Updated with New Stuff: 12/23/2014
In this Chapter:
A waning screech
catapults me out of a daydream. Overhead, a circling hawk parts the sky with a
twist of its red tail and I’m back on the bare cornfield where I’ve been walking
for hours. There’s a subtle sense of reverence for being on the very ground my
distant ancestors once walked. Through the lace of human genetics stretching far
back into dark Africa, we are all related, I thought. Sweet moldy scent of fresh
earth pulls me back once again to the damp soil. How much have I missed? I vow
to railroad my attention to the ground looking for clues, a single glint of
reflected light - even for a brief instant – of how life was for the people who,
lost to time, lived on this land.
In some fields by the lazy river are ancient campsite mounds laying a few feet above flood plane. It’s around these Indian mounds we find Indian artifacts - arrowheads, tools and flint chips. My cousin Dan found a large, beautiful, and complete stone axe head when we were teenagers – we often cultivated the fields on tractors in early summer. My father had a collection of several arrowhead points he picked up over the years: Sometimes when working a field, a shiny flint point would catch his eye and he would stop the tractor to pick it up. I was in my late forties when Dad died. It was then I became interested in Indian artifacts and so set out to find them: I walk the likely places in 10-foot swaths until I cover the whole area. This simple technique made my collection grow quite rapidly. My wife Delores and I sometimes hunt in other fields – the farmers don’t mind if you pick them up, as long as you ask permission first, don’t drive into the field or step on his crops.
My favorite place while growing up on our small dairy farm was a hilltop overlooking the rich Spoon River bottomland. The hill was cow pasture for as long as Mom could remember but she had the top of it plowed for cropland in 1995. It too had a campsite mound, but was concealed under grass all these years, so wasn't hunted-out like the rest of our fields by visitors in the past. It was ripe for the picking. It’s March of 2002, the beginning of my fifth year as a relic hunter and I was alone this time, anxious to find the top-half of a beautiful multicolored, dove-tailed spear point. I found the bottom-half on the hill the previous spring, so that’s where I headed. It’s there I would come upon a pair of stones that changed my view of the North American Indian forever.
Sun-drenched dewdrops spangle the spring morning grass along the edge of the field. The hawk is circling over the misty river bottom now, looking for some unfortunate field mouse foraging in last fall’s leaf litter. I turn my attention back to walking the ground. This hobby had become a walking meditation of sorts. What’s this? A couple of old red rocks. By now, I am quite conservative with bending over. But if I don’t check them out, I’ll wonder what they were for the rest of the day and will have to back-track to find them again. I pick up one of the dirt-caked stones. It has no remarkable features other than sparkling red in the morning sun. I make a mental note of their location and carefully slip both heavy stones into my pack containing a crude projectile-point found nearby on the previous pass.
Later, back at home I wash the red stones with water and a dedicated toothbrush. I study the pieces more intently. Huh. They're heavy for their size. They appear to be crystalline metaquartzite of a deep red color and peppered with black hematite crystal inclusions. The normally clear quartzite is colored bright red by hematite (iron oxide). At first, I thought them to be a millstone and base, but the top piece will not sit flush with the bottom. Next the nutcracker theory was invoked, explaining the fissures in the base and old "hinge fractures" (cracks running parallel to the surface) under the top piece. (This area still supports many hickory and walnut trees.) The gap between the stones would prevent pulverizing the nut.
This nut cracker, I thought, would at least be a curious addition to the other strange rocks we had found on our arrowhead hunting excursions.
Then one evening about a week later, while casually observing the nutcracker set, the hair raised on the back of my neck. I saw her: A kneeling woman holding up an infant (#74 Mother & Child). The baby’s head is against her left shoulder. With trembling hands I reaffirmed this conclusion by re-examining the base. The bottom stone appears to have been chipped to divide her knees and its left side was cleaved – across the natural layers of stone – to make both thighs the same thickness. This was a deliberate attempt by someone long ago to make a stone figurine! I re-assemble the stones and study every detail. Anxiously I reach out to pick up the top stone but stop short, gently nudging it. It rocks left-to-right for several cycles like a dampening spring as if rocking the baby to sleep. This action does not misplace the top stone in the least. To Paleo Indian this would have been quite a novelty.
Curiously, from any angle the work reveals a variety of lingham profiles. This figurine may have been a female fertility (Venus) and/or male potency idol, or a wedding gift to a medicine man (shaman), chieftain, or warrior. The bottom stone has a bowl-like depression from much use. Having been used as a bone-and nut-cracker and left standing to be exposed to hundreds of years of weathering and then buried by time, the bottom stone has acquired a few ancient fissures from water standing and freezing in it's bowl-like depression. But this Indian artifact is beautiful when wet revealing a bright, translucent red stone peppered with occasional black streaks of hematite crystals. Thousands of years ago when these stones were unsullied, fresh out of the river and dried, they probably looked much like they do today when wetted.
Since the initial
discovery of the Mother & Child nutcracker, my wife Delores and I have found
other stones that assemble into even more plausible figurines. Some of these
Indian artifacts were found together in the field as if the statuettes were left
assembled while the elements buried them in the soil. However, about 70% of
these Indian artifacts were found in a shallow washout down the hill, which by all apparent means, may have also been left
standing assembled and covered by centuries, nay millennia of rain-washed soil
and plant debris.
Dozens of these
Paleo Indian art figurines had been deliberately chipped on the undersides of
some of their stones to stack together and in one special case to define
facial features. One chalcedony figurine (97. Fire Woman) of beautiful
carnelian grade has a piece that, like flint tools made of the time, was
completely chipped into a woman's head with hair tied into a bun and hollowed
out underneath to seat on the torso. Another figurine (102.
Four-In-One Ice Age Animal) head and antler stones were
painstakingly cut in
relief to assemble into 5 different Ice Age animals!
It is far from coincidence these “riverstones” - found on a hill with datable
arrowheads - stack to produce expressive works of Ice-Age Paleo Indian art in
recognizable forms: The odds of finding two or more natural stones together, of
the same primal material, in clusters that make a statement in human terms, are
Ice Age Remnants: How do we know these stones to be from the Ice Age? Because of the immensity of past Ice Age glaciers and their scraping effect upon the land, the geology of Illinois is unique. Moraines were scraped-up and piled ahead of the glacier's leading edge as it pushed southwestward. In this area, these ancient moraines, once seabed from various eons past, were left behind in receding bands as the glaciers retreated after the last Ice Age. After four glaciations, Illinois has been scraped to the bone with variations in bedrock from the Cambrian Period 550 million years ago to the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago. It's like the whole state was scraped down as watershed towards the Mississippi River exposing a cross-section of the history of life on Earth. See map below.
So the bedrock
around here varies by county and in this particular region Stark, Knox and
Fulton countries along the Spoon River, the bedrock is from the Pennsylvanian Period 300 million years ago (mya). Below that is shale from
the earlier Mississippian Period 335 mya. There is presently little exposed bedrock in
Illinois, but in this region Pennsylvanian Period bedrock was exposed by the
third major ice sheet of the Illinoisan Ice Age (between 250,000 to 135,000
years ago) when that ice sheet was over 1 mile high and stretched across the
landscape as far as the eye could see.
How old are these "pre-Colombian" Paleo Indian artifacts? To the northeast Illinois region lies a vast arc of moraines. See map below. This arc outlines the fourth and last ice sheet, the Wisconsinan of that same ice age (between 75,000 and 13,000 years ago). At the height of the last Ice Age, the Wisconsinan ice sheet only extended down through, and just south of, the Chicago region along a line running south to southeast (the green area on the map below) from Harvard through Rochelle, Princeton, Bloomington-Normal, Effingham, Decatur, and Paris Illinois. However, this region ends just 25 miles east of the recovery site but right at the headwaters of the Spoon. When the final giant ice sheet retreated, even though the Spoon itself was not covered by this fourth and final ice sheet, the Spoon River valley again became a-washed clearing away any riverbed silt or debris accumulated over the previous eons. (The Wisconsinan also provided glaciologists glues on how glaciers transported and deposited material. In New York City, for example, before it was settled in the 1800s, large boulders peppered the landscape, brought down by the Wisconsinan. The last of those boulders can be seen in Central Park.)
Fortunately many of these stones have fossils and we can date to when they were formed. Nearly all these rocks come from a geologic strata of the Devonian mass extinction 354 million years ago. In the seas lived sponges, corals, ammonoids, trilobites, brachiopods, sharks and bony fishes. On the land, short primitive plants appeared along with the first trees only 3 feet high. The first wingless insects crawled from the seas to escape predation by the arachnids. Soon the arachnids followed. Shortly thereafter the first reptiles appeared on land to feed on the insects and the arachnids. There are still many unanswered questions about life on earth and the mass extinction in the Devonian Period. But our core question here is, how did 354 million year old rock end up on the surface of 75,000 year old soil?
Where did these Paleo Indian art stones come from? Beneath the end moraines of the Chicago-to-Paris arc lies bedrock from the Upper Devonian Period 354 mya with its fossil evidence of that mass extinction. See Bedrock Geologic Map of Illinois above. By the end of the last ice age, the end moraines forming this giant arc contain torn-up rock from this period. Some of these rocks may have been held captive by the Wisconsinan glacier for tens of thousands of years. When the giant Wisconsinan ice field thawed about 18,000 years ago, it dropped its load of stones and silt called "end moraines" which sometimes held back lakes of water. When these moraine "dams" broke, the raging waters flushed rivers and streams. Torrents of melt water swept through the riverbeds throughout Illinois. The residual end moraines in the Chicago-to-Paris arc are evidence that there were at least three major floods throughout the Illinois river system during the last big thaw.
Scraped-up Devonian rock of various materials ranging from quartzite,
metaquartzite and jasper - to amethyst, younger Pennsylvanian slate,
shale, and sandstone were washed down the headwaters of the Spoon River. The
raging torrents ground and polished these stones as if in some giant rock
tumbler. All Illinois tributaries of the Mississippi River were awash - the
whole Illinois basin was flooded - the state probably looked like a giant lake
or inland ocean. As the flood lessened, the waters slowed, clearing the
riverbeds of silt and light debris like a giant sluice. The now smooth stones
with similar specific gravities had settled into eddy pockets of the Spoon -
especially near bends and meanders.
Earth Sculpted by Ice: Near the end of the Devonian Period some 354 million years ago - long before Earth's Ice Ages - Illinois, as well as much of the Midwestern United States, was at the bottom of a shallow sea teeming with life. The seabed in this region was iron-rich and oily with decayed sea life. (Much of the ancient plants that came later during the Pennsylvanian Period (300 mya) became coal in this region.) The resulting oily mud was buried by tectonic action and baked under immense heat and pressure in the earth’s crust. After the water had steamed away, a smooth, reddish-brown mass rich in silicates was left. Most of this material became microcrystalline jasper. Some of the silicates crystallized into cavities such as geodes but also within Devonian fossils, sometimes replicating the original animal in great crystalline detail. In the eyes of archaic man these stones must have seemed like they were alive - a gift from the mysterious river and Mother Earth’s poetic license.
So what is this common stone we all call "jasper"? Jasper is a term which refers to a member of the chalcedony family of microcrystalline quartz which includes flint, agate and opal. Chalcedony (silicon dioxide - often with some iron and aluminum) itself is an opaque to translucent quartz, usually white with pale blue or gray tint and with a wax-like luster. Chalcedony has been considered a semi-precious stone since the 15th century (See 62. Cloud Woman and 70. Night Sky Maiden below) and it is considered a gemstone when it interferes with light such as opal and carnelian. Another member of the chalcedony family is flint, a tough glassy quartz which breaks and chips easily but keeps a sharp edge. Its color scales the rainbow and was the primary material of projectile points, knives and other tools.
Chert is silica-rich and similar to flint but not as glassy – almost dull – and not as tough, but was also fashioned into tools. Agate forms in bands or rings in rock cavities with successive layers growing in parallel rings usually towards the center of some stones. We have found a beautiful red and yellow carnelian agate figurine - 15. Stars Eyes Baby.
Microcrystalline quartz such as jasper however, usually comes in varying shades of yellow, brown, and red depending on the amount of iron present in its formation. Jasper, a chalcedony, becomes various gemstones the more it interferes with light. Jasper can also hold fossils such as crinoids. Their stem segments are commonly called "Indian beads" and when found loose, were drilled in their centers and worn like jewelry by Paleo Indian and some later tribes of Native Americans. Other such jasper fossils would include small mollusks, sponges and other creatures often in crystalline form. Over millions of years in water saturated mud, some of the carbon and oils from those extinct sea creatures became displaced with silicates which precipitate to form quartz crystals within the fossil cavity. Jasper colored blue, gray or black is from the carbon of ancient sea life and, depending on the quality, is usually waxy smooth and classified as a rarer form of chalcedony.
In one special case we found a few pieces of a rare chalcedony that can only be described as "decayed animal matter". Despite the grotesque description, it's made up of many colors in a beautiful swirl pattern with fossil remnants. A geologist told me that he had never seen such a chalcedony before so we took the liberty to name it. These "Necro" chalcedony pieces assemble into figurine 77. Great Grandfather's Bones below. (Recently we found another pair of stones made of a lesser grade of this material, 75. Father's Bones, below, but contains citrine crystals for a "third eye".) Figure 71. Harvest Woman is another new stone we named "Salsa" chalcedony. There are other new chalcedonies in our Ice-Age Paleo Indian art collection we have yet to name.
Sometimes a large fossil such as a crinoid’s head would form a steam pocket, allowing beautiful quartz crystals to grow within to become a geode or a collapsed jasper nodule. A few have beautifully colored crystals, tainted by various minerals. Many jasper geodes were torn out and some broken up by glacial action and ended up as riverstone.
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock made predominantly of fine, round grains of quartz (sand). Gritstone is similar to sandstone but made of angular grains and was prized by early man for its sanding abilities. It sparkles quite brightly in sunlight. Quartzite is also a sedimentary sandstone with much larger grains of round to irregular shape. Many of our quartzite figurines are downright beautiful in bright sunlight (See 10. Father of Men on page Prehistoric Venus.
Olivine, which is made primarily of peridot, is a beautiful semi-precious olive-green gemstone colored by iron and magnesium and has a sheen luster. Sometimes olivine can manifest abundantly in quartzite and metaquartzite (see 84. Thunderstorm Bird). Olivine can also be found in granite (see 90. Green Thunderbolt) and in varying degrees in jasper. Other green rocks may include sedimentary shale and slate, which are usually colored by chlorite, such as 7. Medicine Man.
Gneiss (pronounced “nice”) is a hard metamorphic rock found primarily in mountain ranges. The mass of a growing mountain range and the Earth’s heat folds and tempers various minerals such as quartz and the softer feldspar like a steel Katana sword worked by a Japanese bladesmith. It is forged into a material much harder than any one of the original components making rocks such as gneiss (see 72. Iron Maiden above) and hornblende but like the Samurai sword is resilience to impact. Gneiss is usually marked with striations or streaks like its cousin schist, a softer and finer grained stone. Hornblende is tougher and has a dark grainy appearance.
Hematite is prized as an iron ore and a gemstone. It develops in many rock from granites to limestone. Sometimes it forms shiny crystals called spectacular hematite which describes the black, highly reflective crystals such as 89. Black Beaver. We are offering a beautiful hematite 81. Red Thunder. The River Owl may have prematurely started the Iron-Age by use of this mineral, not just for their Indian art, but as tough and dependable tools.
Patina & Surface Variations
Stone patinas on figurines are the result of mineral deposits from soil. This process usually requires great lengths of time. But not all such depositions occur at the same rate for a given square yard of soil. Actually, differences in stone patina can be due to soil conditions that may vary by the inch. For example, a dead field mouse in a burrow may change the soil ph to alkali in a 12” circle for decades.
The amount of water that drains through a patch of soil can also vary by the inch and water balances soil ph but also increases iron oxidation. So some of these Paleo Indian artifacts have parts with slightly different patinas even though they were buried a few inches apart. You will even notice variations in patina on a single stone. Some stones buried in a run-off may have no patina at all. Red-brown iron oxide (rust) stains (from bits of iron in the rich Illinois soil) on stone and flint Paleo Indian artifacts are “birthmark” signs of long-term burial. These birthmarks, some as tiny specks, are also a sure sign that Indian artifacts such as arrowheads and tools are genuine.
Some of these fine collectible art pieces are polished with a clear, almost sheen patina as if hand-rubbed smooth by the original owners. Many of these Paleo Indian artifacts have this sheen patina on the head stones only, indicating they may have been carried or held like good luck charms by the owners. Like a photograph, a head stone might have been a reminder of a loved one. Or having the animals' spirit by the head gives the hunter the psychic edge. Fortunately for us, these figurines had their heads – left behind by the River Owl – for what would one day become their final autumn …
Next Page: When did these stones become Paleo Indian art?
The Spoon River is a meandering river in west-central Illinois, U.S. It rises at
the confluence of the West Fork Spoon and East Fork Spoon rivers in Stark county
and flows south and southwest to a point west of Lewistown, where it turns
southeast, joining the Illinois River opposite Havana after a course of about
160 miles (260 km). It drains an area of some 1,850 square miles (4,800 square
km). Spoon River was made famous by the poet Edgar Lee Masters, whose Spoon
(1915) details the frustrated ambitions of people who lived in the fictitious
town of Spoon River—actually a compound of two towns, Petersburg and Lewistown.
The river’s name is probably a translation of Emiquon, an Illinois and
Pottawatomie Indian word referring to the mussel shells they used as spoons.
Dickson Mounds, a rich archaeological area, is near the confluence of the Spoon
and Illinois. At the beginning of the 21st century, ecological restoration
efforts were underway at the confluence.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/560894/Spoon-River. Also see
Also see http://www.canyonart.com
PRE-COLUMBIAN Indian stone art ARTIFACTS figurine statue sale
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