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Mississippian and Maya Eccentric Flints

Researched by Josh Williams

While “eccentric flints” is the most commonly used name for unusual points, these are more accurately called “eccentric points,” as they are not only made of flint but also chert, obsidian, and any of the other materials generally used to make Native American points. Eccentric points deviate from typical points, however, because they are not functional as the usual spear points, arrowheads, or knives. Instead, these are points that show the virtuosity of the flintknappers who made them; they take the form of delicate effigies of animals, plants, deities, or objects. While some of the sharper and more regularly shaped eccentric points may have been used occasionally as ceremonial knives, the many decorative ridges and barbs on most eccentrics make them impractical for cutting, indicating that their function was primarily decorative and symbolic. The notches and knobs that also appear on many small eccentric points suggest that these were secured to clothing, perhaps as badges of membership or achievement. Stems on other eccentrics suggest that they were held or fastened to handles, perhaps for use as symbols of status.

Eccentric points from the Mississippian cultures of North America tend to be made most commonly of chert, an abundant stone typically used for functional points. The eccentric points in the History Museum for Springfield-Greene County collection take the form of an elaborate knife, stars, and various animal forms, including two bison skulls with many added barbs and flares. These points also illustrate how Mississippian eccentrics tend to be relatively small in comparison to Mesoamerican eccentrics; however, their size stands testimony to the skill of the Mississippian flintknappers, who created these elaborate points exclusively in miniature form.

Maya eccentric points range from small chert images very much like the Mississippian points, to very large obsidian objects well over a foot in height. Some large Maya eccentrics take the form of ritual knives, distinguished from purely functional Maya knives by many added flourishes such as cut-outs and decorative barbs. A distinctly Maya form is the eccentric “scepter,” which incorporates carefully flaked profiles of anthropomorphic deities. The “scepters” also usually have handle shapes at the bottom, but if these eccentrics did indeed function as scepters, or hand-held symbols of office, the handle shapes were likely wrapped or fastened to another handle, as the sides are too sharp to be held without cutting one’s hand.

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