|The Jeweled “Fossil Ax”
by Tamara Pittman-Breckinridge
For several years, I have had the pleasure of marveling over incredible
artifacts: stone tools like arrowheads, spearpoints and knives, hardstone
axes, bannerstones and items of personal adornment, ancient pottery and
figurines from all over the world, plus much more. But recently something
appeared in the mail that truly made me feel like a “popeyed birdstone.”
I’ve never been as attracted to hardstone axes as I am to artifacts made of
flint. Flint comes in a rainbow of colors, textures and patterns and becomes
glossy in sandy rivers giving it the appearance of a semi-precious jewel;
whereas the materials used for axes tend to be dark with little to no pattern
and more coarse. But the ax that just came in the mail was no ordinary ax.
This ax was reported to have been found close to the Crow River in
Minnesota, and according the IR Raman spectrographic signature was
somewhere between 6,000 and 4,000 years BP putting it squarely in the
archaic time period. It measured 7 7/8” long and 2 1/8” wide. But the kicker is
this: THE AX WAS MADE OF PARTIALLY AGATIZED IVORY! It was gorgeous!
The owner of this magnificent artifact had taken it to a local paleontologist
who confirmed that it was the tusk of a mastodon. Bill’s spectrographic
comparison of IR Raman fluorescence indicated that the modifications to the
partly fossilized tusk were made long after the animal had died, as could be
seen in the relative condition of the two surfaces.
The tusk weathered on the surface of the ground for many years, which
resulted in delamination and erosion of the ivory, leaving open spaces.
Following this it was buried deeply and infiltrated with ground water. The
passage of the ground water deposited minerals in layered bands forming
agate in the open spaces and cracks in the ivory. It was already in this jewel
like condition when it was picked up by an aboriginal artisan during the
middle archaic period. One can see that this was indeed a “special ax.”
Below are photographs of the unique agatized ax.
|Close up of the agatized
surface to the right.
|No surface agate can be seen
on this side of the ax.