Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Hammers of the Canadian Natives



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North-West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Hammers. Few implements are of so much importance to primitive men as the stone hammer and the several closely allied forms - the sledge, the maul, and the stone-head club, which may be described here rather than under the caption Clubs . All of these implements are employed, like the ordinary club, in striking blows that stun, break, crush, or drive, the only distinction to be drawn between the hafted hammer and the club being that the one carries the weight chiefly in the extremity or head, which is usually of heavier or harder material than the handle, while the other has the weight distributed along the shaft. Although the several implements comprised in this group have many features in common, they are somewhat clearly differentiated in shape and use. All are made of hard, heavy, tough materials, including stone, bone, ivory, antler, shell, and metal. Some are never hafted, while perhaps nearly all on occasion are used unhafted, one or both hands being employed according to the weight of the implement. Haftings vary with the form and use of the object as well as with the region and the people.


Hammers employed in shaping stone, especially in the more advanced stages of the work, are usually unhafted and are held tightly in the hand for delivering heavy blows, or lightly between the thumb and finger-tips for flaking or pecking. They may be natural pebbles, boulders, or fragments, but by prolonged use they assume definite shapes or are intentionally modified to better fit them for their purpose. Globular and discoidal forms prevail, and the variety employed in pecking and for other light uses often has shallow depressions centrally placed at opposite sides to render the finger hold more secure. The pecking and flaking work is accomplished by strokes with the periphery, which is round or slightly angular in profile to suit the requirements of the particular work.


Hammers intended for breaking, driving, and killing are generally hafted to increase their effectiveness. Sledge hammers, used in mining and quarrying, were usually heavy, often rudely shaped, and the haft was a pliable stick or withe bent around the body of the implement, which was sometimes grooved for the purpose. The fastening was made secure by the application of thongs or rawhide coverings. In the flint quarries and copper mines great numbers of hammers or sledges were required; indeed, it may be said that in and about the ancient copper mines of McCargol cove, Isle Royale , Mich. , there are to be seen tens of thousands of wornout and abandoned sledge heads. In an ancient paint mine in Missouri , recently exposed by the opening of an iron mine, upward of 1,200 rude stone sledges were thrown out by the workmen. Heavy grooved and hafted hammers, resembling somewhat the mining sledges, though much more highly specialized, were in general use among the tribes of the great plains and served an important purpose in breaking up the bones of large game animals, in pounding pemmican, flint, and seeds, in driving tipi pegs, etc. A lighter hammer, usually referred to as a war-club, was, and is, in common use among the western tribes. It is a globular or doubly conical stone, carefully finished and often grooved, the haft being strengthened by binding with rawhide. Closely allied to this weapon is a kind of slung hammer, the roundish stone being held in place at the end of the handle by a covering of rawhide that extends the full length of the haft. These are very effectual implements, and decked with streamers of horsehair and other ornaments have been devoted, at least, in recent years to ceremony and show.


Heavy hammers, often tastefully carved, were and are used by the tribes of the N. W. for driving wedges in splitting wood, for driving piles, and for other heavy work; they are usually called mauls, or pile-drivers. Many of the larger specimens have handles or finger holes carved in the stone, while others are provided with handles of wood. The [Inuit] also have hammers for various purposes, made of stone, bone, and ivory, with haftings ingeniously attached.


The literature of this topic is voluminous, but much scattered, references to the various kinds of hammers occurring in nearly all works dealing with the archaeology and ethnology of N. America . For an extended article on the stone hammer, see McGuire in Am. Anthropologist , IV, no. 4, 1891.   


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada. Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa , 1913, 632p., pp. 192-193.





© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College