Artifacts recovered from prehistoric archaelogical sites, especially stone tools and ceramic pots, contain vital information about the living habits and age of Native American cultures. If the soil conditions allow, other materials - such as wood, bone, shell, textiles and environmental evidence - can also survive to give a more complete picture of Native American life. The scientific study of artifacts works alongside present-day Native American cultural traditions to help us understand human existence in North America before European colonization.
Many stone tools, notably spear points and arrowheads, use carefully selected raw materials and have distinctive shapes. The shape and style of stone tools often reflect how they were made and used and can signify a particular cultural tradition. Changes in shape and style can be traced over time and used as a means of dating archaeological sites.
Native Americans first made storage and cooking pots out of organic materials, like wood, hide and reeds, and soft, easily carved rock such as steatite (soapstone). Ceramic pots formed from slabs or coils of clay and then fired to hold their shape were introduced in the Woodland Period. Styles of manufacture and decoration evident in Native American pottery are useful in distinguishing cultural groups and tracing trade.
Links to learn more - New Jersey State Museum, Trenton; Rankokus Reservation, Westampton Township