Bone Beamers

The bone beamer is found at a number of Oklahoma archaeological sites, especially those representing the Washita River focus in central and western Oklahoma. The beamer was used during the hide tanning process to scrape the skins or hides which were laid over a small pole or similar support. The tool was used in a fashion similar to a modern steel draw-knife by holding one end in each hand and then scraping the hide in a pushing or pulling motion.

Most of the beamers which have been found were broken in half because of strain on the weak mid-section of the implement. Unbroken specimens or broken ones that can be fitted together give some indication of the manufacturing process. Most beamers are made from the cannon bone of the deer, which is well suited for this tool. In making the beamer, a groove or elliptical slot was rubbed into the bone shaft from the dorsal side until about one-third of the central part of the bone shaft had been removed. The interior edges of the bone shaft were then beveled on each side of the remaining portion of bone to form two sharp edges. These edges provided the scraping


portion of the beamer which became more and more concave at the center with continued usage. Resharpening of the scraping edges was done by grinding with an abrader or they were sometimes trimmed with a small hammerstone. Extensive wear and resharpening of the beamer edges reduced the amount of the shaft area available, and the beamer would eventually break in two as a result of this weakness. Examples of bone beamers are shown in Figure 30.

The beamer is sometimes confused with unfinished bone awls, especially on Washita River sites where the deer cannon bone was also used for making bone awls. In making bone awls, the cannon bone was grooved lengthwise and then snapped in half; this half section was then quartered so that four awls could be made from a single bone. Some specimens, either unfinished or perhaps broken during manufacture, especially half sections, may resemble beamers. The unfinished awl sections, however, will not display the concave outline, the beveled scraping edge, or evidence of wear and polish of the working surface.

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