This chert eccentric biface was made by the Wyandot First Nations flintknapper, Mack Tussinger (1896-1963) of Spavinaw, Oklahoma. Tussinger made these eccentrics by re-flaking ancient points and sold them to collectors.
The eccentric in this model was purchased directly from Mack Tussinger in ca. 1940-1950. It was made from a large, relatively thick biface, probably made from Burlington chert. The faces of the biface are specked with oxidised iron deposits, attesting to the age of the bifacial blank. The expanded notches are typical of the Tussinger style. They show stacked compression rings and considerable crushing, consistent with indirect percussion. The corner notches were also made by Tussinger. An artificial black wash, to simulate age, is concentrated on the margins and inside the notches, as observed by Ellis. An unidentified calcium-like coating is also inside the notches and appears to be deposited over the black wash. The calcium-like deposit effectively covers the areas where metal toolmarks might be found, which may explain why Clements and Ellis failed to find toolmarks in their analyses of Tussinger eccentrics.
In 1926, Mack Tussinger, a sharecropper and member of the Wyandot First Nations people, reported the discovery of a cache of 3500 eccentrics in a low ceremonial mound in the northeast corner of Oklahoma. The mound measured 25 feet in diameter and four feet high, and was located on a terrace of the Elk River. At the time, Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma—a ceremonial complex of the Caddoan Mississippian culture—was being dug by treasure hunters who had bought the rights to Craig Mound, mining some of the most extraordinary Native American artefacts ever found in the United States. The artefacts were sold to collectors throughout North America and Europe, with the proceeds presumably supporting the excavators’ families through the Great Depression. Tussinger’s discovery was considered plausible in this context, and the elaborately-shaped eccentrics were similar to Mayan and Aztec eccentrics known from Mesoamerica.
Tussinger claimed that the eccentrics were in a pile about four feet deep between the skulls of six burials interred with their heads together, like the spokes of a wheel. Tussinger said he collected them, carried them home, sorted them by size, and buried them in several locations in his garden (and perhaps elsewhere) for safekeeping. He would dip into these buried caches as necessary to supply the market. From 1926-1931 Tussinger sold about 800 eccentrics to a collector in Seneca, Missouri, but in 1931, at the heart of the Great Depression, he was without paid work and decided to expand his market. The collector Alfred Reed purchased 900 of the eccentrics and, uncomfortable about their context and authenticity, asked archaeologists to study them closely. Reed purchased them for up to $10 each, but averaging about $1.50 each, or a total of ca. $1350. This is the equivalent of about $26,000 in 2022 dollars. Tussinger also sold the eccentrics to other collectors, and by 1937 they were mostly sold through a partnership with a gas station owner on US Route 66 near Baxter Springs, Kansas. The first eccentrics sold by Tussinger were small and relatively simple, but larger and more elaborate specimens, from a wider variety of flint, were sold later. By 1939 Tussinger claimed to have no more eccentrics left to sell, with 2100 accounted for in three collections and the remainder presumably dispersed to tourists along the highway. By 1939, individual eccentrics were sold for up to $50 each. Tussinger reportedly sold eccentrics in small quantities until his death in 1963.
In 1936 the anthropologist Forrest E. Clements, an expert on Spiro Mounds, went with Reed to the site where Tussinger claimed to have recovered the eccentrics. The mound at that time was a ‘barely perceptible rise’ in a plowed field. With Tussinger in attendance, they conducted a small excavation with professional archaeologists from the Oklahoma State Archaeological Society and found disturbed earth below the plow zone, including one eccentric and human bone fragments. Clements then leased the site from landowner and a professional team from the University of Oklahoma was commissioned to completely excavate the site. The team discovered large disturbed areas below the plow zone from previous digging, including bones from disturbed human burials and six more eccentrics, mostly near the surface. The excavators determined that the eccentrics were deposited above late prehistoric artefacts at the site, including projectile points and pottery, but the considerable disturbance complicated the interpretations.
Clements next turned to the eccentrics themselves. He cursorily inspected 200 of them with a microscope and suggested that the patination and lack of metal tonolmarks suggested that they were authentic artefacts. However, he (and coauthor Reed) qualified their assessment, noting in a 1940 article that the context of the finds was ‘unsatisfactory’ and worthy of further investigation. Clements sought a second opinion from H. Holmes Ellis, the directory of the Lithic Laboratory of the the Ohio Historical Society (in 1941 Ellis employed the flinknapper Don Crabtree in his influential review of flintknapping techniques). The famous archaeologist Henry Shetrone assisted Ellis in the analysis. A sample of 200 eccentrics from Reed’s collection were studied closely, a further 1000 eccentrics were ‘handled’, and photographs of 1500 more were ‘scrutinised’. They concluded the eccentrics were fraudulent because 1) they were a one-off find that failed to conform with the archaeological record of the region; 2) the eccentrics were modifications of ‘typical’ projectile points from the region; 3) embedded termination stubs, referred to as ‘scales’, were discovered on 96.8% of the eccentrics, but are far less common on ancient artefacts; 4) patinated surfaces were intruded by fresh notches on 94.8% of the eccentrics (they report that Tussinger, while not a collector himself, was purchasing ancient artefacts from Illinois and Arkansas); 5) discolouration concentrated in the notches and could be washed off with an acetone solvent, suggesting that it was a glue or resin; and 6) the stone under the scales appeared fresh and unpatinated. Ellis acknowledged Tussinger’s skill in passing, stating that ‘it is difficult to believe that the intricate notching of the Tussinger specimens could be readily duplicated by other fabricators.’
Despite Ellis’s conclusion, the authenticity of the Tussinger eccentrics was vociferously argued across the ensuing decades, most notably by Claude U. Stone, who purchased a large collection of the Tussinger eccentrics. ‘Judge’ Stone, a lawyer and former US Congressman, was a prominent artefact collector and the president of the Illinois State Archaeological Society. In a 1948 editorial, he suggested that Ellis’s analysis was an ‘injustice’ claiming that the eccentrics are ‘virtually identical’ to eccentrics from Guatemala, and similar to eccentrics found throughout Central America, England, Western Europe, and the Spiro Mounds. Stone also noted that metal toolmarks were not observed on the eccentrics, and ‘many affidavits’ attested to their authenticity. Explicitly invoking his background as a lawyer, Stone said that Ellis’s analysis ‘ignores all competent evidence’ and is ‘irrelevant’ and ‘immaterial’, concluding that ‘there should be a reinquiry into this question.’ In the same editorial, Stone laments the ‘chill that was produced when a professional Archaeologist’ brands an artefact as a fake, and goes on to defend the authenticity of the Kensington Stone, now widely accepted as a forgery.
In a 2018 update, archaeologists from Sarbonne University analysed 27 Tussinger eccentrics collected ca. 1930-1954 by Colonel Louis Vésigné, now curated in the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. Using modern methods, they confirmed most of Ellis’s original conclusions, and also identified and photographed oxidised iron tool marks left behind by the metal pressure flaker used to make the notches.
Tussinger’s skill, artistry, and creativity is widely recognised and admired by the modern flintknapping community. The size and nature of the flake scars on many specimens suggests that he used both pressure and indirect percussion to make the intricate notches. The largest and finest examples probably required many hours of work to make, and the most elaborate and delicate are referred to as ‘lace-work’. It appears that in addition to Mayan and Aztec eccentrics, Tussinger may have also invoked Egyptian designs; however, most of the designs are from Tussinger’s own imagination. Tussinger eccentrics are now highly desirable in their own right, and recently-made ‘fake’ Tussingers are beginning to emerge in marketplaces like eBay.