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  • Chunkey Stones (Roller Discoidals)

    Ancient Mississippian Pastimes
    E. J. Neiburger, Waukegan, Illinois
    Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.57, No.4, pg.188



    George Catlin painting of Mandan Indians playing Chunke in 1832, showing the game reached into historic times.

    The ancient Mississippians were a complex society sharing many traditions of the Meso-Americans and Southwest Indian groups. The Mississippians could be characterized as living in a theocracy. Individuals and groups would go through various kinds of rituals and ceremonies every day. There was a seamless belief between the physical and supernatural worlds of the present and the past.

    The Mississippians believed in a layered cosmos with a celestial "above world," a "middle world" where everyday life occurred, and a "subterranean world" that lay under the earth and waters. Everyday games and other activities had an intense spiritual as well as temporal impact that stresses this belief.

    One of the more popular games the Mississippians played was Chunke (Chunkey). In this game a chunkey stone, in the shape of a 2 to 6 inch diameter discoidal (Figures 1-2) was rolled over the bare ground or ice while several players threw spears in an attempt to mark where the stone would stop rolling. The closest spear to the final location of the stone, without actually hitting the stone, determined the winner. Extensive audience participation including wild gambling, singing and spiritual "guidance" made this an observer as well as athlete sport. The game continued to be played into the historic period. DeSoto, in his visits of Mississippian settlements in the early 1500s, described this game which was played by many other tribes (e.g. Mandan, Hidatsa), even into modern times.

    The Mississippians, like many of the other Indian groups, were cannibals. They, like their Meso-American (e.g.Maya, Aztec) and South Western (e.g. Anasazi) cousins went to war, captured prisoners, tortured them, scalped them and then ate them raw or cooked(Turner, 1999). In some cases, large numbers of individuals were consumed. This pastime, as horrible as it sounds, is evident from several sources. The first is the writings of DeSoto who visited Mississippian villages in the waning years of that culture. He reports of seeing the burning of prisoners and their scalps hung from spear poles being paraded through the villages.


    Left: Discoidals from Wisconsin, Milwaukee Public Museum. Right: Discoidals from Georgia/Tennessee

    A second indication is the practices of the contemporary Meso-Americans and South Western Indians who were well documented cannibals. The Aztecs and Mayans killed thousands in an attempt to spill enough blood to please the gods. The Mississippians had similar customs, organization, religion and history. They did essentially everything the Meso-Americans did.

    The third indication was the presence of many cannibalized skeletons in Mississippian village waste dumps (not cemeteries). These remains were comingled with the bones of other food animals and village garbage. For example, at Aztalan, Wisconsin, archaeologists unearthed a surprising number of scattered human bones discarded in refuse pits, fireplaces and in other garbage depots. The bones and bone fragments found there represented all parts of the skeleton and many showed clear signs of cutting, dismemberment, breaking and charring (cooking) (Figures 3-4). Many of these bones showed unique breakage so marrow and brain matter could be removed (Figure 5). There is considerable evidence of pot polished bones (the bone edges were broken and then smoothed by being stirred and rubbed against the side of a clay cooking pot). (Figures 3-4). These remains have been found at Cahokia, Ramey, Aztalan and other Mississippian sites.


    Used by permission of the publisher
    To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here: http://www.csasi.org/
    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
    Gamestones: A Mississippian Enigma
    Col. John F. Berner
    Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol. 55, No.2, pg.72


    The Mississippian culture which began around 900 AD and terminated in the late 1400's left an indelible mark on the prehis*tory of the United States. We know that Coles Creek, Etowah, Cahokia, Spiro and the Ohio Valley Ft. Ancients played a significant part. Phases such as Hiawassee, Mouse Creek, Dallas were established during this period.

    Just prior to the Mississippian period the use of discoidals began with the Jersey Bluff culture.They manufactured large, heavy granite and quartzite circular discs. French religious explorers witnessed and documented historic tribes playing rolling games and wagering everything they owned on the outcome of these discoidal games.

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    Figure 1: Marble 1", Murray Co., GA., Greenstone 1 3/8", Bradley Co., TN., Hematite 1 1/4"Mississippi Co., AR., Quartzite 1 5/8", Floyd Co., GA., Greenstone 1 3/4", Polk Co., TN., Diorite, 1 3/4", Henry Co., TN.

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    Figure 2: Diorite, 1 13/16", Walton Co., FL., White Flint 1 13/16", Greene Co., TN., Greenstone, 1 3/4", Bradley Co., TN., Limestone 2", Floyd Co., GA., Greenstone 1 3/4", Polk Co., TN., Golden quartzite, 1 7/8", TN.

    Following Jersey Bluff were Cahokia types Apple types from Arkansas and Missouri, rare Salt River types from Missouri and most impressive single and double cup Tennessee types. These were made of the most impressive and colorful stones including a variety of quartzites and especially a golden translucent quartzite. A few were manufactured from reddish / orange ferruginous quartzite. These discoidals range from 4 to 6 inches.

    Being native of Southwestern Ohio, I seldom noticed the Mississippian artifacts called "Gamestones". They appeared to me to be a miniaturization of the larger and earlier gaming artifacts, but what kind of game would engage these smaller counterparts?

    Most gamestones are round and flat, occasionally slightly raised on each side and referred as biscuit types. A few are described as "circle roller" types because one side is a larger diameter causing it to roll in a circle as it comes to rest. One rare type of hematite, from Mississippi County, Arkansas was relief carved on one side (figure 3 ).
    Gamestones are made of diorite, green-stone, hematite, quartzite, limestone and flint. The majority are less than three inches in diameter and one and one quarter inches in thickness. The smallest known made of gray and white marble measures just one inch. If they were used like other types of discoidals, what kind and size of gaming field did they employ?

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    Figure 3: back side of Hematite 1 VI" example from Mississippi Co., AR.

    Perforated and engraved sandstone discs similar in size are found at Ft. Ancient sites in the Ohio River valley. Gamestones (like discoidals) have definite wear patterns on the rolling surface. They are not common and found throughout the southeastern states.

    If these tiny artifacts were used like their larger counterparts, then they are truly a Mississippian enigma.


    Used by permission of the publisher
    To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here: http://www.csasi.org/
    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.

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    • #3
      Circle Roller Discoidals
      Bruce Butts, Winterville, Georgia
      Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.51, No.4, pg.182



      An assortment of circle roller discoidals found in Georgia and Alabama. Top left: green granite discoidal found in Baldwin County, Georgia. Front left: polished golden quartz discoidal, 2 3/8 inches in diameter, from Ft. Gaines, Georgia. Bottom center: gray and white speckled granite discoidal found in Madison County, Georgia. Above that is a polished white quartz discoidal from Rabun County, Georgia. Top right: discoidal found at the Princess Mound complex. Bottom right: black and gray discoidal with white inclusions from Green County, Georgia. Far right: black quartz discoidal from Wilcox County, Alabama. From the collections of C.H. Baggerly and Bruce Butts. Photo by Bruce Butts.

      One of the most interesting artifacts is the discoidal, and the circle roller disc is my favorite type. Maybe it is because the majority of the circle roller discoidals come from within 100 miles of my home. When I display my collection, people always ask about the different shape of the circle roller.

      Most people have heard the stories about "chunkee," where the Indians rolled the round stones and threw spears at the point where the disc would stop. Most people quickly realize that the circle rollers would roll in a circle instead of the straight line like the other discoidals. The most often asked question is "why a circle?"

      Circle rollers were used for an entirely different type of game. You could probably call it "chunkee bowling." There have been two "bowling" alleys actually found still intact. One alley actually had seventeen circle rollers found on the alley and in the pockets where the circle roller would curve into, apparently to score points.

      In 1932 William Colburn discovered three alleys while excavating the Princess mound on the J. J. Greenwood farm in Rabun County, Georgia. On the south side of the mound, a group of field rocks was discovered. At the same level, a hard baked-clay runway was also found. The runways were about 2 ½ feet wide and perfectly level. At the end of the runways, groups of rocks were arranged so that when the circle roller was rolled down the alley, the disc would curve into certain pockets. (See the diagram.)
      Another chunkee alley was found at another site in Monroe County called Towaliga. This is near where the Ocomulegee and Towaliga Rivers come together. The alleys at this site were 160 feet long and 6 feet wide, but basically built just the same otherwise as the alleys at the Princess mound. These two sites are approximately 80 miles apart.
      During the excavation at the Princess mound, there were 32 discoidals found. These included biscuit, barrel, and Tennessee types, along with the 17 circle rollers.

      Most circle rollers show some damage along the widest edge, since this is the part that would hit the ground first. Most are found within 100 miles of Rabun County, Georgia. I own one found on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and I have seen pictures of circle rollers from as far away as Arkansas, but it is my understanding that these are very rare finds the farther you go from Georgia. Most of the circle rollers pictured with this article are from the northeast corner of Georgia where the bowling alleys were found.


      Used by permission of the publisher
      To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here: http://www.csasi.org/
      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.

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      • #4
        Mississippi Discoidals: Ancient Sports Collectibles?
        By Anthony A. Stein, Parkville, Missouri



        One of the most popular Mississippian artifacts today is the discoidal. What is a discoidal? The easiest answer is that a discoidal is a round Mississippian game stone that was used in the ancient Native American game known as chungke or chunkey.

        No description of discoidals would be complete without some description of the game itself. In 1775, James Adair, in his 18th Century English, wrote a description of the game. The language seems rather difficult to follow in places, but the message seems clear enough:

        “The warriors have another favorite game called chungke, which, with propriety of language, may be called 'running hard labor'. They have near their state-house a square piece of ground well cleaned, and fine sand is carefully strewed over it, when requisite, to promote a swifter motion to what they throw along the surface.”



        Only one or two on a side play at this ancient game. They have a stone about two fingers broad at the edge, and two spans round; each party has a pole of about eight feet long, smooth and tapering at each end, the points flat. They set off abreast of each other at six yards from the end of the playground; then one of them hurls the stone on its edge, in as direct a line as he can, a considerable distance toward the middle of the other end of the square; when they have run a few yards, each darts his pole anointed with bear's oil, with a proper force, as near as he can guess in proportion to the motion of the stone, that the end may lie close to the stone; when this is the case, the person counts two of the game, and, in proportion to the nearness of the poles to the mark, one is counted, unless by measuring both are found to at an equal distance from the stone. In this manner, the players will keep running most part of the day, at half speed, under the violent heat of the sun, staking their silver ornaments, their nose, finger, and ear rings; their breast, arm and wrist-plates; and even all their wearing apparel, except that which barely covers their middle. All the American Indians are much addicted to this game, which it seems to be of early origin, when their forefathers used diversions as simple as their manners. The hurling-stones they use at present were, time immemorial, rubbed smooth on the rocks, and with prodigious labour, they are kept with the strictest religious care, from one generation to another, and are exempted from being buried with the dead. They belong to the town where they are used, and are carefully preserved.

        Discoidals, sometimes called discs, were treasured tribal possessions throughout the Mississippian world. They have been found across all of the great Mississippian lands including the states of eastern Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana,



        Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Although styles often varied from region to region, they were all used as game stones.
        Discoidals began appearing at late Woodland sites in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois around 700 A.D. By Mississippian times, chunkey's popularity had spread throughout the Mississippian world. Some Mississippian sites have produced more than one discoidal style, while others have produced only a single style.

        Many surviving discoidals are both beautiful and durable. Quartz and granite were often used in the making of these popular game stones. Both materials are extremely hard, and they had to be. Discoidals were continuously used in sporting contests over generations, so they had to be durable. A very few discoidals are made from colorful flint. Discoidals are very popular today with collectors because they come in many styles and colorful materials. Many are so finely made that today they are seen as works of sculptural art.



        The most frequently encountered discoidal styles are the Salt River, Jersey Bluff, Tennessee, Cahokia, Biscuit, Circle Roller, Apple, and Barrel.

        The Tennessee style is one of the most desirable discoidal styles. They are often made of the finest quartz in colors ranging from white, amber, and honey, to dark red and rich browns. There is at least one Tennessee double cupped discoidal made from colorful flint. Some have diameters in excess of six inches. The double cupped variety gets its name from the small dimple or cup centered in the discoidal's larger cup. The Tennessee single cupped style is the same as the double cupped style in all ways except the small center cup is omitted. This style is considered a southern style discoidal having its greatest concentration in eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia, but it has been found as far west as southeastern Missouri.

        Another extremely popular discoidal style is the Cahokia style, which has at least three major varieties.  The first variety refers to a discoidal with a cup that nearly reaches the edge of the discoidal.  The cup slopes gradually toward the center of the discoidal where it reaches its maximum depth. Some cups are so thin that light can easily pass through the center of the discoidal. The second Cahokia variety has a very thin and sharp edge. The depth of the cup is rather uniform from the edge to the center.

        The first two varieties are very narrow compared to their relative diameter. The third variety is the Mound 72 style, named for the discoidals excavated at Cahokia's Mound 72. This style has a wide cup and relatively thin edge, but it is much thicker than the first two Cahokia styles and tends to have a more rounded circumference. Cahokia discoidals are usually made of colorful quartz, but some are made from granite. Classic Cahokia discoidals usually range from two to four inches in diameter. A few have a perforation in the middle of the cup. Find and distribution patterns show that Cahokia discoidals were primarily used in Illinois and Missouri from the Illinois River to the Missouri boot heel; however, the perforated varieties do appear in western Indiana.

        The Salt River discoidal was one of the most enduring of the discoidal styles. Named after the Salt River in eastern Missouri, it first appeared in eastern Missouri during late Woodland times but continued until Middle Mississippian times (ca. 1350 AD). Although occasionally found at the Cahokia complex (Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois), it is most often found in parts of northeast Missouri. It is relatively unknown in Mississippian lands outside of this limited area.  Its distinctive V-shape outer rim and relatively narrow cup makes it one of the most unusual styles.  The Salt River style ranges in size from two inches in diameter. They were most commonly made from granite and dark hardstone, but they were occasionally made from quartz.

        The Apple discoidal is one of the rarest styles. It is so named because of it's general apple appearance. Each side has a rather narrow cup in relationship to its diameter. Some cups can be rather deep. Find and distribution patterns suggest that the apple discoidal was only a regional style, limited to southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Sizes range from 2 ½ inches to over four inches in diameter. Of all the discoidal styles, this one type seems best suited to fit in the chunkey player's hand as it was rolled at high speed on the chunkey field.

        The final three discoidal styles have no cups at all. They are the Biscuit, the Circle Roller, and the Barrel.



        The Biscuit style, sometimes called the double convex style or Bradley style, is a rather late Mississippian style. It was introduced around 1350 AD and lasted until protohistoric times. It was favored south and east from the Missouri boot heel, but it did not seem to be popular in Illinois. Apparently the Illinois Mississippians preferred cupped discoidals. Biscuit styles range in size from an inch to over four inches in diameter, and they were usually made from quartz, hardstone or flint. Flint biscuits are very rare and are usually found in Tennessee, northern Alabama and Georgia.

        The Circle Roller style is unique among all discoidals in that it is the only style that is not symmetrical. One side is flat and the other side is domed. Excavations in north Georgia suggest that this discoidal style may have been used for an entirely different game than chunkey. Its find and distribution patterns suggest that it was a northern Georgia style, perhaps radiating from the Etowah Complex near present day Cartersville, Georgia. Circle Roller discoidals are made from some of the most attractive stone materials ever used for discoidals. They are encountered in beautiful amber quartz and other translucent materials. The Circle Roller style ranges in size from two to nearly four inches in diameter.

        The last discoidal style is the Barrel. It is perhaps the oddest and most cumbersome of all the discoidal styles. Found primarily in Tennessee, it derives its name from its general barrel shape. A rare style, it is the only type that can have a height greater than its diameter. Barrel discoidals are usually very tall, large and heavy. Some barrel discoidals reach a height of over 5 inches and may be nearly five inches in diameter. It is difficult to imagine how a man could roll such a large and awkward discoidal very far. The largest Barrel discoidals may have been ceremonial.


        Duplicated from the “Resources” section of arrowheads.com and reproduced with permission.
        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.

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        • #5
          Gamestones, Discoidals (or Hammerstones)?

          Posted by [PaArtifact Hunter]
          Does anyone have any chunky game stones? I have seen these circle game stones on display and they were calling them hammer stones.....any pics would be great Thank You!

          Posted by [greywolf22]
          Tom
          In this game, a round stone with concave sides was rolled down a field by one person while the player attempted to knock it over or alter its path by hitting it with a throwing stick.

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          Jack

          Posted by [PaArtifact Hunter]
          cool pic. do ya think they were all beveled out like that or do you suppose some would be not so beveled out? I have many that are not like that but have indents similar. I assume they are mississippian in the photos as that is the most comon found in the pics you shared?

          Posted by [greywolf22]
          Tom
          They also made these without the dishout, but these might be unfisnished or might have been used for the game, but would have a disadvantage on the ones dished out. I think the dishout helped in rolling the stone as it gave a better grip, something to hold on to so they could throw it faster.
          Yes all Mississippian.
          Jack


          Posted by [Butch Wilson]
          I got a rock that looks like my Grandma's biscuits.

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          Posted by [PaArtifact Hunter]
          is it just a rock or an actual game stone? mine that I found are similar with notched out centers on both sides and a smooth rim like they were rolled.The State museum said they were hammerstones and I disagreed with them on there hammerstones/discodials hmmmm....


          Posted by [Butch Wilson]
          This one is sandstone, if you used it for a hammerstone, you would have a handful of sand. Could be a biscuit discoidal or just a rock that looks like Grandma's Biscuits.


          Posted by [PaArtifact Hunter]
          Discoidals: Discoidals or chunky stones seem to appear at sites dating late in Pennsylvania prehistory. In southwestern Pennsylvania they are principally found on Late Prehistoric villages (1100- 500 BP) of the Monongahela Culture. Discoidal stones look much like a prehistoric hockey puck, although they were not used for that purpose! Instead they were used in the game of chunkey. This game allowed a person to hone their spear throwing skill by throwing a stick at a rolling chunkey stone, hoping to either knock over the stone or land their stick closest to where the stone stopped . A few specimens have a concavity on each of its flat sides that can end as a perforation in the center of the stone. Some discoidals are made from fine to medium coarse grained sandstones from local source outcrops. While the more elaborate examples generally found at Mississippian sites further west in the Ohio/Mississippivalley or in the south, are often made from more resistant stone such as granite. Examples of discoidal stones in the archaeological collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania reveal some hint as to their method of manufacture. A discoidal starts out as tabular stone that has been roughly chipped into a disc-shape. The irregular rough edges are then ground down to create the final shape. Engraved shell gorgets and pipe stones discovered at some Mississippian sites of the mid-West depict discoidals being used in contests whereby the individual is seen in a crouched posture ready to roll the discoidal along the ground.

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          A color example of a shell gorget found in Kentucky picturing a chunkey player

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          A chunkey player carved in pipe stone found in Oklahoma

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          from website:
          twipa.blogspot.com/2011/04/thoughts-on-​g.html
          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.

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          • #6
            Gamestones, Discoidals (or Hammerstones)?
            .... continued



            Posted by [PaArtifact Hunter]
            does the grinding stone in this picture look like a grinding stone or discodial/chunky/biscuit?

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            Posted by [SDhunter]
            Would you call these stones game stones?

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            Here's a picture of a pretty good hammerstone, below

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            These were all found in NE SD, but the very large round rock, was found in SE ND. I found them all but the large one and the black one.
            Gary

            Posted by [PaArtifactHunter]
            Gary they are similar but mine are worn around the sides like it was rolled and have dimples on both sides like the were hit with arrows I need my camera I promise I will get my pics up of them.


            Posted by [rmartin]
            Here is a discoidal my brother found 3 years ago. About 30 feet of river bank collapsed and it was laying on top about 5 feet from the water. It is 4 1/2 inches in diamater. I apologize for the pic, this was basacally right out of the ground when I took it.

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            Posted by [CliffJ]
            It looks like a nice biscuit stone grinder sitting on top of a very nice food processor "motherstone". This set shows typical use wear from crushing seeds, and the face of the motherstone is polished from the grinding. The faces of the grinder will show polish like the smoothness of the inside of the motherstone. Similar artifacts without use polish at all are just slabs of rock. Hammerstones and pitted hammerstones are very common tools found. These will show damage from use as a hammer. The pits on those were fingerholds to use while beating with them.

            Discoidals or chunkey stones will usually have a high degree of polish on all surfaces. The edges will not be beat up from hammering, and the top and bottom are smoothed from manufacture and hand polish. If you are ever lucky enough to find a discoidal it will be quite obvious that it is not a hammerstone.

            The pic with 3 pieces shows very typical game pieces, which were used as counters (like poker chips) in another game. Those are fairly thin, and the holed one may have been used as a bead.

            VERY sweet discoidal in the pic just above this!

            Posted by [itwasluck]
            Cliff you have alot of useful knowledge and I thank you for sharing some for us. I am trying to figure out which ones you are saying are hammer stones and which arent. The round ones do you think they are game stones or hammer stones? I have some round ones that look just like those that I believe are game stones. They show no damage on them at all. Very smooth

            Posted by [CliffJ]
            Round rocks can be many things. They can be natural. They can be natural with hammered areas as the one SD showed, thus a hammerstone or abrader. They can also be completely pecked into that round shape, then polished over the pecking. These are game balls, used in some marble-type game. It can be challenging to tell the difference between a natural rock and a pecked/polished rock in-hand, much less from a picture.

            I only see one true discoidal on these posts- that posted by rmartin that was found by his brother. While a crude misshapen pitted hammerstone might roll ok, the chunkgee game involved ceremony and pomp and they cherished those fine discoidals and the game. The game was played with DULL sticks which did not create the divots in the side- they were manufactured (and polished) into them. They had many many more hammers than they ever had discoidals in any village, and as I said before, when you have a true disc in hand you will know it was never a hammerstone of any kind.

            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.

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