Indian Bird Stones

Bird Stones: A name given to a class of prehistoric stone objects of undetermined purpose, usually resembling or remotely suggesting the form of a bird. In many cases the resemblance is so slight that without the aid of a series of specimens, grading downward from the more realistic bird representations through successive simplifications, the life form would not be suggested. In its simplest form the body is an almost featureless bar of polished stone. Again, the ends are curved upward, giving a saddle shape; but usually the head, tail, and eyes are differentiated, and in the more graphic forms the tail is expanded an d turned upward to balance the head. The most remarkable feature is the pair of projecting knobs, often on rather slender stems, representing the eyes, giving some what the effect of a horned animal. These objects are most plentiful in the Ohio valley and around the great lakes, and occur sparingly in the S. and to the westward beyond the Mississippi. Although many kinds of stone were used in their manufacture, the favorite material was a banded slate which occurs over a wide area in the Northern states and in Canada. They are shaped with much care, being symmetrical and highly polished. The under side is flat or slightly concave, and there are two perforations at the extremities of the base intended to serve in attaching the figure to the surface of some object, as a tablet, a pipe stem, a flute, or a staff or baton, or to some part of the costume, or to the hair. There is good reason to believe that these and the various related objects banner stones, boat-stones, etc. had kindred uses in religious ceremony or magic (see Problematical objects. Gillman (Smithson Rep. 1873, 1874) was informed by an aged Chippewa “that in olden time these ornaments were worn on the heads of Indian women, but only after marriage,” and suggests that the bird-stones may have symbolized the brooding bird. Abbott (Primitive Industry, 370) published a statement originating with Dr E. Stirling, of Cleveland, Ohio, that “such bird effigies, made of wood, have been noticed among the Ottawa of Grand Traverse bay, Mich., fastened to the top of the heads of women as an indication that they are pregnant.” The probability, however, is that these bird-stones were used or worn by the men rather than by the women, and Gushing’s theory that they were attached to a plate and fixed to the hair is plausible.

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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