Boatstone – 34Lf40/1452 (written by Laurel Lamb)
Identified as a boatstone, this artifact is commonly associated with its function as an atlatl weight. Hunters used atlatls, which were slim rods to thrust their spears. Spear-throwing benefitted from the atlatl because it could be used to thrust spears a longer distance and higher speeds. Boatstones were attached to the ends of atlatl rods and used as a weight in order to make spear-throwing even more advantageous (Townsend 2004:26). Boatstones are only one type of weight known to have been used. Atlatls were commonly used by early Woodland cultures (Merriam and Merriam 2004:102).
It is clear that boatstones were used for utilitarian purposes when spear-throwing was the main form of hunting. This is even seen on a decorated shell cup that includes an atlatl with some sort of weight attached to it (Brown 1996:466). However, Brown (1996:465) also notes the archaeological presence of boatstones even after arrow points enter mainstream hunting: The boatstones’ continued presence after spear-throwing became obsolete leads to the conclusion that atlatl weights, such as this boatstone, started out mainly as a utilitarian tool for hunting, then later gained a different function. That these artifacts are found specifically in high-status mound burials later in the archaeological record is perhaps an indication that their function became ceremonial or symbolic (Sievert 2011:100).
Sometime between 1936 and 1937, the Works Progress Administration excavated this boatstone from Craig Mound, a great mortuary mound. If the boatstone did have symbolic meaning to Spiroan culture, this symbolism might have been associated with warfare and hunting.
This artifact is small with a length of only three inches and width of one and one quarter inches. Its curvature and hollow center make it easily recognizable as boat-shaped and it is most likely made from siltstone rock.
In Artifacts from the Craig Mound at Spiro, Oklahoma, April Sievert (2011:100) also notes the small tool marks lining the inside of hollow boatstones. Running horizontally along the inner walls, the lines indicate that the hollow inside was perhaps carefully scraped away. From an object that was made so long ago, it is fascinating to still be able to see these inner workings.