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Specialized Production

Submitted by mccaffer on Sat, 02/02/2008 - 10:27am

Among the many artifacts found at Santa Isabel were by-products of specialized production.  This contrasts with the stereotypical characterization of a 'hunter-gatherer' society, and is therefore a basis for complexifying our interpretation of the past. 

Artifacts associated with textile production were abundant.  Spindle whorls were made of baked clay, and were either molded or fabricated out of re-worked potsherds.  Based on the variety of sizes and shapes it is inferred that the ancient inhabitants of Santa Isabel were manufacturing thread from multiple fibers, and for various purposes.  In addition to textiles for clothing, thread was probably used to produce fishing nets and hammocks. 

Spindle whorls

Spindle whorls


worked sherd whorls       bone whorl

Worked sherd whorls                                                Bone spindle whorl


Due to the exceptional preservation of organic materials, bone weaving and embroidery tools were also found in abundance.  Small needles, awls of various size categories, punches, and battens were all identified.  Interestingly, whereas spindle whorls found throughout the site, suggesting that all households participated in thread production, the bone tools were concentrated at Mound 6, indicating specialized production at that house-lot. A class of bone tool, designated 'composite tools', had a highly polished tip and evidence of an adhesive agent on the shaft, suggesting that these may have been hafted for use.  These composite tools did not co-occur with the other textile producing tools, so may have a different function.

Bone neediles   bone picks

Bone needles                                                          Bone picks


Bone battens     Bone composite tool

Bone batten tips                                                 Bone composite tool


Several spinning and weaving tools were also found that were made out of greenstone.  Two whorls of Type K were found that closely resembled the ceramic whorls of the same type.  Three fragments of a weaving batten were also made from greenstone.  It is unknown if these were functional tools, or effigy objects relating to a symbolic significance to textile production.

Bone was also manufactured into utilitarian objects, such as fish hooks.  Several delicate fish hooks were found, and numerous deer bones were found with evidence of cut marks suggesting that they were cut in cross-section that closely matched the fish hooks.  The implication is that the bones were sliced in small sections and then finished as hooks.

fish hooks   cut bones

Fish hooks                                                           Cut bones for making hooks


Bone was also crafted into jewelry.  Several pieces of beautiful bone jewelry were found (see Adornment), and other pieces were found in incomplete forms,

Shell was also manufactured into jewelry. In contrast to the large numbers of lacustrine shells relating to consumption, the harder shell from the Pacific were used for making objects of adornment.  While some finished pieces have been found, many pieces of shell were from discard after the useful outer segments had been cut away for further elaboration.  The most common of these expended discards were from the central spine of conch shells.

shell core    shell pendants

Expended core of conch shell                          Perforated shell pendants


Jewelry was also manufactured out of greenstone.  True jade does not occur in the Americas, but a range of green stones were polished into jewelry.  In Central America these are termed 'social jade' (Lange 1993).  At Santa Isabel numerous fragments of greenstone debitage were found representing production stages; some finished products were also found.  The raw material is a fine grained 'mudstone' that can be found on the Pacific shore, and when polished takes on a 'social jade'-like luster.  Fragments represent all stages of production, from roughing out raw blocks to pre-forms for beads.

greenstone blocks     bead pre-forms

Greenstone blocks with saw marks                     Pre-forms for making beads


Greenstone pendant and blank

Greenstone pendant and blank





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