Grooved Axe, quartzite

Grooved axe, quartzite, ca. 3000 BC

Virginia Indians used and reused available materials in creative ways to produce tools they needed. Copper, the only available metal, was soft and could not be used for carving or cutting. Virginia Algonquian tribes placed a high value on copper and considered the scarce metal too precious to use for tools. Consequently, they used different kinds of stone, mostly quartz, to make cutting or carving tools. To make stone--or lithic--tools, Virginia Indians had to have intimate knowledge of the geographic locations of sources and the stones’ properties.

Ground stone axe reconstruction

Groundstone axe reconstruction

This groundstone axe reconstruction represents a long manufacturing process. The stone had to be extracted from a quarry or obtained through exchange with groups living in the interior. The material was then prepared by using a harder object, a hammerstone, to peck the stone into the desired shape; the surface would be ground and smoothed with sand.The axe would then be attached to a wooden handle.

“The manner of makinge their boates”

“The manner of makinge their boates” from Thomas Harriot’s A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, 1590
Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History, Special Collections (A 1590-1634 .B79 GE)

Axes could be used in many tasks, such as cutting down trees or hollowing out logs for canoes. This engraving depicts other steps in canoe-making--using controlled fires to help fell trees and hollow out canoes.