Welcome to the eighth installment of Archaeology Collections’ long-term blog series: Hahn Highlights!
Today we have a guest post by archaeology intern, Adrianna Kuzma, about a fascinating artifact recovered last summer during Cincinnati Museum Center’s Archaeology Field School at the Hahn Site: a 2.5 inch bi-pointed awl found in Horizon C of Feature 408A. With a depth of 102 cm below ground surface and a maximum diameter of approximately 90 cm, Feature 408A contained four observable cultural horizons, A thru D, and was located on the northern perimeter of the site within a dense ring of midden and pit features surrounding a late prehistoric plaza.
As an archaeology intern at Cincinnati Museum Center, I had numerous opportunities to work with excavated collections from several historic and prehistoric sites in the Cincinnati-area. Not only did I get to help with a salvage excavation at an 1830s homestead in Anderson Township, but I also assisted with collections management, including sorting, cleaning, and cataloging artifacts. Out of all of these experiences, because I am interested in clothing and fabric, the artifact that intrigued me the most was a bi-pointed awl or perforator manufactured from unburned animal bone or antler. Despite being easy to overlook in a screen filled with numerous artifacts, I identified the awl while I was carefully washing screened materials from the 2017 field excavation at the Hahn Site. I was immediately fascinated by the thought of the people who used this item, and wondered not only how it was used, but also how it was made.
I learned that manufacturing a bone awl is quite simple (for those practiced in the art) and only requires a piece of bone, a piece of flint, and a sandstone abrader. After a suitable bone fragment is chosen, the bone is roughly whittled into shape using a sharp piece of flint. Once whittled, it is abraded into final form by repeatedly rubbing it against a coarse piece of sandstone. At the Hahn site, the vast majority of awls recovered to date were manufactured from bird bones and usually have only one pointed end. Hence, the fact that this awl was manufactured from a large animal bone, or perhaps antler, coupled with its bi-pointed morphology, indicate that this is an unusual artifact at the Hahn site.
As a young child I visited Jamestown, where a volunteer taught me the process of cleaning or scraping hides. One item that caught my attention was a bone perforator called an awl. Strands of leather hide were threaded through the puncture holes produced by an awl. By participating in this demonstration, I came to understand how these items could have been used in the life of someone from a different time period and culture than myself. Do you think that the bi-pointed awl I identified during my archaeology internship could have been used in a similar manner?