such a rich tribute. These were special ritual burials in which three atlatls (bannerstone, antler handle and hook but not necessarily all three) were placed with or near the remains. Often the three bannerstones were of the same type but they could differ as illustrated at the bottom of the page. If the number of bannerstones exceeded three, a difference of style, material, or type was noticeably apparent. This distinctive cultural phenomenon was found over the breadth of the Middle and late Archaic Periods. It was observed at least four dozen times in both professional and amateur excavations and the strict criteria of this ritual practice never wavered in the the least for almost 5000 years. Many of these high status burials can be found illustrated throughout the book.
One cannot spend twenty years on a research project and not come away without a broad knowledge of the problems related to the Middle and Late Archaic Periods. For one, it was imperative to be proficient at projectile point identification, and so they became well learned. It was found that some early interpretations based on projectile point identification were in error, such as those found at the Ferry Site in Southern Illinois in association with numerous slate bannerstone fragments. References in the published literature placed these small corner notched points in the Late Archaic or Woodland Periods, but it became obvious these artifacts matched components dating near 5000 B.C. in the Middle Archaic Period.
The various styles of conch shell gorgets and pendants and deer antler atlatl hooks had never been sequenced in the precise order in which they had appeared in time and that was accomplished. The book also explains how the materials used in the manufacture of bannerstones gradually changed through time from the early use of slate and some granite in the Middle Archaic to banded claystone and limestone around 3500 B.C. and then to granite and solid colored quartzite until approximately 2000 B.C. when ferruginous quartzite was widely adopted.
It was also not well understood how Archaic groups in the Lower Ohio Valley acquired exotic materials such as copper from the Great Lakes Region and marine shell from the Gulf Coast. This study found these materials were most likely carried into the hinterlands by a group of traders identified with the Wisconsin Winged and Mississippi Valley Oval bannerstone totems. Unlike other bannerstone types, these two are uniquely found from Florida to Wisconsin and Minnesota where copper and marine shell originate. I call the Wisconsin Wing and Mississippi Valley Oval companion types because they are found on the same sites and often in the same burial. Adding further proof to this theory are the objects of copper and marine shell often found in burials in association with these two bannerstone types.
There was also the discovery of a previously unrecognized cultural horizon that dated between 2600 and 1500 B.C. This late, Late Archaic component was found at sites such as Crib Mound, Rockport, and Carlson Annis. It is recognized by the discontinued use of mussel harvesting as a food source and the manufacture of the Horned and Hooked bannerstone types and later the ferruginous quartzite types such as the Butterfly, Hourglass and Bottle types.
This long awaited study has finally brought to attention an unsuspecting rich and powerful art tradition by a native people living thousands of years ago in these same neighborhoods we call home today. Such sophisticated and beautiful ancient art has typically been identified as originating with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese, with little knowledge that it existed right here in North America, and some of it much, much earlier. True, there remains a great deal more to learn about these enigmatic stones and this interesting tradition, but it is a beginning.
A spectacular bannerstone cache found at the Overflow Pond site along the Ohio River in Harrison County, Indiana. This cache represents a newly identified mortuary trait named the "Three Atlatl Cache". It consists of the following bannerstone types: a green quartzite Horned, a mottled quartzite Clarksville, and a ferrugenous quartzite Bottle, all manufactured in the materials adopted by their respective group.