Monday, October 19, 2009

Miniature People in the Archaeological Record

Here's an interesting story that was sent to me by Mike Odegard, the State Resource Conservationist in Nevada:

On another note I wanted to tell you a quick story that came to mind as I was reading your website. While growing up in Montana... From time to time I would find very tiny points which the local people called bird points. As I grew older I had a chance to work with a lot of the tribes in MT and as I was telling an old Crow elder about the little points one day he said Oh ya those are from the little people. I asked him what he was talking about and he said that they had stories about a tribe of very little people that had once lived where the Crow live today. He said that the story was that the little people lived in the ground and were rarely seen however they did trade with them by leaving stuff and when they returned their stuff had been replaced with other stuff. Several months later he took me to a place in the Pryor mountains and showed me a place where there were many cutouts in the sandstone where he told me the "little people" had corraled there small horses. Sounds like American elfshot.

I love stories like that, and Mike's right it does sound a lot like an American version of Elfshot.

Miniature versions of artifacts show up in the archaeological record frequently. In Newfoundland, arrowheads that appear too small to function are very common in Beothuk sites. The tiny arrowheads in the top row of the photo at the top of this post happen to be from Burgeo, but they could have been found at any Beothuk site in the province. The neck of an arrowhead gives you a good estimate of the diameter of the shaft that it was mounted on. Beothuk bows were designed to be the height of the owner, about 6 feet long, and the arrows would be the length of the draw from the archer's chin to the tip of their outstretched finger, or about 3 feet. However, many points found at Beothuk sites have neck widths less than 5mm wide, they'd fit on an arrow the diameter of a skinny drinking straw. Much too small to be a functional 3 foot long arrow. So who used these tiny arrows?

If the bows and arrows were designed to fit the user, then where do you find someone small enough to use these tiny points? Have you figured it out? This black and white photo is the last clue. Its a plate from James Howley's 1915 book - The Beothucks or Red Indians. Items numbered 2 are arrow shafts, 3s are bow fragments and 4s are miniature arrow shafts and bow fragments found in a child's grave. Children in the past played with scaled down versions of adult tools, just as they do now. Its quite likely that the tiny arrowheads really were used by tiny people -- teacup humans -- the children of the people who used the adult sized points.

Bob Dawe in Alberta published a paper in 1997 looking at the child-sized points that Mike is refering to in his story, called Tiny Arrowheads: Toys in the Toolkit, and Ralph Pastore suggested that many of the tiny Beothuk points were used by children in an unpublished paper from about the same time.

Photo Credits:
Top: Tim Rast
Middle: Erick Walsh
Bottom: James Howley from the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website

Photo Captions:
Top: Beothuk Points from Burgeo, Newfoundland and Labrador. Collected by Sid Bagg.
Middle: An Elfshot reproduction of a Beothuk Arrow
Bottom: Plate showing Beothuk wooden objects including (2) Beothuk arrow fragments, (3) bow fragements, and (4) Miniature bow and arrow fragments from a child's grave.

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