Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha Archaeological Site Interpretation Center
Virtual Museum of Canada

Material Culture

PresentationCeramics | Objects made of organic material | Stone objects

Objects made of organic material

Objects made of organic material

Bone awl from the Late Woodland period that could have served to pierce leather or bark.

Bone awl

Like their predecessors, the Saint-Anicet Iroquoians used organic materials such as wood, bone, tooth and antler to make various objects, including weapons, tools, gaming pieces and ornaments. Over 300 of these perishable artifacts have been brought to light through excavations on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site. Discovered for the most part during the excavation of different structures (pits, middens and hearths), they owe their preservation mainly to the low acidity of the site's soils.

Awls constitute the best-represented category of bone objects in the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha collection. Most of them were made out of long bones from white-tailed deer, although moose bone was occasionally used as well. Awls have one pointed end that is slightly sharpened so that it can pierce relatively soft materials like hide or bark. Traceology studies have shown that the same awl could be used for different tasks, and some archaeologists prefer to consider awls as an essentially morphological category rather than a functional one. It is thus permissible to view awls as multifunctional tools that may well have been used as hairpins, skewers for food, styli for incising pottery or pins for ring-and-pin games, to mention a few possibilities.

Beaver incisor chisel from the Late Woodland period used as a chisel or scraper.

Chisel made from a beaver incisor

After awls, chisels represent the second largest group of organic-material artifacts recovered from the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site. These tools were made out of beaver or muskrat incisors, with the biting end smoothed to remove wear marks. Chisels were used principally for woodworking (engraving, removing bark, etc.). Another artifact category is comprised by the numerous bone projectile points identified in the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha collection. Generally shaped out of mammal long bones, they have pointed distal ends and slightly thinned proximal ends to facilitate hafting.

Harpoons made of bone were also used by the Saint-Anicet Iroquoians and the few specimens found on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site are quite remarkable. A harpoon is part of a hunting weapon provided with a distal point that can pierce and penetrate prey and characterized by the presence of at least one barb that keeps the point from slipping out. Displaying various shapes and sizes, the harpoons from the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site were shaped out of mammal long bones and then thoroughly polished. Two sub-categories have been identified in this collection, since some harpoons have unilateral barbs, while others have bilateral barbs.


Polished bone needle from the Late Woodland period.

Bone needle

A few needles have also been found on the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site. They are all relatively flat and wide, with an eye made near the distal end. These needles may have been used to sew hides or to weave fishnets. Spatulas and punches were identified on the site as well. Spatulas are long flat implements with a rounded end that could be used to slick hides or smooth clay pots. Punches, which were fashioned out of antler, have a rounded distal end that shows signs of wear from pressure. Antler, being more resistant than bone, was an ideal material for the punches used to finish stone tools with pressure flaking.


Bone adornments, while not found in great numbers, are nonetheless present in the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha collection. They include circular and cylindrical bone beads belonging to a necklace or bracelet, as well as a small cylindrical bead made of finely polished shell. In addition, excavations uncovered two canine teeth – one from a wolf and the other from a bear – that had been slightly modified, indicating that they could have been worn as amulets or pendants.

Perforated phalanx from the Late Woodland period that probably was part of a ring-and-pin game.

Deer phalanx



Apart from ceramic gaming disks, the play-related artifacts best represented in Iroquoian assemblages are elements of ring-and-pin games. These elements consist of deer toe bones, which have sometimes been modified. Although the bones could have had various other functions, they are generally considered to be part of game in which they were tossed in the air to be caught on a stick. In the Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha collection, researchers have identified two white-tailed deer toe bones that were hollowed out in the middle and pierced at the distal end. One of the bones bears three series of short horizontal incisions one above the other.

The Droulers/Tsiionhiakwatha site has also revealed numerous other bone objects, whose functions remain undetermined. One of them is a complete piece made of a black bear femur, shaped like a baton or rectangular tube and decorated with small incisions. It may have been a ceremonial tube or an element in a more complex instrument used for a purpose that is yet to be discovered.


Perforated phalanx from the Late Woodland period that probably was part of a ring-and-pin game.

Perforated phalanx (Late Woodland)
Material: bone
Description: Phalanx (white-tailed deer) with one end pierced. Such bones are generally considered to be the ring part of a ring-and-pin game.

Bone awl from the Late Woodland period that could have served to pierce leather or bark.

Awl (Late Woodland)
Material: bone
Description: Bone awl (made from black bear fibula) that could have served to pierce leather or bark. The object may also have been the pin in a ring-and-pin game, a food skewer or a stylus for decorating pottery.

Polished bone point from the Late Woodland period whose convex sides narrow towards the base to form a stem.

Point (Late Woodland)
Material: bone
Description: Projectile point with entirely polished blade. The convex sides narrow towards the base to form a stem with a slightly rounded proximal end. The blade is decorated with four series of diagonal incisions along the blade's two cutting edges and the stem.

 Polished bone awl from the Late Woodland period with one end given a broad cylindrical shape that could have been used for attaching a haft.

Awl (Late Woodland)
Material: bone
Description: Polished bone awl with its proximal end given a broad cylindrical shape that could have been used for attaching a haft.

Polished bone needle from the Late Woodland period.

Needle (Late Woodland)
Material: bone
Description: Polished bone needle with an eye near its pointed distal end.

Beaver incisor chisel from the Late Woodland period used as a chisel or scraper.

Chisel (Late Woodland)
Material: bone (tooth)
Description: Beaver incisor used as a chisel or scraper.

Long bone object from the Late Woodland period whose function is unknown but might have been used as a hairpin or an instrument for decorating pottery.

Long object, function unknown (Late Woodland)
Material: bone
Description: Cylindrical polished bone rod with pointed ends, one of which is topped by a small rounded crest. The circumference of the rod is decorated with fine parallel incisions near the crest. The rod's uniform black colour was probably caused by exposure to intense heat. The object might be a hairpin or an instrument for decorating pottery.

Detachable bone harpoon from the Late Woodland period with seven unilateral barbs and a perforated base.

Harpoon (Late Woodland)
Material: bone
Description: Complete harpoon with seven unilateral barbs and a perforated base. The object appears to be a detachable harpoon head.

Bone projectile point from the Late Woodland period whose concave base is pierced by a hole into which a handle or rod could be inserted.

Projectile point (Late Woodland)
Material: bone
Description: Projectile point with convergent sides and a bevelled distal end. The middle of the point's concave base is pierced by a hole into which a handle or rod could be inserted. The base has two small, symmetrical, ear-like protuberances on its sides.