A Stone Pipe Bowl from Pickawillany

The large fragment of a stone pipe bowl pictured was recovered from Feature #61 at Pickawillany, a large diameter trash pit about four feet deep. The pipe was found among animal bone fragments, gun flints, glass beads and miscellaneous metal artifacts at the bottom of the pit, dating the feature to the period the site was occupied by European traders. However well never quite know for sure. Just above the level where the pipe bowl was recovered were several beer cans, left behind by collectors who at some previous date had dug into the pit and severely compromised the features integrity without any sort of regard to what they were doing other than finding neat things.

In the 1980s and 90s, Pickawillany was a favorite spot for uncontrolled metal detecting and it is hard to imagine let alone estimate what walked off the site, so to speak. It certainly makes doing archaeology in a proper manner difficult. Considering the depth of the beer cans, whatever was retrieved from what became Feature #61 certainly must have been enticing to motivate about such inspired digging. As for the pipe bowl, its of a style referred to as vasiform or vase shaped. Pipes made in this style are often associated with Fort Ancient time period cultures and into the later Proto-historic period. Dates for the latest Ft. Ancient presence in the Ohio Valley fall in the mid to late 1600s. Miami occupation at Pickawillany is only a couple of generations removed from that and there is no reason to believe that as soon as trade goods became plentiful all traces of doing things in the old way were immediately cast aside.

The bowl is about 2 ½ inches high and made of limestone or perhaps dolomite, somewhat laminated with iron layering. It had been drilled from the top in two stages, first with an acutely pointed drill followed by a second, wider drill used to enlarge the original hole. It would appear that the second drilling was more than it could stand, causing the stone to fail and split along a natural fault in the limestone. In any case it doesn’t appear to have ever been smoked. Had it remained intact the pipe likely would have been smoked by the insertion of a reed or some other sort of stem into an intersecting hole drilled through the missing half. What makes the bowl extremely interesting are the decorations used to enhance its appearance. Just below the top edge ate a series of shallow drill holes or punctuates similar to those often seen on late period ceramics. These are equally spaced along a line that parallels the rim. Even more curious is a sunburst-like motif on the side of the pipe near where it split. It consists of a deeply incised ring circumscribed around a small, single punctate much like a bulls eye. This is surrounded by several irregular sunrays or angular lines that radiate outward from the center. These are extremely thin and shallow and seem to have been produced by a single cut with a very hard narrow edge, possibly some sort of metal implement which if so would place in firmly in historic times. Finally, it proves absolutely nothing but it is interesting to note that the crude sunburst on the pipe is slightly reminiscent that is only very slightly reminiscent of the official crest of Louis XIV of France also known as the Sun King. It would be appropriate for a pipe from Pickawillany to be so embellished as King Louis did once own Pickawillany along with a bunch of the rest of eastern North America, or so he thought. Much of the soil from the feature was collected in bulk for content and further analysis. Who knows, perhaps the missing half will turn up after all.

It is unfortunate that the pit had been disturbed in the manner in which it was. It would be interesting to see just what the rest of the feature had to offer. Such is life. Bill Pickard

Posted September 18, 2013
Topics: Archaeology

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