For thousands of years before European contact, Native Americans used stone to create many of the tools that were used in their everyday lives.
Not all types of stone are suitable for making tools, and different locations across the country had different raw materials present. Chert, silicified sandstone (sometimes called “sugar quartz” by local residents today), and natural quartz were commonly used for thousands of years by the ancient peoples of Wisconsin before being gradually replaced by metal tools imported by colonists.
In the Driftless Area, including Fort McCoy, suitable stone was most often obtained from the ground surface in the vicinity of, or downhill from, bedrock limestone or sandstone outcrops.
Raw material could be quarried directly from the outcrops themselves, but this was more labor intensive than picking up suitable material off the ground. Chert and silicified sandstone were the most frequently used material for making tools at Fort McCoy.
With appropriate material in hand, tools were fashioned through a process known as flint-knapping. This involves striking pieces of stone in a controlled and precise way to remove excess material and thereby create tools. Examples of tools created and used by pre-contact people around the country include spear and arrow points, knives, drills, awls, and scrapers.
Scrapers are most often associated with animal hide processing, used to scrape fat and muscle tissue off the inside of animal hides as part of the process of turning them into clothing. They were also used for processing vegetables and working other plants, wood, and bone.
Scrapers are beveled tools created to have one side of the tool edge sharpened instead of both sides. They would sometimes be much thicker and have steeper edges when compared to the thin cross section of a tool created specifically for cutting.
Scrapers have been found at dozens of pre-contact sites at Fort McCoy and are frequently attributed to temporary hunting campsites and village sites which can be either temporary or more permanent.
Scrapers have been found at sites which date to every discrete time period defined at Fort McCoy and have been made out of every kind of stone recovered from archaeological sites across the installation. They vary from thumbnail sized tools to large scrapers larger than the palm of the hand.
Scrapers could be held in the palm of the hand, between a thumb and forefinger, but were likely most often attached (or hafted) to a piece of wood, bone, or antler for a handle. During the historic contact period of 1700-1840, toothed steel scrapers made of recycled flintlock gun barrels were often used by Native Americans as a replacement for the earlier stone scrapers.
There are two primary classes of stone scraping tools — side scrapers and end scrapers. Side scrapers have a longer tool edge and tend to be larger in general than end scrapers, which usually have a steeper tool edge. The scraping edge can be straight or curved, depending on the need of the tool maker.
Some scraping tools have a notch, and this notch could be used to prepare arrow shafts. Scrapers were an important part of pre-contact tool kits for thousands of years and have been adding to our understanding of the early inhabitants of Fort McCoy for decades.
All archaeological work conducted at Fort McCoy was sponsored by the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch.
Visitors and employees are reminded they should not collect artifacts on Fort McCoy or other government lands and leave the digging to the professionals.
Any individual who excavates, removes, damages, or otherwise alters or defaces any post-contact or pre-contact site, artifact, or object of antiquity on Fort McCoy is in violation of federal law.
The discovery of any archaeological artifact should be reported to the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch at 608-388-8214.
(Article prepared by the Fort McCoy Archaeology Team, which includes the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch and partners with the Colorado State University’s Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands.)