Native American Stone Tool Technology and Use in the Historic Period

By Michael P. Sampson

Archaeological and documentary evidence of the manufacture and use of traditional aboriginal stone tool types by Native people exists within archaeological sites and building locations postdating the time of initial European contact and efforts to colonize regions of the New World. Indian people employed such tools in historic times whether they resided within Spanish Missions, at British, French, and Russian outposts, on Mexican Period ranchos and pueblos, or at traditional villages occupied long into historic times. Artifacts made from locally available lithic raw materials continued to play a key role for Native Americans in everyday food procurement, food processing, and tool-maintenance tasks. Analyses of archaeological collections from archaeological sites and historic communities illustrate specific evidence of historic-period stone tool manufacture and usage.

Explanations for such sustained employment of traditional tools in historic times that we hope to explore are wide-ranging:  the high functionality of stone implements, the desire to maintain cultural traditions and cultural ties, maintaining self esteem, maintaining a social boundary, artifacts express group unity, the lower costs of traditional tools, a lack of access to introduced tools, and resistance to introduced lifeways. Certain changes in traditional lithic technology and patterns of stone tool use occurred from Contact Period into historic (post-Contact) times. Explanations for these observed changes we examine here in our postings consist of the termination of traditional exchange networks, impeded access to traditional stone quarry locations, greater assimilation into a new economy, adoption of certain newly introduced tool types, the greater efficiency of metal over stone for specific tasks, and loss of traditional knowledge of stone tool making through time. Stone tool use among Indian people in the historic era is well documented within California and other parts of the present-day United States, and collections from the latter areas will be the emphasis of our studies in this category.