FOUND IN COLLECTION
Name: Stone Ax (EMS collection, uncataloged)
Notes: Stone tools have not always been recognized as human-made products. In his 1546 book on fossils, the German scientist Georgius Agricola (1494-1555) repeated the then common belief that stone axes fell from the sky during thunderstorms. Now we know that stone tools such as projectile points, scrapers, hammers, and axes can tell us much about how people lived long before written records were made. Because stone tools survive in the environment much longer than woven reed baskets, clothing made from animal skins, and bone awls, they are often our best sources of information about our ancestors’ lives.
It is a mistake to think of stone tools as primitive implements—most stone tools were finely crafted and excellently suited for exploiting natural resources. Making tools from stone is a technology that dates back millions of years and enabled humans to migrate out of Africa and adapt to environments throughout the world.
This grooved stone ax was made at least a thousand years ago by an inhabitant of what is now Pennsylvania. The general shape of the ax was formed by flaking off chunks of rock using a tool made of deer antler. The ax was then smoothed into its symmetrical shape by pecking with another stone. The fine cutting edge was ground by rubbing the ax in wet sand, and then it was polished by rubbing it on a charred log. Once attached to a wooden handle the ax could be used for everything from chopping down trees to making canoes and houses. The biggest limitation of stone tools is that they do not retain sharp cutting edges for long and thus have to be sharpened more frequently than cutting edges made of metal.
This ax is just one of many stone tools found and collected by Charles D. Borland (Penn State class of 1937) a Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering student from Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, Borland gave his collection to the museum where it was exhibited as “the beginnings of the mineral industries” in Pennsylvania.
Selected and written by John E. Simmons
SOURCES: Agricola, Georgius. 1546. De natura fossilium (On the Nature of Fossils), https://pubs.geoscienceworld.org/books/book/704/De-Natura-Fossilium-Textbook-of-Mineralogy
Carr, Kurt W., and Roger W. Moeller. 2015. First Pennsylvanians. The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission