Makah Cultural and Research Center Online Museum


Adze toolWith tools, men transformed wood into the daily and ceremonial items needed for village life. Wedges and mauls, chisels, knives, and gouges gave shape to house planks and canoes, harpoon shafts and fishhooks, looms for weaving and bowls for feasting. Elders remember that nobody disturbed a man's tools. They carried spirit power, as well as utilitarian purpose.

Blades were of shell, tooth, bone, stone, and metal. Probably the metal - iron and steel - drifted across the Pacific Ocean on Japanese junks borne by the current. Such shipwrecks have washed onto Makah beaches in historic times; they must have also done so in the distant past. Japan is known to have had steel by the eighth century A.D., so it would be a reasonable source of early steel here. The likelihood of Asian drift is further borne out by bamboo also present in the buried houses. On the other hand, lengths of copper - found bundled in cedarbark - probably came by a different means. Most likely is trade from the north. Laboratory analysis may pinpoint sources of the metal.

Only two of the metal blades have escaped the destruction of rust. The shape of a third can be known by the outline it left in the mud. This one is a large knife, probably used for cutting blubber and maybe also for defense; it was found under a bed along with some clubs. Its sheer size suggests that metal blades weren't terribly rare. If they were, they probably would have been made into several smaller blades.

Excellent woodworking didn't depend on the metal blades. Sharpened mussel shell, beaver teeth, and bone provided efficient blades and drill points. Broken stone gave a sharp edge that could be used directly, or retouched by flaking or grinding.

Precise knowledge of available woods contributed to development of the various tools, each suited to specific functions. Wedges of wood, antler, and whalebone were used to split redcedar. Pounding with a cobble from the beach could supply the force for driving the wedges - and also chisels - or immense labor could go into shaping and smoothing a maul of heavy black basalt, a material brought to the Ozette beach from Canada by ice-age glaciers. Adzes got needed weight from whalebone handles; or from heavy blades of stone or metal. Knife blades and drill points were set into handles of wood, which were easy to split and bind, assuring a secure haft.

^ top

All content for this exhibit is © Makah Cultural and Research Center.

The Community Museum is a project of community organizations and Tribes across the Olympic Peninsula, and the University of Washington.
Support for the project comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Preston, Gates and Ellis, LLP.