NORTH AMERICA

Adena Mounds of Kentucky

Stone Tablet.  The Gaitskill stone tablet recovered from the Gaitskill mound in Montgomery County, Kentucky is one of the best known iconographically elaborated artifacts from an Adena site. This tablet, the Gaitskill clay tablet, and the Wright tablet were all recovered from this one area of Kentucky. The Gaitskill stone tablet is about 9.2 cm on one side by 8.1 cm along the longest side, and 1.6 cm thick.  The carefully made image is carved on one side only, with the obverse possibly being used as grindstone or sharpening stone. The image is interpreted to represent a spider, although as is common in Adena iconography, there also appears to be a visual pun, in that the back of the spider is also a human face.  Such visual puns, and plays on shapes to produce different or complex readings of the same image occur on all the carved Adena tablets.  This specimen was retrieved in the 1920s from a mound in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, which is otherwise undocumented.  The image is carved intaglio, that is, excess material is removed to leave the shape as a raised area on the tablet. Although commonly interpreted as a spider, it is not anatomically correct, having three sets of paired "legs" on either side of the central body.  An alternative interpretation of the image is that the "face" on the spider body may represent a death's head, as the eyes lack pupils, and are represented by wide, empty circles, and the mouth is indicated by pointed (filed?) teeth.  An extension from the forehead or forelock to form a nasal opening is also represented.  The image may represented a decorated skull, with some or all of the "legs" representing copper or mica crescents attached as a headdress.  However, the tablet is clearly not intended as a representational image.  
By James Fenton and Richard Jefferies.

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