Deer Jaw Sickle

Deer Jaw Sickles

Bone sickles for cutting grass, made from the lower jaw of deer, are found most commonly in central and western Oklahoma. Only one side of the jaw was used and this was lashed onto a wooden handle for service as a grass cutting tool. Actual examples of mounted specimens have been recovered intact from dry caves or rock shelters in the Ozarks area of Arkansas.

This tool was probably much more common than we realize for the bone was not modified or altered before being used as a sickle. It was merely mounted on a handle and placed in service; consequently, a specimen that has not been used very much appears indistinguishable from unutilized bones that were discarded as refuse. There are probably numerous examples of deer jaw sickles contained in faunal collections which do not show sufficient use wear to identify them as sickles. Many specimens, however, are well worn and highly polished from usage and these artifacts can be identified without difficulty (Figure 34).

The irregular surface of the adult deer's teeth provided a saw-like cutting edge for collecting tall grasses such as swamp grass that could be used for covering grass houses or thatching a house roof. Utilization as a sickle is indicated by wear and polishing, on the tooth-


bearing portion of the bone, which was produced by contact with the plant materials, or by worn grooved areas produced by cordage or lashings used in mounting the sickle. The ascending ramus or articulating section of the jaw is usually not polished but sometimes it shows wear from the lashings.

Wear polish from usage is sometimes present on the teeth, but this is frequently difficult to see because of the enamel and natural attrition that takes place. The area of the jaw around the teeth, however, is usually highly polished on both sides of the bone. The incisor portion of the jaw is usually broken off back to the premolars leaving a crude pointed end which is well worn and smoothed over the irregular breaks.

Wear from lashings is usually represented by grooves rubbed into the bone and sometimes across the teeth with one groove immediately behind the last molar and a second one about 50 mm away by the premolar teeth. The lashing grooves are frequently very pronounced and deeply cut, not only on the bone, but sometimes on the teeth. The deer jaw sickle is commonly represented on Plains Village sites such as Washita River focus as well as on Caddoan and other late pottery bearing sites in Oklahoma.













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