Central States Archaeological Societies
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Engraved Crescent (Group) Bannerstones – A Rare Subtype

by Richard Michael Gramly, Ph.D.

Central States Archaeological Societies 2022 October Journal
North Andover, Massachusetts



Engraved Crescent (Group) Bannerstones – A Rare Subtype
Figure 1. Monograph (137 pp.) about Dorothy E. Middleton Nelson and her Thunderbird Museum, New Jersey, authored by O. Kirk Spurr, Ph.D.

Among the 3,600 bannerstones examined, described and illustrated in Byron W. Knoblock’s seminal work, Bannerstones of the North American Indian (1939), 32 intact specimens were contributed by Dorothy E. Middleton Nelson of Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. Dorothy was born and raised in the Delaware River region of eastern Pennsylvania and bordering western New Jersey. During her lifetime, she assembled one of the largest collections of North American native American artifacts (Spurr 2010). Crescent bannerstones were a notable component of her collection, and all her specimens had come to light near the Delaware River and its tributaries. The earliest provenienced specimen among the large group of prehistoric artifacts curated by Dorothy was discovered in 1808.

Dorothy’s extensive collection of baskets, ceramics, ground and flaked stone artifacts, Plains bead work, Navaho blankets, etc. was formerly exhibited at her Thunderbird Museum (1926-1972) in Mt. Laurel. During the late 1970s, an agreement was reached between her and the Native American Center for the Living Arts for a donation of the bulk of the collection, which was transferred to the Turtle Museum in Niagara Falls, New York, in 1981. The Turtle did not meet its financial expectations, and it was closed forever during the 1990s. Some of its property was seized by the Internal Revenue Service and auctioned in 1995 and 1996 to satisfy liens against the Native American Center for the Living Arts. This scandal resulted in the Thunderbird Museum’s gift being scattered, and important specimens became disassociated from catalogue entries. The terrible loss was documented in 2010 by O. Kirk Spurr, Ph.D. (Fig. 1).

Dorothy E. Middleton Nelson died on Jan. 21, 1986, and was buried beside her husband in the Greensboro cemetery, Maryland. The executrix of her estate, long-time associate Elizabeth S. (“Minnie”) Miller, it was thought, had been gifted with remnants of Dorothy’s impressive collection. Finally, in 2022, a niece of Elizabeth Miller, acting on behalf of her great-aunt’s estate, consigned baskets, beadwork and prehistoric artifacts, which were once owned by Dorothy E. Middleton Nelson, to Skinner, Inc. of Massachusetts, as part of Auction 3895T.

In this manner, the bannerstone shown in Figure 2 came to be owned by the author.

This centrally perforated bannerstone from Dorothy’s collection appears as No. 5 in Plate 213 of Byron Knoblock’s classic work. It is attributed to “near Medford, Burlington County, New Jersey.” An old paper tag that was rolled up and affixed to the inside of the banner, however, gives its origin as Marlton, Burlington County, New Jersey, and its finder as “M. Davidson.” As noted on the tag, Mr. Davidson presented a small collection (“1 bannerstone, 1 large axe, 1 small ax, 1 adze axe”) to the Thunderbird Museum. The year when the donation was made is not given, but it was prior to 1972 when the museum closed.

The frontally lighted, black-and-white photograph of the banner appearing in Plate 213 does not reveal the pattern of engraved lines that is present on both wings. These regularly spaced parallel lines were inscribed upon one face (side) only of the artifact using a flaked stone tool, which has left a distinctive signature of doubled incisions (Fig. 3, arrows).

The slanted lines, 11 on Wing A and 15 on Wing B, are suggestive of bird feathers sweeping back from the bannerstone’s crescentic edge – apt imagery for a device intended for propelling javelins through the air. The engraved designs upon other bannerstones from the greater Delaware River region, however, cannot be so simply interpreted. Some may exhibit isolated patterns of parallel, crossing and herringbone lines covering small areas; while others have a confused mixture of panels of lines in direct juxtaposition (Figs. 4 and 5). Just one, or both (Figure 6), sides of a banner may ....

This excerpt from "Engraved Crescent (Group) Bannerstones – A Rare Subtype" published in the 2022 Central States Archaeological Societies 2022 October Journal

Read the complete column in the Central States Archaeological Societies 2022 October Journal which can be purchased on-line after March 2023

Engraved Crescent (Group) Bannerstones – A Rare Subtype
Figure 2. Engraved bannerstone, found in New Jersey, ex.Thunderbird Museum. Width = 94 mm (3 11/16”); thickness = 18 mm(13/16”); weight = 98.9 grams. Lithic Casting Lab photograph.)