Artifact of the Month: The Bird Pipe

Excavations by the TRCA Archaeology team at the Seed-Barker site have uncovered many interesting artifacts, as well as information about the people who once inhabited the site. One of the most intriguing of these is a groundstone smoking pipe: the Bird Pipe.

The majority of smoking pipes recovered from this time period, and from the Seed-Barker site itself, were manufactured from local river clay. This material is easy to shape and can be quickly formed into many shapes as required. However, the manufacture of this specific pipe is quite unusual.

photograph of bird pipe archaeological artifact Length: 72.3 mm
Width: 29.8 mm
Material: Banded Slate
Time Period: Late Woodland
Date: AD 1530 – 1560

The Bird Pipe was created in the form of a bird and was shaped from banded slate. The shaping of this artifact would have taken many hours to rough out, grind down and then polish to a smooth surface. The time required to make the pipe and the quality of the craftsmanship suggests that it was of great importance to its owner.

Unlike many clay pipes, this pipe would have used a detachable stem for inhalation during smoking. A socket was carved into the back of the pipe which connects to the bowl, where tobacco would have been added. This socket was to allow for the insertion of the stem while in use and its removal when not in use, and possibly also for easier cleaning.

photographs of bird pipe archaeological artifact

Another interesting feature of this pipe is a small drilled hole through what appears to be the feet of the bird. This hole could have been used to tie the pipe to a string, allowing for it to be carried around the neck or fastened to another item. Whether this was intended to replicate the grasping nature of a bird’s foot is difficult to tell and may simply be coincidence.

The exact type of bird that the pipe is modeled on is not known but would likely have been a local species, possibly of significance to its owner.

By Scott Eckford

The 40th season of TRCA’s Boyd Archaeological Field School takes place from July 14-30, 2017 at the Claremont Field Centre in Pickering, Ontario. Students can earn an Ontario High School Credit in two weeks, doing real archaeology.

Openings are still available. REGISTER NOW!