Much of our Cambridge, Vermont Serpentine was brought here intentionally and its journey began thousands of years ago. This conclusion presented itself to Silvio with great clarity as he has fished out serpentine from local riverbeds for more than a year now.
“Many of these stones were clearly cut and shaped by hand, not by the tumbling action of the river,” observes Silvio. “Stones that were harvested to make tools are shaped in very specific ways. This is true around the world. All of them have key features that are not found in river-tumbled rocks.”
River-tumbled serpentine is typically rounder in shape. This clearly indicates shaping by tumbling over time. Serpentine used as a tool is both angular and polished and has the distinctive shape of a rock that was chipped away from a larger core. This is an important observation, for it is precisely what happened.
America’s Native Tribesmen, who were also nomads, would find large cores of rocks they deemed suitable for tool-making and take them along for the journey so they could fashion the arrowheads, knives, scrapers and burnishers they needed along the way. Pieces were chipped away from the main core using a technique we now call “projectile percussion.” This very apt terminology speaks for itself. You can imagine the process. This is precisely what gives stone tools their unmistakable shape.
Incidentally, core stones can be identified for the same reasons. In this case the configuration left behind in the core is known as a “conchoidal fracture.” Again, these very words provide an image that is most suitable. Consider the Greek origin: mussel-like. The fracturing process leaves a “shell-like” depression behind, almost as if an imbedded fossil had been peeled away from its resting place. This, too, is characteristic of human intervention.
These tools were used for cutting, scraping – such as when removing fur from a hide – or for burnishing, the rubbing technique used for smoothing out surfaces. They are small and fit nicely against two fingers and the thumb. When you hold them, they immediately fit naturally.
“The serpentine tools I have found are not native of Cambridge. They seem to be of ‘higher quality’ and were probably highly valued possessions. The cores were likely picked up in other serpentine-rich areas, like today’s Elmore, Hyde Park and Eden, and brought here over time as tribes traveled back and forth in the entire region. There has been known human activity on our continent for well over 20,000 years,” suggests Silvio.
Exhausted cores and worn out stone tools were left behind at campsites, along river shores. Rising, rushing river waters have done their own chipping away over centuries, eroding and dismantling old camp sites along the banks and carrying tools downstream.
These cultures also placed high value on natural elements they used as personal ornaments. They would surely appreciate that their painstakingly fashioned tools inspire valued, personal ornaments today.