Friday, April 27, 2012

Tci-tho - an Athapaskan bifacial scraper

An un-ground bifacial slate scraper
So this is kind of cool - I learned about a new type of artifact this week.  One of the artifacts in the Cape Krusenstern collection is a tci-tho slate scraper.  I hadn't heard of them before, but I did a little digging and apparently the name comes from hide-working tools used by Athapaskan peoples, who are spread over the northwestern part of North America.

Rounded working edges
I really need to emphasize that I don't really know anything about these tools other than what I've stumbled across online in the past hour or so and the reference photos that I was sent from Cape Krusenstern.  My first impressions might be off, but I found a couple references to tci-tho and tci-tho-like bifaces in Matson and Magne's 2007 "Athapaskan Migrations: The Archaeology of Eagle Lake, British Columbia: Appendix I".   The reason I found that reference interesting was that it mentions that a couple of the tci-tho-like bifaces tested positively for blood and fat residue, indicating that they were used for "flesh or hide processing".

A loose leather grip? Maybe?
The circular slate disc that I was asked to reproduce from Cape Krusenstern doesn't have any obvious signs of hafting, although this image of a stone scraper from the Bata Shoe Museum's online exhibit called; Tradition and Innovation: Northern Athapaskan Footwear shows a nearly identical slate disc, partially wrapped in cloth to create a grip.  The scraper in the Bata image has a little more polish on the edge than the disc I'm working on, but otherwise its pretty much identical.

Photo Credis: Tim Rast


  1. On Kodiak we have 2 similar tools - split cobble scrapers and ulu shaped scrapers. I believe the Athapaskans also call split cobble scrapers tci thos. You should email Don Clark about this one having worked with both the athapaskans and on Kodiak. Anyway, the split cobble scrapers are simply huge round spalls of usually greywacke and the edge is utilized and the wear is as you describe. Split cobble scrapers also exhibit other types of wear (they are sort of a multi use tool - ie many converted to 'u-shaped abraders').

    The ulu shaped scraper on Kodiak is shaped like an ulu and is flat - made from slate or thin sheets of greywacke. I often have a really hard time telling the difference between an ulu preform and an ulu shaped scraper.

    Off the top of my head I believe there is an in depth discussion on these tools in DeLaguna 's monographs on the archaeology of cook inlet or the Chugach. But it might also be in Heizer's book about the Uyak site. I know it is one of those three books. And then you got to check what Don Clark says about split cobble scrapers in the his 1974 monograph on the Koniag on Kodiak - Koniag prehistory.

  2. Interesting - thanks for the references. Yeah, without a lot of usewear, they'd be pretty tough to distinguish them from an ulu preform. Off the top of my head, I can't recall anything similar in these parts. I can't think of any chipped slate tools that were used without some sort of grinding or polishing to finish them. Lori tells me that she's seen the term tci-tho in the artifact database for the Province, but I'm not sure where they were identified or by who. Labrador maybe?

  3. Yes, the term "tci-tho" was catalogued for a Labrador site by a Smithsonian archaeologist. Makes sense now that I know what the term means.


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