Symbolic Stones

Today we use tools and weapons as symbols of cultural and social identity, and people in the past did likewise with stone tools. Once imbued with symbolic associations, the stone tool’s function often changed significantly.

A variety of ‘prestige’ stone tools can be found in the various categories used to sort the Museum of Stone Tool’s 3D models.  Prestige tools were imbued with symbolic meaning, and were often larger, made of better stone, or were more carefully flaked than their mundane counterparts. In some cases they are designs all of their own, with no equivalent functional tool. Once imbued with symbolic associations, the function of a stone tool often changed significantly, or became irrelevant altogether.

Prestige goods may have been carried as symbols, used to cement trade relations, or were buried with the dead or in ritual caches or hoards.  Some archaeologists have proposed that the process of manufacture of prestige stone tools was itself loaded with symbolism, in a manner similar to sword-making in Japan.

Various cultural groups in New Guinea today often carry finely-made stone axes in dances and ritual display.  These axes are not intended for use.  They also make large, elongated, and carefully ground and polished stones—often decorated with grass skirts and shells, fur, feathers, or pig tusks—to serve as display and exchange stones.  In the Kimberley region of Western Australia, large, expertly-flaked stone or glass prestige spearpoints were important commodities in the wunan exchange cycle.

Indonesian axe engraved

Stone Axe Talisman

Stone axe, drilled, China

Fu Axe

Jadeite pendant Russia


Adze from Laos with wrapping

Stone Adze Talisman

Alunda Moose, Sweden

Ceremonial Battle Axe

Painted pebble, France

Painted Pebble

Engraved hammerstone, Scotland

Pilgrims Stone

arrowhead fetish

Arrowhead Fetish

Birdstone North Carolina


Eccentric, Guatemala


Engraved pebble, North Carolina

Engraved Pebble

Engraved pendant, USA

Engraved Pendant

Gorget broken NC


Gorget NC


River cobble in mesh bag

Power Stone