Ear spools from the Spiro Mounds Site
Stone ear spools are found in eastern Oklahoma associated with the Caddoan occupations. They are principally associated with the Harlan and Spiro phases of the Arkansas valley region, although examples are known from other localities. Some specimens have been found in the Red River valley as well as westward onto the Plains as far as Oklahoma City. Although occasionally found as surface specimens, they are usually found as grave offerings accompanying individuals of high status. They were probably worn only by certain persons of high rank or authority within the social structure.
Stone ear ornaments can be roughly divided into two forms: a circular band similar in shape to a napkin ring and a pulley-shaped ear spool. The latter form is more characteristic and is the type discussed here (Figure 26). The napkin ring style is less common in Oklahoma although it does sometimes occur in conjunction with the pulley-shaped specimens. It should also be noted that similar ear ornaments were sometimes made of other materials such as wood or combinations of wood and shell. Most specimens are made of a fine grained sandstone and have a diameter falling between 40 mm and 80 mm. The pulley-shaped ear spools are composed of two circular disks connected by a short spool section to form an artifact resembling a pulley. Most of the specimens also have a perforation extending through the central spool portion although unperforated examples also occur. The outer face of the ear spool is slightly larger than the inner face and, if it has been
decorated, the decoration occurs on the outer face. This surface was frequently covered with a thin copper sheet or veneer which was crimped over the edge of the disk to hold it in place. The decorations cut into the outer face of the ear spools show great variation. These include various designs ranging from simple geometric patterns to profile portraits of human figures, and some decorations consist of variations in the surface produced by a low relief style design or by otherwise altering the flattened surface. The ear spools occur in matched pairs, one for each ear, and they are commonly seen in the engraved shell figures being worn at the ear position. The ornament was apparently worn by inserting the inner spool through a slit or hole in the ear lobe which had been sufficiently stretched to accommodate the ear spool.
Fieldwork at the Harlan site suggests that the earlier ear spools were smaller in size and without any decoration on the outer face, other than a possible copper veneer. The later ear spools are larger in diameter and are more likely to contain incised designs or patterns on the outer spool face. The latest of the ear spools, known as the Foster type, lack the central perforation and have a wide groove which extends across the central portion of the inner face, dividing it in two sections.
The pulley-shaped stone ear spools were in use in Oklahoma during the period from approximately AD 1100 to AD 1400.