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Impearls: HIC 4.14: Tools

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Tools   by A. L. Kroeber

The Yurok were tolerable workmen, but possessed few tools.

Logs and planks were split with wedges of elk horn from a few inches to a foot and a half in length.  Some of these were nearly flat, others sharply curved, according to the intended use.  The edge was produced by rubbing on stone.

The wedges were driven with pear-shaped mauls, 6 to 8 inches in height, of basalt or mottled metamorphic rock.  They are usually quite symmetrical and sometimes beautifully finished.  Most California tribes were content with convenient stones.  These mauls were one of two kinds of tools on which the Yurok bestowed much care.  (Pl. 19.)

The other was the stone handle of the adze.  The blade of this is declared to have been of heavy mussel shell.  The handle was 6 to 10 inches long, curved up at the end, sometimes with a taper that seems almost too delicate for use.  The other end was cut away to receive the butt of the blade, which was lashed on.  (Pl. 19.)  Most pieces bear two or three ridges or grooves to hold the lashings from slipping.  Sometimes the handle end curls but slightly or is blunt and straight; but such pieces have probably been worked over after a break.  Steel very early replaced the shell blades, but the stone handles continued in use as long as any members of the generation of discovery remained alive.  This implement is restricted to the region in which the Yurok type of culture prevailed, but, like most of the distinctive utensils that withstand time, existed there in prehistoric times.

It is doubtful with what the Yurok did their finer wood carving, as on the acorn mush stirrers.  Elk-horn spoons had their designs rubbed into form with sandstone.  Purses, of the same material but hollow, must have been gouged with a sharper tool.  The method of boring pipes of hard wood and stone is also unascertained.

The old skin-dressing tools were quickly superseded by steel blades.  It does not seem that there were well-formed implements for this purpose, else at least the handles would have been preserved.  It is rather likely that a rock was broken to convenient shape, or a bone rubbed down.  The Hupa tell somewhat indefinitely of scrapers of stone and deer rib.  The only part of the aboriginal technique that has survived is the rubbing of deer brains into the hide.  These are preserved in cakes of moss, which are soaked before use.  The process softens the skin.  True tanning was, of course, unknown.

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