Friday, October 23, 2009

Kennebec Indian Post of the Day: A Plummet

This is a plummet. It was found by Tim Watts at Babcocks Rapids on the Kennebec River in Augusta, Maine in 2000 where we have found many prehistoric stone tools along the river bank, and also prehistoric sturgeon bones. Many purposes have been proposed for plummets, including a fishing sinker or a weight for a net, but nobody really knows what they were used for.

Plummets of many sizes were common during one period of civilization in Maine, the "Red Paint People" period, 4,500-3,700 years ago, but are rarely found before or after that period. They were made by pecking the stone with a harder stone.

They took a lot of time and skill to make. Getting that nice, tight smooth collar must have been a task.

I do not believe plummets were made or used as fishing or net sinkers. They took far too long to make and are too carefully made for such a throwaway purpose. Anyone who has fished knows that fishing sinkers of the shape represented by plummets are lost very quickly by getting jammed into crevices in the bottom or wrapped around sunken logs, causing the loss of all your line and gear. For the same reason, the use of large plummets as net weights is equally doubtful. These items took days to weeks to make, and if used as net weights would be extremely susceptible to loss by entanglement in bottom clutter. There is no evidence that 4,000 year old Native Americans ever used large nets to catch fish; and if they did it would be much easier to stitch or tie appropriately sized and shaped pieces of unworked river rock into the lowest part of the net to act as disposable bottom weights. What we know of fishing techniques from Contact Period Native American culture is that very large fish, like sturgeon, were caught by spearing and harpooning, and smaller fish like alewives were caught in their spawning streams using stone and brush weirs.

Given these facts, and the unique appearance of plummets during the "Red Paint" culture of New England Indians and their disappearance thereafter, I believe plummets were made as ceremonial objects. Their similarity to a male testicle may not be coincidental.

This plummet is about 4,000 years old.

Tim Watts at Babcocks Rapids, Kennebec River, Augusta, Maine. The place where he found the plummet is at the boulder point. This is where 6 foot long Atlantic sturgeon congregate in the summer to jump and spawn.

Tim found this plummet because in 1999 the Edwards Dam was removed from the Kennebec River, two miles below. You can see the "bath tub ring" of the dam's impoundment at the tree line along the opposite bank of the river. Removing this dam took 15 years of fierce legal fighting by concerned citizens of the area, which was the most recent in a 150-year effort to remove the dam by many local people now dead and forgotten.

UPDATE: Bob Doyle, retired State Geologist of the State of Maine, has examined this plummet as to its lithic type. His conclusion is that it is a metamorphosed siltstone.


Chris Pittman said...

Very nice. This must have been quite a thrill to find.

pwax said...

Good argument. Mavor and Dix also come to the same conclusion but without the same practical considerations.