Net Weight Manufacture and Use in the Pacific Northwest

Blog and Videos by Archaeological Investigations Northwest, Inc.

Indigenous Fishing in the Northwest

For much of their history in the Pacific Northwest, Indigenous people have used nets to catch fish in rivers.  Various styles of fishing nets were used for different environments (riverine, reef, lake) and types of fish.  The base of the fishing net was held in place with stone net weights.  At the water’s surface, nets were supported with wooden floats.  The gauge, or space between the cordage in the net, was carefully planned to catch specific fish.  Different gauge sizes at different levels of the net allowed people to capture fish that swim at different depths. Salmon, the most important fish species in the region, were caught in large quantities to be stored and eaten throughout the year when other foods were scarce.

net weight illustration by AINW
Experimental replicas of different styles of net weights

Experimental replicas of different  styles of net weights

Net Weights

Net weights are made by pecking, grinding, or flaking a rock so they can be tied with cordage.  Perforated, notched, and grooved or banded net weights are common in this region.  The size of the net weights depended on their function.  Smaller net weights kept the fishing net vertical, while larger net weights served as anchor stones and would keep the net from drifting downstream.  The size and number of net weights depended on the speed of the water current.  In swift currents, more and heavier net weights were needed to keep the net in place.

Cobble Choppers
  • Based on ethnographic accounts and experimental tool replication, cobble choppers were often used to make ground stone tools, such as net weights. Cobble choppers and the flakes removed during resharpening can help us understand ground stone tools even if ground stone artifacts are not found.
  • A cobble chopper is a hand-held tool made from a river cobble by removing flakes. A hammerstone, which is another stronger rock, was used to hit the cobble to break off pieces, creating a sharp edge. After use, the working edge of the cobble chopper gets dull and blunt.  To resharpen it, more flakes were removed.
Experimental replicas of cobble choppers

Experimental replicas of cobble choppers

Making a Cobble Chopper

Making a Net Weight

Making Cordage

Indigenous people made cord, twine, and rope from a variety of fibrous plants throughout the world. Cordage was used in numerous ways from clothes and tools, to fishnets and bow strings.

 

You can make rope or natural cordage from many different fibers including dogbane, milkweed, nettles, hemp, flax, cattail, yucca, agave, iris, willow, maple, cedar, lupine, tule, and straw.

 

Each type of material has specific requirements for extracting and preparing the fibers (which typically involves crushing the leaves, roots, or shoots and pulling out the stringy strands of fiber).

Cordage
Long strands of cedar bark and a cute dog

Long strands of cedar bark were used for our net weight cordage

cordage fibers drying

The fibers had been dried and needed to be reconstituted

fiber soaking in a bucket of water

The fibers were placed in a bucket of water

a rock being placed into a bucket

A rock was used to ensure all the fibers were submerged in the water

fiber soaking in a bucket of water

The fibers were soaked for 3 hours

cordage drying and a cute dog

The fibers were then laid out before beginning to make the cordage

Making Two-ply Cordage

Tying it Together
  • Often, only stone artifacts are left for us to find in the archaeological record.

 

  • Experimental replication of net weights and cordage helps us understand how these items may have been used together in the past.
a net weight tied with cordage
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