A hammer has always been known as the king of tools. Over the last 100,000 years, there has been a natural evolution from using the clenched fist of an extended arm to a rock to a purpose-built striking implement. Grasping a tool in the hand or attaching it to a rudimentary handle creates endless potential applications when you consider the multiplication of force that is possible. The issue is only the material used in the construction of the striking portion and the expected results when using different natural materials. In this particular case, it is a form of stone.
The indigenous peoples of North and South America had highly developed skills that ensured their continued existence for at least 10,000 years, prior to first contact. Depending on the region, the inhabitants developed various tools needed to live in their natural surroundings. In the eastern part of North America, structures and utensils were usually adaptations of naturally found resources. The bark canoe is a good example. The natural materials used were modified to their final form with some basic manipulation. The peoples of the plains had the buffalo to use as their main resource. Along the coast of Western Canada, the various First Nations had a strong affinity to the sea and forest. The cedar forests dictated that tools be made to work the wood of these giant trees. Items were created using bone and stone. Again, the environment determined what was used. In all cases, a strong sense of renewal and conservation was part of the doctrine.
These shaped hammer stones, sometimes called hand mauls, were collected in lower British Columbia, specifically at Whonnock Lake and Mount Lehman. These sites are on opposite sides of the Fraser River. The hammer stones are claimed to be from the Coast Salish. They could be used for pounding or as the driver in conjunction with a second tool (chisel, splitting wedge). Obviously old and very good examples of the style, they have been well used (note the chipping) and are a link to items used in day-to-day life before the availability of iron implements after first contact. We have no idea of actual age, but the attached tags claim circa 1800. We think this pair is much older. In fact, we have no information on how or when they made the trip east to be included in the Lee Valley antique tool collection.
D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Now retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.