Ceremonial Stemmed Axes, Spuds or Spatulas


 Cer stem axe 


            Over the years, there ceremonial axe, as Emma Fundaburk (1957) called it, has also been referred to as a “stemmed axe” by T.M.N Lewis and Madeline Kneberg (1995) in their survey of the Chickamauga Basin, and a “Spatulate form of Axe” by William Webb and David DeJarnette[i]. Whatever name you choose to call it, this form of axe was never intended for utilitarian use given its consistently undamaged, smooth round bit and finely finished form. The axes seem to have been hafted as indicated by the organic stains left on the surface of some examples. The perforations that sometimes appear in the upper center of the axes also seem to have played a part in that hafting. The axe heads usually measure between 4.25 and 7 inches in length and something less than ½ inches in thickness. The example at the lower left is the thickest I have seen at nearly 2 inches. The materials used in making these axes varies from hard and brittle to soft limestone, yet they are never found chipped or damaged in any way.

            Lewis and Kneberg described their “Stemmed Axes,” sometimes also called “spuds” as bitted artifacts showing a sharp, double-beveled edge at the curved end. The rectangular projection at the opposite end, judging from the pended C.B. Moore recovered at Moundville in 1905. Lewis and Kneberg encountered several Stemmed Axes during their survey of the Chickamauga Basin that they ascribed to the Mouse Creek focus between 1300 and 1600 A.D.

Moore’s illustration of stains left by hafting materials indicates a handle, probably of some reasonable length, that was positioned perpendicular to the face of the axe immediately above the perforation, if there was one, for the purpose of securing the handle (see above right). .One example of this staining was recovered by Moore from burial 79 in the mound at the Thirty-Acre-Field site in Montgomery County, Alabama. The axe had multiple unsuccessful attempts at drilling and had a clear stain just above those attempts. The axe was 5.3 inches long and 4.5 inches wide at its maximum width.

Spud Cahokiaspud ga ButtsSpud Kevin Dowdyspud maconSpud MoundvilleSpud NCSpud3Bruce Butts

            A second style of ceremonial axe, more often referred to as a “spud,” and by collectors as a “rat-tail spud” is similar in form to the shorter stemmed version, except that the truncated stem is extended to more extreme lengths. Moore recovered a copper example of this ceremonial axe form from mound D at Moundville. The axe was 14.25 inches long and 1.5 inches wide and had a remnant of the wooden handle still attached to it. The grain of the wood seems to have run perpendicular to and across the face of the axe face. There was no perforation in any of the copper axes recovered at this site. A second example of a copper ceremonial axe of similar size and shape was recovered from mound C at Moundville by Moore. Stone examples of these axes have been recovered at the Etowah Indian Mounds, Cahokia, and at the Spiro Mounds.

The long handles extending from these axe heads may suggest a hafting configuration other than the one suggested by Moore. A Shell pendent recovered by Moore at Moundville may also suggest yet another configuration for hafting that appears more like a utilitarian axe or a monolithic axe form (above right). This suggested configuration was supported by the recovery of another copper ceremonial axe from mound C at Moundville. This example had an even larger section of wooden hafting material still fastened to the axe blade in the same position as the first hafting had been.

Moor had recovered a long-handle example of a ceremonial axe at the Mt. Royal site in Putnam County, Florida. The smaller of the polished claystone implements had four notches along either side of the rounded bit of the axe. It measured 9.5 inches in length. The larger, an 11.6 inch example, came from the center of the mound. The tally marks or notches, which usually agree on either side of the bit were, in this case uneven with eight on one side and ten on the other side.

All of these recoveries are connected to the Middle to Late Mississippian period. At sites from various places across the eastern United States, all seem to be ceremonial implements of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.


[i] Webb, William S. and David L. DeJarnette

1942       An Archaeological Survey of Pickwick Basin in the Adjacent Portions of the States of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee