|Black chunkey stone at far right was found in Wilcox County, Ala.|
If you’re ever walking through a freshly plowed field or along a local creek, and you look down to see an old stone that resembles a hockey puck, you may have just found a rare Indian artifact known as a “chunkey” stone.
Chunkey (sometimes spelled “chunkee”) was an immensely popular sport among the ancient Indians of Alabama, and if you keep your eyes open, it’s still possible to find remnants of it today. Just about every sizeable Indian village had a chunkey field, an area of hard-packed dirt where two players would meet with two spears and a chunkey stone. Sources say that these prized, highly-polished stones were so venerated that they usually belonged to the entire village rather than an individual player.
A game of chunkey would begin when one of the players would roll the stone out onto the playing surface. Once the stone came to a stop, players would take turns throwing spears at the stone to see if they could hit it. The person whose spear hit the stone or landed closest to it would win the contest.
According to Wake Forest University historian Eric E. Browne, “historic accounts make it abundantly clear that chunkey played an integral role in southeastern Indian societies of the time. In many ways chunkey and other early games of the region played roles similar to those in contemporary societies, but they differed greatly in one important aspect—most included ritual or religious components.”
Games of chunkey attracted large crowds, and spectators often gambled heavily on the outcomes of these events. The rulers of different Indian groups and tribes also put a lot of stock in these contests, which were often held during annual ceremonies and observances like the Green Corn Ceremony. Indian athletes who excelled at chunkey were also considered celebrities among their people, and they were often depicted in Indian artwork.
Historians know that Indians played chunkey in Wilcox County because chunkey stones have been found within the county’s borders. In fact, the October 2004 issue of the Central States Archaeological Journal featured an article on chunkey stones and included a photo of one such stone from Wilcox County. That stone was made of black quartz and was in the collections of C.H. Baggerly and Bruce Butts of Winterville, Ga.
In preparation for this story, I attempted to reach out to Baggerly and Butts for more information about the Wilcox County chunkey stone, but I wasn’t able to make contact with them in a timely fashion. It’s possible that in the 16 years since the article and photo were published that one or both of these artifact collectors have passed away. If that’s the case, the Wilcox County chunkey stone could be in another collection or perhaps in a museum somewhere.
In the end, I would like to hear from anyone in the reading audience who has ever found a chunkey stone (or any other interesting Indian artifact) in Wilcox County. Also, if anyone has information about the stone in the Baggerly-Butts collection, please let me know. It would be interesting to know how and where it was found and where it resides today.