Friday, May 10, 2013

Did James P. Howley haft this adze 100 years ago?

The adze head is an artifact, the handle a reproduction
This Maritime Archaic Indian adze hafted in a red ochre stained handle is in the collection of Newfoundland and Labrador's Provincial Museum at The Rooms, here in St. John's.  I took this photo more than a decade ago while working on a contract with the Provincial Museum to put together their first webpage, while they were still in the old building on Duckworth Street.  I believe this is one of the earliest artifact reproductions made in this Province and its probably coming up on its 100th birthday.   The stone adze head is a Maritime Archaic artifact and most likely dates somewhere between 5500 and 3200 years old, but the handle is a reproduction that was crafted and added later.  But by whom?

Howley 1915. Plate XVII
 (click to enlarge)
James P. Howley was a geologist in this Province who was a key figure in the creation of the Newfoundland Museum.  He collected many of the first artifacts to be housed within its walls.  In 1915, he published a book called "The Beothucks or Red Indians", which is still one of the most comprehensive works to collect the primary historical references to the Island's Beothuk people.  Among the plates in that book Howley published a silhouette photo of this adze (Plate XVII,  No.9) and remarked in the plate caption;
These are specimens of the well-known Celts, which appear to have been common to savage people all the world over.  They are nearly always of the same pattern, and consist of long flattish pieces of hard slate rock or other material found suitable for the purpose.  They are usually about 6 or 7 inches in length, narrow at one end, and ground away to a good cutting or chopping edge at the other and wider end.... I have seen a similar implement in the Smithsonian Museum at Washington, with a wooden handle attached by thongs of hide, in the form of an adze.  It looked as though it had been used for dressing down sticks for spear handles etc., and possibly for hollowing out wooden troughs... No. 9 stone adze with wooden handle attached.
Howley 1915 Plate XVI. The hafted adze head is No. 1,
shown here without an attached handle.
When Howley mentions "Celts" in the caption he isn't talking about the European ethnic or linguistic group, he's talking about this style of wedge shaped, ground stone tool.  He doesn't indicate that the adze photographed with its handle is a reproduction, but since wood and hide preservation from the Maritime Archaic Indian period in Newfoundland and Labrador is unheard of, it seems very unlikely that this is the condition that the original artifact was found in.  In fact, Howley illustrates the adze head on its own, without a handle in another plate in the same book.  The adze head used in the reproduction is asymmetrical and has a fairly distinctive shape which is easily recognizable as artifact No.1 in Figure XVI (left).

Another view of the adze

Detail from Plate XVII showing
Howley's adze
So what we know about this particular adze is;

1)  During the years when Howley was compiling his book on the Beothuks he had an opportunity to sketch and photograph this adze head both with and without an attached handle.

2) He mentions seeing stone adzes with wood and hide lashings on a trip to the Smithsonian Museum.

The conclusion that I draw from this information is that Howley had something to do with crafting the reproduction handle for this artifact.  James P. Howley seems to have been a pretty magnanimous guy who didn't mind giving credit and acknowledging his sources.  Which makes me think that if someone else was commissioned to make this reproduction for him, that he would have mentioned it.  The fact that the handle suddenly appears to his specifications between Plates XVI and XVII in his own publication makes me think that he did it himself.

I believe James P. Howley made the red ochre stained handle and lashings for this artifact sometime before 1915, almost 100 years ago, making it the oldest known pre-Contact artifact reproduction in the Province.

Photo Credits:
1,4: Tim Rast
2,3,5: Plates from The Beothucks or Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland  by James P. Howley 1915.  

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