By Eric A. Powell for Archaeology
Around 8,000 years ago, in the woodlands of what is now the eastern United States, hunter-gatherers began to make stone objects with holes drilled in them that have no parallel in any other prehistoric society. Today, archaeologists call these highly polished and sometimes elaborate objects “bannerstones.” The name was coined by early twentieth-century scholars who thought they must have been mounted on shafts and used as emblems or ceremonial weapons. But just why they were made only during the so-called Archaic period, which ended around 3,000 years ago, has been debated by archaeologists for more than a hundred years.
Some have taken the position that they were not strictly ceremonial and were used as weights that imparted force and accuracy to spear-throwers, or atlatls. They were made from a wide variety of stone materials and in different sizes and shapes, though many take a “butterfly” form, so they may not all have been used for the same purposes. “Archaeologists are mystified by bannerstones,” says University of Florida archaeologist Kenneth Sassaman, who has studied the artifacts in detail. “We can’t know for sure what Archaic people were doing with them.”