Bone Tools of
the           
Plains
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When we think of Indian tools, we think of artifacts made of flint or chert.
This is a perception we have because all we see are flint tools and points.
Wood, leather, baskets and cordage all decay in a short time, leaving just
the stone parts. Sometimes environmental conditions preserve perishable
materials, which is very exciting. Conditions that are very dry, or frozen, or
underwater may keep artifacts intact for hundreds or even thousands of
years. Many of us know of exotic finds like the matting and "bog mummies"
from the Wendover site in Florida (8.000+BP) or the freeze dried, fully
clothed Inca people found on top of  Peruvian mountains. But we don't often
stop to think that the rivers we hunt arrowheads in provide the sort of
environment which preserves perishable materials, as well. Wooden items
such as arrows, and even whole dugout canoes have been found in the
states around Oklahoma. But on the essentially treeless plains, wood was
scarce. On the prairies, bone tools was an essential part of the tool kit.
Many of these tools go unnoticed by point hunters, and are lost forever to
freezing or other forces of nature.
Bone tools are mostly very utilitarian, and seldom have a significant
monetary value. Most don't fit well in an arrowhead case, and sometimes
it's hard to tell what a tool was used for. The true value of these tools is
what they tell us about the way people were making a living and the jobs
they were doing in those long gone times. Often bone tools have little
modification, and use wear is the only indication this piece of bone is not a
scrap from some coyotes dinner. But to a practiced eye wear on the tip end
may indicate this piece was used to flake flint. This is so Indian..using the
scrap of bone from dinner to make a point to kill another buffalo.
Education is the key to saving these artifacts, and a picture is worth a
thousand words. So, on the following pages, I will feature photos of bone
tools from rivers in Kansas and Oklahoma. A few are elegant, most very
humble. All tell a story, and our knowledge of the past is increased with
every artifact we conserve. The Indians didn't let much of a kill go to waste,
and had a use for almost every part of the buffalo, including the bones.
Figuring out what that use was is our challenge.
A bone pin  from Kansas. It's
made of a deer foreleg.
Exceptional pieces like this
are rare finds.
Sharp eyed Kenny Resser spotted the contents of a trash pit eroding from a Kansas
creek bank. You can learn a lot about someone by going through their trash. Here we
see a Bison scapula (shoulder blade) hoe, a clamshell hand cultivator, a pottery trowel
and broken pot shards, scrapers, deer jaw sickles, paint stones,shaft straighteners,
bone beads and a bead blank, bone perforators and awls, and an antler tip flint
knapping tool. The arrow points are stone triangles, and no trade goods were present.
All the material found was conserved and mounted, and will be shared with the public at
the next Kansas Archaeological Society show. An excellent job of conservation.
Scapula hoe on exhibit
at the Nobel Museum in
Norman, OK
Click on the links below
to see examples of bone
tools.
Kansas &
Nebraska Bone
Tools
Arkansas River
Bone Tools from
N.E. Oklahoma