Hahn Highlights: Bone Beamer
Posted On: 06/12/2017 - 12:11pm, Posted By: Tyler Swinney, NAGPRA Coordinator and Tribal Liaison
Welcome to the third installment of Archaeology Collections’ long-term blog series: Hahn Highlights!
Today we have another interesting artifact recovered during Cincinnati Museum Center’s Archaeology Field School at the Hahn Site: a complete bone beamer excavated from Feature 325, a Madisonville-age (AD 1400-1650) refuse-filled pit.
In the Cincinnati-area, beamers were usually manufactured from the lower leg bones – metapodial or cannon bone – of white tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). To make a beamer, a groove or slot was cut or abraded about ¼ inch into the dorsal surface of the metapodial shaft. Next, the trabecular or “spongy” bone was removed and the interior edges of the bone shaft were steeply beveled with an abrader to create two sharp edges suitable for scraping.
Archaeologists believe that beamers were used during the hide tanning process to clean animal skins. In fact, the term beamer references beaming knives, which are two-handled knives used by leather workers to process wet animal hides stretched over a beam or log. Similar to modern draw knives, a beamer was most likely used in a pulling and pushing motion to scrape away excess meat or fat from the internal surface of a hide. Due to repeated, strenuous use, most beamers recovered from Fort Ancient sites are broken in half because of strain on the weak midsection. In addition, because the distal halves of beamers were often recycled into awls or perforators, it is very uncommon to recover two complementary beamer halves from the same provenience (location). Understandably then, it is even more rare to recover a complete, unbroken specimen!