In my talk I will present current understanding regarding when, where, and how bannerstones were made by Archaic North American hunter gatherers between 6,000 – 1,000 BCE. From what we know to what we can hypothesize, I will ask why these anomalous lithics were only made during this period, what they might have been used for and how and in what way we can compare and distinguish them from other carved lithic tools, seeing in them aesthetic works of refined, individual expression.
The Archaic Bannerstone Project is a resource for the study of the aesthetically complex, anomalous ancient Native American lithics known as bannerstones. Finely composed, carved, and polished works are usually associated with luxury items for a ruling elite. Bannerstones, however, were made within distinctly egalitarian societies raising questions about who made them, who were they made for, and for what purposes were they made.
Learning to see, study, and value the art and technology of bannerstones will bring us closer to the lived lives of ancient Native Americans of Eastern North America. This study, awareness, and appreciation of Ancient Native Americans in turn can open ways of seeing and respecting the vast history that links the past to the present.
Native Americans carved and carefully drilled holes through the center of these stones leading early 20th century archaeologists to believe they were meant to be placed on staffs as banners or emblems, thus the name bannerstone. Currently there is significant uncertainty about why these stones were made and what role they played in the lives of ancient Native Americans. What is certain is that bannerstones as a distinct category of stone carving are amongst the most aesthetically complex artifacts made by North Americans during the Archaic period.
Anna Blume is a professor in the Department of the History of Art and the coordinator of the Ethics and Sustainability Minor at the State University of New York, FIT where she has taught courses on prehistoric art and the ancient arts of the Americas for the past eighteen years. She received her Ph.D. from Yale and has been a recipient of a Fulbright, Ford Foundation, American Philosophical Society, and multiple SUNY grants to carry out field research in the making and meaning of art from Ancient Mesoamerica to the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys. She is author of “Ancient Architecture in the Mississippi Valley: Monumentality Seen and Unseen,” RES Anthropology and Aesthetics (69/70), and “Maya Concepts of Zero,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (155). Professor Blume began an ongoing in-depth study of Bannerstones in 2016 working with the American Museum of Natural History collection of 462 stones. The Archaic Bannerstone Project was conceived by her as a way to bring these important carved stones to as broad a public as possible, to reveal the deep history of the creative imagination of the indigenous people of eastern North America.