When presenting archaeology to the public, we often focus on the charismatic archaeologists, exciting excavations, and the breathtaking artifacts, but these are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Have you ever wondered happens to the rest of the artifacts that don’t make it into museum displays? At the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (SNOMNH), we not only display artifacts in the Hall of the People of Oklahoma exhibit, but we also house a myriad of collections and artifacts that never make it behind the glass. In fact, these collections make up the majority of the artifacts at the museum. However, they are sometimes out of sight and out of mind to many visitors at SNOMNH.
But no longer! In this blog, we invite you to a virtual behind-the-scenes visit to the museum. Here, you’ll learn more about the rich archaeological record of Oklahoma through the artifacts, sites, and collections that clue us in to how people lived in our state in the past. Stay tuned!
Some days you really get a sense of the human side of archaeology. This is the story of a wonderful woman, Ms. Lois Bookout, and the very special gift she made to the Museum.
This past June, Ms. Bookout visited the Sam Noble Museum with two members of her extensive family. She brought with her a large piece of worked stone, broken into three pieces. The object was originally found in the 1950s. Ms. Bookout’s husband’s mother, Evelyn, saw the artifact while she was out collecting wild onions in LeFlore County, near the Poteau River. She brought it home and gave it to Lois, who kept it safe for the next 60 years.
Lois and her daughters hoped that the Museum would be able to identify the object and tell them about the people who made it. Archaeology staff identified the artifact as an elongate celt. It was made of a stone local to LeFlore County that had been painstakingly worked; chipped and ground down until it was just the right shape.
With growing excitement, the archaeology staff realized the celt was similar to those found at the Spiro Mounds site, the major ceremonial center also located in LeFlore County, along the Arkansas River. Ancestors of the present-day Caddo and Wichita people once lived at and around Spiro from about A.D. 800-1450, more than 700 years ago.
Lois’ elongate celt is very similar to one in the Spiro collection at the Smithsonian, illustrated on p. 97 (figure 6.21a) of Sievert and Rogers’ recent publication (currently available as a pdf document at http://si-pddr.si.edu/dspace/handle/10088/17285?mode=full). Both have one end (the bit) that is flared out and rounded. Both are slanted at the other (proximal) end. Lois’ celt is large: 46.5 cm long, 11 cm wide at the bit, and 5 cm thick. This is larger than the Smithsonian celt; indeed, larger than many celts.
Some celts were once used as weapons or as tools. Lois’ celt is so massive, though, that is was more likely used as a ceremonial object – a symbol of office, perhaps, for a great leader.
After sharing this information with Lois and her family, the archaeology staff gave them a tour of the collection, showing them other artifacts made by the people who once lived near Spiro.
Two months later, we received a sad call from Lois’ daughter, Ms. Kim Manuel. Lois had passed away on July 15. One of her wishes was for the celt, which had been with her for so long, to be given to the Museum so that it could be shared with everyone. Ms. Manuel visited us on August 23, bringing us the celt and sharing reminiscences of her beloved mother. It was difficult for her to leave this piece of her family history with us, and we promised to take good care of it.
We are very grateful for the gift of Ms. Lois Bookout to the Museum. More than that, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time with Lois and her family.
We have labeled the celt pieces with the catalog number 34Lf0/240, which means that this is the 240th set of archaeological objects from unknown locations in LeFlore County to have entered the Museum’s permanent collection. We have placed them in an acid-free box and cushioned them with ethafoam and acid-free tissue paper. We look forward to sharing them with the public.
This story reminds us that objects have many meanings. Artifacts have research value that teach us about the way people lived in the past. They are also culturally-significant representations of history that are important to the descendants of those who made and used them. Artifacts are also, however, cherished pieces of family history, making this donation even more meaningful. We thank the Bookout family for this special piece of their family history.
(Sievert, April K. and J. Daniel Rogers. 2011. Artifacts from the Craig Mound at Spiro, Oklahoma. Smithsonian Contribution to Anthropology No. 49. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, Washington, D.C.)