"Axe me no Questions" 
Page 2


(up-dated 24/Mar./2016)

Larry cutting wood with a stone axe

 Larry using Big Mama

Larry using an adze

(Photos LK)  Here's the text with the celt.

These are pictures of an ancient celt on display at the Museum of the Red River in Idabel, Oklahoma. This is one of only two that Larry has heard of that still exist today. Larry wishes to thank the Museum of the Red River for allowing him to take and use these photos. This is the celt Larry uses as his model when making his reproductions. It appears that some of the handle has been worn away, so Larry increases the size of his handles slightly. Note the reinforced area in front of and behind the stone celt. Also note the notch that's used to dislodge the celt so it can be used as a wedge and/or chisel.


(Photo LK)

Here's a close-up of the celt. Larry was told that some fishermen found the celt and had the idea to wrap it in a wet gunny sack to keep it from deteriorating. The celt is on display in a drawer in front of the Gregory Perino area at the museum.

(Photo LK)

The pic above was taken on a stone axe material hunt in Missouri. The material is a fine-grained basalt. The material here ranges in size from pebbles to Volkswagon-sized boulders. Frost fracturing allows large slabs to be removed from the main boulders. These large slabs are suitable for axe making. The photo above shows a boulder before the slab was removed and the photo below shows the same boulder after the slab was removed. Note the rock hammer on the boulder for scale.

(Photo LK)

What Mystery? An answer to creased celts
by: Larry Kinsella

In the April 2,000 edition of the Central States Archaeological
Journal there was an article written by Hal Fisher entitled The
Mystery of Creased Celts. At the end of the article,
Mr. Fisher states "If you have any thoughts or ideas
concerning these interesting artifacts please share them with the
journal. So, here I go.

In 1981 The Cahokia Mounds Museum Society hired Errett Callahan to
reconstruct a single post structure behind the old museum. The
call went out for volunteers and I answered. Seeing that this
project was a great opportunity to learn ancient construction
techniques, I jumped in with both feet. Dr. Callahan made a small
replica of the project, then started making tools (a hoe, a
digging stick and a celt) to use in the project. I asked him if I
could make a celt and use it in the reconstruction and he said
OK. That was the beginning of my interest in making and using
celts. Dr. Callahan used material from his region (W. Virginia)
to make his celt. For the hammerstone to pound the celt, he used
a fine-grained material that looked like granite. I asked him why
he didn't use a chunk of chert instead and his reply was that the
chert disintegrated faster than the celt material and wasn't very
useful. I remembered this because I have a site which has axe
material, broken axes and flint hammerstones on it. After
the celt was made and he was about to haft it, he told me one of
the most important things was not to let the handle sides touch
the stone. Only the two ends should come into contact with the
celt or the handle would break. We also briefly discussed the
possibility of the handle breaking if the celt were put in
backwards. A celt is a tool, that is, it is meant to accomplish a
task and to accomplish that task with less effort then with
earlier tools or the hands. Therefore, you don't baby a celt. You
hit hard with it. If the tool breaks, you make a better one.
That's why celts replaced axes over thousands of years. Full
grooved and 3/4 grooved axes served their purpose well but their
chief drawback is that they become loose in the haft after
chopping for 5 minutes or so. The full groove axe had no way to
correct this, so the 3/4 grooved axe was invented. The flat edge
of the 3/4 grooved allowed a wedge to be placed in the haft. When
the head became loose, the wedge was used to tighten it up. This
made the 3/4 grooved axe more useful and that is one of the
reasons why they were used for thousands of years. Although the
3/4 grooved had a big advantage over the earlier full grooved,
the celt became the tool of choice in later periods. The
advantages of celts over axes was that the head was wedged into
the handle and, if the handle was correctly made, would only
become tighter and tighter every time the celt was used. Over
weeks, months, and years of use the handle would conform to the
celt and, as long as the stone did not touch the sides, the
handle would not break. Another big advantage to celts over axes
was that they were removable. There was a notch in the wooden
handle where the celt was wedged that allowed the butt end of the
celt to protrude. The hafted celt could be turned upside-down and
hit on a log to dislodge the stone. I think this was a great
advantage, especially to canoe builders. Instead of having to
chop away every bit of wood as you would have to do with earlier
axes you could chop notches every six inches or so, dislodge the
stone, and use it as a wedge to wedge out the wood between the
notches. A wooden mallet would be used to batter the stone during
the wedging and, occasionally, a piece of celt material would
break off of the butt end. That is why axes and celts are
battered on the butt ends. It's simply a product of using the
tools as wedges. Now, using an axe as a wedge is much harder than
using a celt as a wedge because the handle almost always gets in
the way. You can imagine how hard it is to batter the end of an
axe when it's down inside a canoe where you can't get a good
swing with the mallet because the handle is in the way. Remove
the handle though, and the chore is much easier.

Now, we can tackle the problem of creases. Since the handles of celts
conform so exactly to the stones, it is imperative they be
replaced the same way every time or the handle will break. In
the late 80's I was doing a celt demo at Carlyle Lake in Illinois
for their archaeology weekend. I was showing how to hit a celt
over a log to dislodge the stone, then I used the stone as a
wedge and replaced it into the handle. I then hit it on a log to
set the stone in the handle and when I did, the handle split
badly. After telling the audience not to worry because I had
another one, I proceeded to repeat the same process and split
that handle also. I had been using celts for about a year at the
time and that was a real eye-opener for me.          

Weeks later, Dave Klostermier and I were knapping in my basement and we
started discussing why the handles had split and came to the
conclusion that the celts had been inadvertently replaced
backwards. Thus, when the celts were reversed, the stones
did not conform exactly to the handles and the handles split. We
discussed what we could do to eliminate the problem. It hit us
both about the same time. Of course, creases!

(Photo LK)

 Two modern creased celts.
(Lime has been rubbed into the grooves, or creases,
to highlight them.) Below is an ancient creased celt.

(Photo LK)

Here's an original creased celt  Larry found in the 70's

that time I've worked on the stockade (to protect the Callahan
pit house) project, the Cahokia Woodhenge, my own pit house, and
hundreds of assorted project and demos. One of my stone celts has
cut over 400 limbs and trees including the 12 inch logs at
Woodhenge. Another has cut 3,000 trees and limbs from 1/2 inch to
12 inches in diameter and has never been resharpened. Knowing that
these tools last a long time, it seems that the handles should
last a long time too. That is where the creases come in . Since
that day at Carlyle Lake in the late 80s, I have not split a
single handle because I now use creases to tell what is the front
of my celts. It takes all of 5 seconds to scratch a
 or crease into the edge of a celt with a
flake of chert, but that action has saved me from having to spend
countless hours making new handles. It also should be noted that
in the previous 4 years I had broken 7 celt handles but have not
broken one, since then. It
has been my experience that creases only occur on celts that are
symmetrical or otherwise marked so the front can be distinguished
from the back. Celts with an odd shape, ie. flaws in the stone
or other irregularities, usually don't have creases because the
owner knows the distinguishing characteristic that tells him what
is the front or back. Some celts have multiple creases. Sometimes
(during resharpening etc.), an old crease is lost or becomes less
noticeable and a new one is scratched. This may also happen when
the celt changes hands and the new owner can't see or feel the
old mark. It's important to note, here, that I use feel rather
than sight to find the creases. As I'm talking to my audience
while replacing the stone, I run my fingernail down the edge
until I hit the tally mark and replace the stone accordingly.
It's my opinion that, in mud, dust, or bad light feeling the
crease becomes very handy. In most articles about creases, the
creases are marked with chalk so they show up better in the
photos. I think it's more important for the crease to be felt
than seen and that could be another reason for multiple creases.

I discussed this issue in the Bulletin of Primitive Technology,
Vol. 1 #5, Spring 1993. In an article titled: Personal
Notes On Celt Use, I mentioned many of the same things
that I have here. The article was reprinted in Illinois
Antiquity, the newsletter for the Illinois Association for
Advancement of Archaeology, Vol.8, #3, page 9, of Sept. 1993. I
have learned much about celt and stone axe use since that article
and those ideas are set forth in this article.

Corneli, Tim: ; The
Creased Edge Celts,The Central States Archaeological
Journal, Vol 15, #3, July, 1968, pp 84.

Perino, Gregory: Some
Hafted Celts- Ordinary and Effigy,

The Central States
Archaeological Journal, Vol 16, #1, January, 1969, pp4

Katchmer, Michael
;An Experiment in toolmaking

States Archaeological Journal, Vol. 26, #2 April, 1979, pp82.

Thompson, Ben:
Double-creased-edge Celt,

Central States
Archaeological Journal, Vol.28, #3, July 1981, pp127.

Rampini, Robert:
Creased -edge Celt,

Central States Archaeological
Journal , Vol 42, #1 1995, pp.9.

Putty, Theresa:
Creased-edge Celt from Indiana

Central States
Archaeological Journal Vol, 43, #3 1995, pp 127

Fisher, Hal: The
Mystery of Creased Celts, Central States
Archaeological Journal, Vol 47, #2 April, pp. 2.


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