Central States Archaeological Societies
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A Western Kentucky Bannerstone

by Cheri Williams

Central States Archaeological Societies 2015 April Journal

Wickliffe, Kentucky

The quartz butterfly bannerstone. It measures 2 ¾ inches wide (held together). The wings are 1 5/8 inches at the tallest point. The center of stone where the hole is drilled is 7/8 inches tall Center and ¾ inches deep across top of hole edge to edge.


I and my husband Mark, have been surface hunting for artifacts for over twenty-five years together now. He is a native of western Kentucky, and has hunted them off and on all his life. He was raised in the Ohio River bottoms, and it was a family activity for them when they were young. It has always been one of our favorite pastimes, as we both enjoy the outdoors. He is a natural at finding them, and I am the one who does the research on what we find.

On Sunday, June 15, 2008, we headed to a field in the bottoms that we have permission to hunt. It was a sunny afternoon, and the fields had dried out after the spring backwater had receded. We always spread out in the fields, but stay within yelling distance, so we can share our finds. I was in a lower section, when Mark holds something up and starts toward me. He knows I do the research, and he asks “What is this?” At first glance he wasn’t sure of the material. I was once again, amazed and envious of his luck (or skill, as he calls it) at making great finds. I had only seen a butterfly bannerstone in pictures in the reference books, but I knew that’s what we had! And the material was gorgeous! We both scoured the area where he had picked it up, but no trace of the missing piece or pieces. This is a field where we mostly find points and tools. There is a lot of lithic scatter and debitage, but strangely we have never found any pottery shards. He let me be “the keeper of the find” and I held it in my hand, feeling the smoothness. I kept looking at it, over and over for the rest of our hunt. We examined it closer when we got home.

When the bannerstone is held up to sunlight its colors resemble those of a vivid sunset.
The arrows point out the spot where the two halves meet. The larger portion (on left) is 2 inches in length. The smaller portion (right) is 3/4 inches in length. The two pieces were reunited almost two years to the day after the larger piece was found in 2008.


The interior of the drilled hole has symmetrical rings clearly visible when light is shined through it. I learned that this is from the drilling process, which is accomplished with grains of sand. This makes sense, because the soil in these fields is very sandy, being so close to the Ohio River. From what I can determine, the material is blood quartz. The reddish coloring is more pronounced on the rounded outsides of the drilled hole. I knew it was special and it was hard to put it away with our other finds. I finally decided to string it on a leather cord, and hang it on my rear view mirror in “Catawba” my 4Runner, that I drove to work every day, as well as when we went artifact hunting. It became a kind of touchstone for me and always made me smile.

Fast forward almost two years to the day. It was Saturday, June 12, 2010. Mark had gotten off work at noon, and we decided to go hunting for the rest of the afternoon. We stopped at a field that bordered the field where we found the bannerstone. We got out and began our usual “walking around, looking down” pattern. I heard a voice, and noticed that Mark was talking to a farmer who farmed a neighboring field. I just kept on with my walking and let them talk.

In a bit, Mark came across the field, and I could tell he was not a happy camper. Now, the farmer in question has known Mark his entire life. He has a reputation as being a testy fellow at times. Seems he did not believe we had permission to walk these fields. He claimed to have no cell signal there in the bottoms, so could not call the farmer who had given us permission. Rather than let him ruin our afternoon, we decided to load up and simply move to the next field. As we were driving down the rutted field road, Mark made the comment “I’m just going back to that other field and find the rest of that” pointing to the bannerstone hanging from my mirror. I laughed and said “Sure you are” glad that we could just move to the next field and continue hunting.

The time-consuming drilling is easy to see in the hole. Each line represents where the drill stopped and started again.

We bumped and bounced our way to the end of the field closest to the river. Again, I took the lower end of the field, and Mark struck off for where he remembered finding the bannerstone. We’d only been looking about 10 minutes or so, and I hear “I think I found a piece of it!” I start toward him as he is heading my way. He is all smiles, but I am still skeptical. He reaches me, holds the piece up, and asks “Isn’t this part of it?” I cannot believe my eyes! I tell him, “That’s not part of it, that’s all of it!” I had been looking at the stone for two years, daily and I knew on sight that this was the rest of it. We didn’t stop hunting, but I can’t say that I remember anything else that we found that day. I know we did find some, but that one piece just crowded them out of my memory. When we got back to the truck, we took the bannerstone off the mirror, held the piece to it, and were amazed once again that it was all there. So many questions—How had it not been shattered into pieces when it was broken off? How had it stayed there with the Ohio rolling over it for two more seasons? How had it stayed safe from disks, planters, and combines for two years? I will never know the answers to these questions. I do know that every time I look at this extraordinary piece, I feel such a sense of wonder, and a connection to a gifted, talented human being. It’s an indescribable feeling to know that our hands were the first human hands to have touched his creation in so many years, and we hope he would be pleased with the awe and reverence it makes us feel toward those who were here so long ago, and left only these small traces of who they were for us to know them by.


The complete bannerstone with sunlight shining through it.