No announcement yet.

Spuds or Spatulates (Ritual Axes)

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Spuds or Spatulates (Ritual Axes)

    Long-Stemmed Spuds
    Toney Aid, West Plains, Missouri
    Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.47, No.1, pg.12

    Take an ungrooved celt, polish it, stretch it (up to two feet long), flare the bit slightly and what have you got? A long-stemmed spud! For many years archaeologists for reasons of clarity have wished that the spud might be renamed "elongated celts" or "sociotechnic axe form," but the common name of "spud" persists, named for a type of spade used to dig potatoes. Early archaeologists thought the spud was some type of digging tool. Clarence B. Moore (Moore 1903) was one of the first to describe it as an unusual form of celt, not an implement meant for digging. Very few long-stemmed spuds have chips or show any evidence of wear on their bits which would indicate use in digging or chopping.

    Archaeologists now recognize that spuds are ritual axes used in Mississippian society as political or religious symbols during ritual ceremonies. James B. Griffin, writing about spuds found at Spiro (Griffin 1952), stated, "Polished, long handled stone spuds are commonly found in sites where other artifacts indicate a connection to the Middle Mississippian Southern Cult. The spud has never been found as a part of any Hopewell culture at any site. It is a clear time marker for the post-Hopewell Mississippi levels." Since that time the spud has been recognized by several writers as one of the symbols used in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. James A. Brown, in his most recent study of Spiro (Brown 1996), says, "Although sociotechnic weapons are too delicate or too cumbersome for use they are neither 'useless' or merely 'decorative.' We can attribute to them great importance as social and moral symbols due to their capacity to evoke the power to make them possible." J.V. Knight calls them "sacra," suggesting artifacts that are charged with supernatural meaning in the context of ritual activity or display (Knight 1986: Emerson 1996).

    Spuds have been found in at least ten states. They are usually associated with Mississippian burials dating before about 1350AD. The majority of them are made from greenstone, a material found mainly in the Tennessee-Cumberland river drainage areas. Perino and others have stated that these implements were most likely manufactured there and traded to other locations (Perino 1964). They have been found in Florida, as far west as Spiro, and as far north as the American Bottoms that surround Cahokia.

    How were spuds used in ceremonies? There is ample evidence that they were hafted, much as common axes, but with more elaborate handles. Spuds found at Spiro and by Moore in Arkansas, as well as two examples discussed following, all show stains on their polls that indicate they once had handles. A portion of an engraved conch shell found at Spiro (Phillips and Born 1980: Plate 204A) shows a hafted spud in the belt of a dancing bird man. This spud is hafted in a handle similar to the woodpecker handles found on copper celts end of the celt entering the back of the head of a woodpecker and coming out of the mouth, like a tongue between the open beak of the bird. A spud that size in an elaborate carved wooden handle would have been very impressive.

    A Tale of Two Spuds

    John Sutter (1856-1941) was an early collector of artifacts from the American Bottoms area across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. He lived in Edwardsville, Illinois, where he was the editor of the local newspaper and later a real-estate and insurance salesman. Sutter collected a large assortment of artifacts from the American Bottoms. According to his daughter-in-law, he "acquired most of his collection from the Thomas T. Ramey family." The Ramey family owned the land Monks Mound stands on at Cahokia from 1868 through July of 1925. Emerson, in an article on this spud and an associated pipe (Emerson, 1996), notes, "While Sutter did not record provenience on these items...and it is possible he limited his collection to the general American Bottoms locality...and this raises the interesting possibility that the spud...may have been recovered from the Cahokia site." Four spuds are known to have come from the American bottoms. Perino reported two from the central area of the Cahokia site, while Pauketat wrote about one more from the Soucy Cemetery in the present-day village of Cahokia (Pauketat, 1983). After Sutter's death the majority of his collection was donated to the Madison County Historical Museum. A few of his most important items, including the spud and pipe, were kept by the family and later dispersed.

    Another spud found in Arkansas a few years before the Sutter piece, the Thibault Spud, also has an interesting story. The Thibault spud was found by J. K. Thibault in the mounds on his property prior to 1883. In that year, Edward Palmer, working for the Mound Exploration Division of the Smithsonian's Bureau of Ethnology, was in Arkansas surveying mounds and collecting artifacts (Jeter, 1990). During his travels Palmer visited J. K. Thibault at his home along the Arkansas River, southeast of Little Rock in Pulaski County. In Palmer's journal he records that during the visit Thibault donated fourteen fine specimens of pottery and four crania from his diggings in the mounds on his property. "The gentleman presented me with several specimens for the National Museum. He has some rare painted specimens of pottery and some with curious inlaid ornamentations. He has also some curiously shaped specimens of pottery and some pipes, shell beads, the finest ever seen by me, and a curious paddle shaped implement made of slate." (Jeter, 285-6). Although Palmer wanted the paddle-shaped implement, Thibault declined to give it up and kept it in his private collection. Later it passed to one of his daughters, who married F. T. Gibson of Little Rock. The Thibault Spud remained in the Gibson family for a hundred years.

    Both the Sutter and Thibault spuds are interesting examples of Mississippian ceremonial artifacts. They are two more pieces to fit in the puzzle of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, helping us to understand a little more of that culture.

    Silhouettes of some of the more famous spuds from top down: spud from Spiro Mound in LeFlore County, Oklahoma; The "Grove Spud," from St. Clair County, Illinois, the Sutter spud from the American Bottoms in Illinois; the Spiro Mounds spud from LaFore County, Oklahoma; the Soucy Cemetery Site spud, from St. Clair County, Illinois; and the Thibault Spud from Pulaski County, Arkansas. Graphic by Roy Hathcock.

    Used by permission of the publisher
    To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here:
    Last edited by painshill; 01-31-2016, 09:55 AM.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

  • #2
    Peter A. Bostrom

    Most writers, collectors, and archaeologists seem to be using the word spud more often now; however, when you look at articles written nearly a hundred years ago, the name certainly has been controversial. In fact, many different names have been used over the years to describe stone spuds. The reason probably relates to a lack of knowledge, because no one can say with certainty for what they were used. We do know that these ancient objects are very rare elite status objects. Some of the names that have been used are puds, spuds, stone spuds, chert spuds, ceremonial spuds, spatulate spuds, spatulates, flared celts, ceremonial batons, ceremonial axes, ceremonial celts, ceremonial spades, spade ceremonials, stone ceremonials, elongated axe heads, ritual axes, spud-shaped implements, paddle-shaped implements, paddle-shaped spuds, and even bark peelers. However, spud and stone spud are the names most often used in recent years. The most obvious problem with the word spud is that it also means "a potato" and that is what often comes to mind first when the word is mentioned.

    In the past, Warren K. Moorehead was the most outspoken writer against the use of the word spud. In 1910 he wrote in The Stone Age in North America, Vol. 1.

    “Permit me to register a protest against the word ‘spud’ which is suggestive of a heavy iron implement in the hands of a laborer. It is supposed that the word `spud' is retained because no one has proposed a good substitute." Again in 1917 in Stone Ornaments of the American Indian he writes "The term `spatulate,' as previously stated, was given me by Professor Charles H. Forbes, to take the place of the wretched word `spuds,' which is suggestive of a heavy iron implement in the hands of an Italian laborer" (he added the word Italian in his later book). But in recent years, people seem to be complaining less about the use of the word spud. Only spud collectors still wonder why the word is still used. Since it also means "a spade-shaped tool", it is probably the best descriptive word that can be used, especially if you compare the ones with round handles, which look very much like a spade in outline. If spuds are so well recognized as ceremonial objects, it seems that the term "ritual axe" would be a more distinguished title.”

    Spuds, or ritual axes, represent one of the finest crafted flaked, pecked, ground, and polished stone artifacts produced during the Late Woodland, Mississippian and early Historic periods. They represent a very rare artifact type. Many of the examples illustrated in this Journal relate, by their style, to the Cahokia site in Illinois, the Spiro site in Oklahoma, Caddoan sites in Arkansas, and the stone varieties from the southeastern United States. Several spuds have been found in and around the Cahokia Mounds site. Cahokia craftsmen were probably one of the main sources for these items. Cahokia style spuds were being traded to people living hundreds of miles away. Sporadic finds of spuds have been reported as far away as Canada.

    From an article in an early Wisconsin Archeologist, that is referred to by Moorehead and that must have been written at the turn of the last century, Charles E. Brown describes three main classifications of spuds. For Class A he includes the longest spuds. These spuds have broad, semi-circular blades that angle 90 degrees out from the handle, or have blade shoulders that slope downward, or have barbs that angle upwards towards the handle. Class A spuds have long handles that are either circular or elliptical in cross-section. Some of them have been described as "broom handles" or "rattails". They range in size up to 22 ¾ inches long.

    Class B spuds include most of the examples illustrated here. Brown describes them as "Blade generally short, crescent-shaped or oval, convex or flat, reduced to a sharp cutting edge, shoulder when present also partially edged; handle generally of short or medium size, of nearly uniform width, circular, elliptical, less frequently square or somewhat rectangular in cross-section."

    For Class C spuds, Brown includes all of the wide, flat stemmed and perforated examples from the southeastern states, and from Arkansas through Tennessee, Mississippi and farther east. He describes them as "broad, flattish implements" with "blade broad, nearly circular, elliptical or semi-elliptical in shape, edge fairly thick and smooth, or thin and sharp, shoulders rounded or sharply pointed; handle narrower than the blade, flat or convex, sides straight or curved, parallel or slightly tapering to the top."

    Spuds apparently date to the end of the Woodland period where they have been surface collected on Jersey Bluff sites. However, reliable dates are not available because they have not been found on excavated sites. Jersey Bluff spuds were pecked and ground from granite and differ in shape from those found at Cahokia. Spuds were made, in various forms, throughout the Mississippian period. By the time Europeans arrived in North America, a new form of spud had begun to appear—these are the wide stemmed -and- perforated Class C type of spuds. B.W. Stephens reports, "Frequently this type of axe has been discovered in mound burials with historic material, such as Venetian glass beads, bronze sleigh bells, copper powder buckets, glass rum bottles and other historic objects." He also writes that "Very likely the battle axe of the early Spanish solders was the incentive that prompted the Indian to imitate in stone this broad blade weapon that captured his primitive fancy." An estimated date for all spuds might range between A.D. 720 to 1650.

    Stone spuds were made from several different kinds of materials. Included in this list are the thin, wide and perforated type C spuds from the southeastern states. Spuds were made from Burlington chert, Kaolin flint, steatite, slate, quartzite, fine-grained sandstone, diorite, and fine-grained greenstone. The two basic types of materials used were chert and granite.

    Spuds were made in two different ways. The long broom handle type A, the flat and wide Class C and the Jersey Bluff type spuds were made from materials that do not flake well. They were made the way some celts were made, by pecking them into shape with a hammerstone, then finishing the surface by grinding and polishing. The Cahokia type B chert spuds were first flaked into shape, then they were ground and polished.

    Stone spuds are represented by a wide range of shapes and sizes. It is obvious that the form from which the earliest spuds found on Jersey Bluff sites developed was from celts. The flared bit variety of celt seems to be the pattern from which both Jersey Bluff and Cahokia spuds developed. In fact, some flared bit celts are the same size and shape as some spuds. The only difference between the two is the quality of stone and the degree of surface polish. B.W. Stephens writes in 1954, "It is obvious that the highly developed spatulate specimens are directly associated with the common forms of celts."

    We know that celts were hafted like axes because examples have been found with wooden handles still attached. There are pictographs on stone outcrops that show axes with handles, and there are also stone carved monolithic axes that illustrate them in three-dimensional sculptures. C.B. Moore also reported seeing "marks left by a handle" on at least two Class C spuds from Alabama. Some Jersey Bluff spuds also have a rougher surface in the hafting area for a better grip. It is logical to assume that most spuds were probably hafted onto handles. At least one hafted spud is illustrated in a pictograph at Madden Creek in Washington County, Missouri. It shows a very elaborate handle.

    Spuds have been found in a wide range of sizes. One of the largest is known as the "Grove Spud". It was found by a farmer in 1963 near the Cahokia Mounds site. It is made of compact greenstone and measures 18 ½ inches long. Moorehead illustrates a small spud measuring only 3 1/8 inches long, and he quotes Brown, " . . . the largest known example measuring 22 ¾ inches in length." The larger examples are Class A spuds. The smallest example is a class B spud.

    Gerard Fowke wrote that "they (spuds) bear no marks of rough usage." B.W. Stephens writes, concerning Class C spuds, that "Occasionally the blade of some of these axes (he refers to them as ceremonial axes) show a small chip broken from the blade . . . . Many of these chips indicate that the Indian reworked such damage by smoothing out the chip by grinding and polishing." Many spuds do seem to have been damaged along the bit, and some of them were repaired. A percentage of them were being used in a way that did cause their blade edges to become damaged, but the wear pattern on most spuds is not the same as on tools that were being used for wood working and agriculture.
    Many different theories have been suggested for the use of stone spuds, but some of them do not seem very logical. Moorehead relates some of the accounts Dr. Joseph Jones took from different people. One suggestion was that they were used in agriculture, " ... the flat head being employed as a spade and the round handle for making small holes in the earth for the deposit of Indian corn." Another suggestion is that " ... they were used to strip bark from trees."

    Some of the more logical explanations for the use of spuds fall into two categories. They are most often described as ceremonial or display axes that were never used for anything except ritual events. Another explanation, at least for some of them, is that they were used as weapons. Class B spuds are especially comparable in size and weight to battleaxes from northern Europe. Dr.Joseph Jones is quoted, early in the last century, as saying, "It's possible that they (spuds) may have been used . . . as warlike weapons, since it would be easy to cleave or fracture the human skull with a single blow from one of these stone implements."

    More than likely, spuds were used for a number of different purposes. Some of the lesser quality spud-like objects that Class C might be hard to differentiate between a flared bit celt and a true spud, were probably used as utilitarian tools. Others, especially the very large and delicate Class A examples, were probably ritual objects used as display items, or were special offerings to the dead, much like Hopewell Ross blades and other exotic burial items. Still others may have been used in the same way European battleaxes or metal trade axes were used—as weapons. Very small examples, between three and four inches, may have been worn like jewelry or used as toys.

    Whatever anyone thinks or believes about spuds, one thing is certain—they must have been important to the Late Woodland and Mississippian people that made and used them. They took special care to sel-ect the best color and quality of stone. The highly developed, artistic shapes and polished surfaces indicate that these items were made to impress people. Well, over a thousand years later, they are still impressing people!

    Duplicated from the “Resources” section of and reproduced with permission.
    Last edited by painshill; 01-31-2016, 10:11 AM.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.


    • #3
      A Rat Tail Spud, My Rarest Artifact
      Jim Maus, Advance, North Carolina
      Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.55, No.3, pg.140

      During the time that we call the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex or Mississippian Period, the inhabitants in the southern part of our country made and used many religious/ ceremonial artifacts including shell gorgets, zoomorphic pipes, artistically engraved and painted pottery vessels and various types of axe tools. This latter category includes the very rare monolithic axes and several types and shapes of celt-like objects. This celt-derived tool class comprises spatulates, elongated celts and the very odd appearing tools that, today, are commonly called a spuds. These "spud" artifacts are actually sociotechnical implements meaning they were most likely made as utilitarian axe type objects that were modified using non-standard celt materials and/or non-standard overall shapes for the purpose of serving social/religious/ceremonial uses. Spud is a rather crude name for such a sophisticated and well made type of celt but since collectors know this artifact by that name, this writer will use it in this article.

      Spuds have been found, though quite rarely, from Oklahoma eastward through Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia and usually at or near major temple mound sites. Many Indian artifact collectors have never actually seen one except in a book or archaeological journal photograph because they are so unique. And then if you separate the long handle spuds from the short handle ones, the rarity of the long ones (also called rat tail spuds because the small head and long handle vaguely resemble long tail rats) is increased.

      The state of North Carolina is not exactly in the heart of the territory occupied by the inhabitants of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, being too far east and north and thusly should not contain any rat tail spuds. But about 80 years ago, a farmer plowing a field behind a mule alongside the Town Fork Creek in Stokes County, did unearth one of these eccentrics. The farmer, apparently not being a collector, passed the tool on and it entered the collection of a father and son and there it remained until acquired by myself and became my rarest artifact.

      The name spud was assigned to these objects over a hundred years ago because the original ones that were found reminded the discoverers of the shovel-like tools used in Europe to dig potatoes or spuds. Long handle or rat tail spuds are indeed oddly shaped artifacts since they resemble the cutting or bit end of a celt attached to a short broom handle. The bit end of the rat tail spuds are usually flattened like many other celts and the long shaft is normally round but some are ovoid shape in cross section. There have been fewer than one hundred of them found and few of these have shown any evidence of being used as a tool, so the supposition is that they were made and used strictly for some unknown ceremonial purposes. They vary from about twelve inches in length to over twenty inches and were usually made of greenstone though a few were made of slate and soft limestone. Greenstone is itself a catch-all term since it encompasses many types of stone that have a chlorite base — thus giving the mineral a greenish color. As already stated, their exact original purpose is unknown, which is typical for many Mississippian Period artifacts. Theories of their meanings to the ancients include rattlesnake effigies, long tail raptor effigies and arrow effigies. Some recovered spuds clearly show evidence of hafting to a handle, probably a wooden handle. This means that these artifacts would have been used as a hafted axe or celt form but most likely not for any utilitarian purposes. Indeed some of the very rare shell cup and gorget engravings, especially from the Craig Mound in Oklahoma, clearly show warriors with hafted elongated celt-like implements fastened to their bodies. Does that mean these objects were war weapons? Many collectors today, though, believe that these artifacts were simply symbols of status, be it ceremony or war, for the society's elite some four to seven hundred years ago.

      Click image for larger version

Name:	spud1 [replaced].jpg
Views:	1846
Size:	40.3 KB
ID:	193177

      This rat tail spud, which is probably the only one ever found in the Tarheel state, is fifteen and three-eighths inches in length with the barbed head being two and seven-eighths inches both in width and length. The head has five saw-tooth serrations on one edge and four on the other but that edge probably also had five serrations in ancient times, the fifth of which was lost by a small ding on the barbed end. It is made of dark olive green serpentine greenstone and is well polished over the entire surface, which probably means that countless hands touched and held it over countless ancient years. This spud is pictured in Douglas Rights' 1947 book The American Indian in North Carolina. Reverend Rights was a close friend and fellow artifact collector to the family who owned the spud for many years. As stated already, North Carolina is not known as being a hot bed of the Mississippian Culture but Stokes County in the north central part of the state has given up many unique artifacts, such as effigy pots, engraved shell gorgets and effigy pipes. However none of these can compare with the rarity of this exceptional rat tail spud, truly my rarest artifact.

      Used by permission of the publisher
      To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here:
      Last edited by painshill; 01-31-2016, 10:02 AM.
      I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.