Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Winds of Eden and the American Lion

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When I was doing my research for Winds of Eden, the third prehistoric adventure book in my Shadows on the Trail Trilogy, I was searching for large predators that were around at the same time as the Folsom People in my books, sometime around 10,700 years ago. If you have read the first two books of the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy, you know how I like putting the Folsom People in precarious and unpredictable situations with some of the wilder wildlife of the Pleistocene.  

One of the most intriguing North American Pleistocene predators I found in my research was the 
Figure one. Reconstruction of an American Lion
(Panthera leo atrox).
American Lion or Panthera leo atrox. Its two distinguishing characteristics were its massive size and its long, slender limbs. Based on skeletal remains, Panthera leo atrox is estimated to have weighed on average between 390 to 520 pounds with larger specimens exceeding well over 700 pounds. Panthera leo atrox ranged in length from 5.3 to 8.2 feet long. Now, that was a big cat! Only European cave lions rivaled the American Lion’s size.  

Based on where paleontologists have found the skeletal remains of Panthera leo atrox, it appears that this large cat preferred living in open country. According to KurtĂ©n and Anderson in their remarkable book Pleistocene Mammals of North America, there is some evidence that Peloindians hunted American lions. Remains of Panthera leo atrox were found in a refuse pile in Jaguar Cave in Idaho where associated charcoal was radiocarbon-dated to 10,370 ± 350 years BP (age in years before
Figure two. Size comparison between human, African Lion and American Lion.
Courtesy of Animalgals.wordpress.com
1950). The extinction of Panthera leo atrox seemed to have occurred after that, around 10,000 years ago or near the end of the Pleistocene. This was well within the timeframe for when the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy took place. Perhaps the readers of Winds of Eden may see one or two of these American Lions in Winds of Eden. Who knows? Well, I know, but I am not telling.  

                                                      The genetic lineage of Panthera leo atrox is not without controversy. Based on skeletal remains, paleontologists continue to debate whether Panthera leo atrox was more lion-like or jaguar-like. In the first half of the last century, French paleontologist Marcellin Boule and German paleontologist Max Hilzheimer stated that Panthera leo atrox had a mosaic of features from both lions and jaguars, but that a consolidation of
Figure three. Skeleton from American Lion at the George C.
Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits.   
its features did not match any living species. Later in the century, John Merriam and Chester Stock proposed that after studying skulls from Panthera leo atrox, the mammal more closely resembled a jaguar than a lion. In the latest study, John M. Harris and Per Christianson focused on the cranium and jaws of Panthera leo atrox and proposed them to be more jaguar-like.

I am sure the debate will continue, but from my perspective, the bottom line is that Panthera leo atrox or the American Lion was appreciably larger and genetically different than both the living versions of the African lion and the South American jaguar. Since skeletal remains cannot directly tell us what the behavior and hunting habits of Panthera leo atrox were, I am going to assume a modern-day analogy to one of the most fierce open country predators, the African Lion.

Figure four. Skull of American Lion,
sixteen inches long, at the
National Museum of Natural History.
An adult male African lion stands three feet high at the shoulders and weighs between 350 to 440 pounds. This is a massive beast, but it is somewhat diminutive compared to the extinct Panthera leo atrox. In fact, the African Lion is twenty–five per cent smaller than the skeletal remains of Panthera leo atrox. African lion males have manes that vary in both color and fullness. The fur coats on African lions blend well in a semi-desert environment and their belly fur is usually paler as to neutralize shadows from the sun. In starlight, lions are gray and people have described them as ghostlike. There is no evidence whether the males of Panthera leo atrox had manes or what the coloration was for this extinct species.  

African lions are agile and graceful. A surprise rush is a critical factor in the success of a lion during a hunt. Once the lion has caught its prey, it uses its claws and forelimbs like grappling hooks to seize and drag the prey to their mouths. The African lion’s spine is supple enough to allow it to press its belly against the ground while arching its back like a bow in anticipation of leaping at its prey. The African Lion’s legs are powerful and they are able to leap over fences as tall as twelve feet. African lions can spring forward at distances of over forty feet and they can run in short bursts at over forty miles per hour. It is hard to imagine what the much larger Panthera leo atrox could have done. Like most carnivores, the African Lion has two pairs of bladelike carnassial teeth located about halfway between the front of the jaw and the jaw joint. The carnassial teeth work together like scissors, allowing lions and other carnivores to slice off strips of flesh.

One of the more frightening characteristics of African lions is that they live and hunt in prides, which typically consists of five females, two males, and their young. While females do most of the hunting, the male lions protect the pride and patrol the territory, always on the lookout for other males and marking their territory with urine.

Sight is the primary sense that African lions use to live and hunt. African lions are very opportunistic
Figure five. African Lion, King of the Living Beasts. 
and will hunt at any time of the day or night, but they prefer darkness since this provides them an optimal advantage. When the lion pride hunts together, they usually spread out along a front or semi-circle. Lions have a reflective layer at the back of their eye that amplifies light into the eyeballs. This reflective layer makes a lion’s eyes shine in the dark. An African lion’s pupil is oval to round, just like ours. Smell and hearing are the next mostly widely used senses used by African lions.  African lions obtain most of their needed water from the animals they eat. They can survive in desert climates as long as there are animals to eat.  

Did Panthera leo atrox live and hunt in prides? We do not know. Just imagine if you are a Paleoindian hunter in the Folsom People’s tribe and you are armed with only spears. Then imagine that you bump into a solitary Panthera leo atrox or maybe even a pride of Panthera leo atrox? That would be a truly frightening experience. Read Winds of Eden and find out what happens. The first two books of the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy are also available! Click to order!          

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ghosts of the Heart and Ultrathin Knife Forms

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If you have read the first two books of my Shadows on the Trail TrilogyShadows on the Trail and Ghosts of the Heart – you know that the Trilogy is about the Folsom People, a mystical group of people that actually existed in North America in the late Pleistocene between 10,900 to 10,200 years ago. One of the calling cards or diagnostic artifacts left behind by the Folsom People was their beautifully crafted fluted projectile points. I have dedicated several postings in this blog to these wonderfully fluted projectile points so I will not cover them in this posting.

Figure one. Four inch long Ultrathin knife form found in Wyoming
and exhibiting thinness, bi-concave x section, great width,
and long, flat flaking. John Branney Collection.
Another artifact that is often attributed to the Folsom People is the ultrathin knife. Ultrathin
knife forms were specialized tools made with a sophisticated knapping technology by highly skilled knappers (Figure one). Archeologists and collectors have defined the specifications for ultrathin knife forms with these attributes: thinness, bi-concave cross section, great width, and a specialized flaking technique. A finished ultrathin knife form was often ovate in shape and pointed in outline with well-controlled marginal pressure flaking. Width to thickness ratios often exceeded 10 or greater. 
Uses of Ultrathin Knife Forms.        

Jodry (1998) noted that ultrathin knife forms were associated with Folsom camps and lithic workshops, not kill sites and initial meat processing sites. Based on use wear, production technology, and archaeological context, Jodry proposed that Folsom people used ultrathin knife forms as filleting knives. Jodry went even further by suggesting the possibility that ultrathin knife forms were ‘women’s knives’. Her case was based on historical Indian tribes where filleting meat was often a woman’s task. Jodry assumed that Paleoindian women may have done the filleting, therefore, ultrathin knife forms may have belonged to the women. Since ultrathin knife 
Figure two. 3.5 inch long ultrathin knife form
found in Wyoming and exhibiting fine marginal pressure
flaking around the perimeter of the biface.
John Branney Collection.
forms were so thin and delicate, it would be hard to imagine that Paleoindians used them for anything more rugged and intensive than filleting during the butchering process. Many ultrathin knife forms were so brittle that they would have never survived the more arduous butchering tasks.              

Below, I have captured a passage from my prehistoric adventure novel about the Folsom People called Ghosts of the Heart. This prehistoric adventure is the second novel in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. The scene below took place right after the Folsom People trapped and killed a small herd of bison in an arroyo. The scene describes the butchering and harvesting of the meat from the bison carcasses.    

When it was all over, the tribe had killed twenty-two tatanka – bison. The meat from the herd would help the tribe through wani yetu – winter. One of the hunters ran to the camp to tell the people of the tribe. Before long, the entire tribe had returned to help butcher and carry the meat back to the camp. First, everyone in the tribe helped lay all of the carcasses on their bellies with legs sprawled. Then a team of two or three butchers worked on each carcass; while one person held and positioned the carcass, the other person chopped, sawed and cut. The team of butchers then cut the hide lengthwise down the back. They then pulled the hide to the ground on both sides of the carcass, creating a mat that would protect the butchered meat from the ground. The team of butchers extracted the tender cuts of meat under the skin of the back first, followed by the forelegs, shoulders, hump meat, rib cage, and body cavity. They would not waste anything. The team of butchers opened up each body cavity and removed the heart, liver, and gall bladder.

          With hammer stones, choppers, and stone knives, the butchers then harvested the hindquarters, hind legs, neck, and skull. As the team of butchers systematically stripped the meat from the carcasses, others carried the meat back to the camp where they cut it into strips and hung it from sagebrush and tree branches to dry. The Folsom People would make pemmican from the meat that was too tough to eat. They then extracted two more delicacies from the skull, the tongue and the brain.

            By the time the sun was in the west, the tribe had stripped the tatanka carcasses clean. They would leave any remaining meat for the scavengers of the night. That evening in the camp, there was a grand celebration as the Folsom People celebrated the great hunt.

            Although I did not specifically call out ultrathin knife forms in Ghosts of the Heart, that was what the tribe used to cut the bison meat into strips.

Origin of Ultrathin Knife Forms.
          There is some evidence that the production of ultrathin knife forms by the Folsom People was

Figure three. From Bradley (1982)

an outgrowth of the Clovis People’s biface reduction process. The use of overshot flakes and the intentional use of hinge and step terminations along the midline of an ultrathin knife form was very close to the process that Clovis People used for biface reduction (Bradley 1982: 203-208).

Bradley described two different thinning methods for biface reduction that both Clovis and Folsom People utilized. He called the first of these thinning methods alternating opposed biface thinning. This method is pictured in the left hand side of Figure three. In this method, initial shaping and thinning of the biface involved the removal of large percussion flakes in a patterned sequence. The knapper began by removing the first large percussion flake from a margin near either end of the biface. Then, the knapper removed another large percussion flake from the same side on the opposite margin near the other end of the biface. The knapper then took off two large percussion flakes next to the first two percussion flakes, but on opposite margins. If the biface needed further thinning, the knapper could remove one or more percussion flakes in the center of the biface. These large percussion flakes often times traveled across the face of the biface, in many cases terminating in outre passe or overshot flakes.
             Bradley called the second biface thinning method used by Clovis People and Folsom People opposed diving biface thinning. As thinning on a biface progressed and the biface became narrower and more regularly flaked, the knapper used a different thinning flake at the end of the flaking sequence. This new thinning flake allowed for maximum thinning with less risk of overshot flakes. The knapper accomplished this by removing a sequence of flakes from one margin on one face with intentional hinge-fracture terminations at or near the midline of the biface. These flake scars were

Figure four. 3.32 inches long. Paper thin ultrathin knife form
found in east central Colorado. Highly probable fillet knife.
Note overshot flakes. John Branney Collection.
then met by a series of thinning flakes from the opposite margin, removing most of the hinge terminations and allowing the creation of a biface that was thinner in the middle than on the margins. The cross section of the biface became biconcave. This method is pictured on the right hand side of Figure three.

Once the knapper had thinned the ultrathin knife form to the desire state through percussion flaking, the knapper finished the ultrathin knife form by removing small marginal pressure flakes around all edges of the biface.  
Cautionary Note    

You will notice that in my first paragraph that I did not commit or state that ultrathin knife forms were a diagnostic artifact for the Folsom People, because they are not. Other prehistoric cultures, besides Clovis and Folsom, have made ultrathin knife forms using similar technology with similar results. Paleo and ultrathin knife forms are one of the most over identified artifacts in the collecting world. Every collector claims to have paleo or ultrathin knife forms in their collection. At the same time, most collectors wants more paleo or ultrathin knife forms in their collections. Add into the mix that paleo and ultrathin knife forms are not diagnostic and there ends up being many misidentifications. In reality, most Paleoindians did not go through the bother of creating these delicate ultrathin knife forms, they mostly used large flakes with retouched edges for cutting and knife work.

If an ultrathin knife form is found on the surface of a prairie, river, creek, lake, plowed field or a mountain, it is impossible to determine with 100 per cent accuracy that Folsom People made that particular ultrathin knife form. For that ultrathin knife form to be attributed to Folsom or any other prehistoric culture, the artifact has to be found in dated stratigraphic and archaeological context or in clear association with other diagnostic Folsom or other culturally diagnostic artifacts. Don’t let anyone fool you in believing, otherwise. There are all kinds of claims when it comes to surface found artifacts, but the proof is in the technology used and how/where it was found. Although Folsom people seem to have preferred ultrathin knife forms, that is not enough proof to conclusively assign surface found ultrathin knife forms to that culture.   
Winds of Eden. The third book and finale in the
Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. Book will be
released November 2014.  

Bradley, Bruce
            1982    Flaked Stone Technology and Typology. In The Agate Basin Site: A Record of the Paleoindian Occupation of the Northwestern High Plains, edited by G. C. Frison and D. J. Stanford, pp. 181 – 208. Academic Press, New York.  

Jodry, M.A.
            1998    The Possible Design of Folsom Ultrathin Knife Bifaces as Fillet Knives for Jerky Production. Current Studies in the Pleistocene 15: 75-77.    


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Good News for Future Readers of Shadows on the Trail!!!

Good news if you have not read my prehistoric thriller Shadows on the Trail!

The publisher has lowered the price for the Shadows on the Trail e book down to $6.99 each!

Order your copy of Shadows on the Trail today and you can be readin...
g it tonight! You can order both Shadows on the Trail and the second book in the Trilogy, Ghosts of the Heart in e book for $11.98 for both books! Then, the real adventure begins.

Join the adventure today! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Shadows on the Trail and Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn antelope buck looking out over his prairie kingdom. Photo by Author. 
Recently, I was driving in the Rocky Mountains, down a graveled county road on an early morning jaunt to one of my favorite artifact hunting places. A sea of sagebrush and prairie surrounded me in every direction. My right eye caught movement out on the prairie alongside my pickup truck. I glanced over and there was a pronghorn antelope buck racing my pickup. I peered down at my speedometer and saw I was traveling around thirty miles per hour. I looked back at the pronghorn buck and he did not appear to be even breathing hard. I took a gander down the county road to make sure the road was straight and then decided to give Mr. Pronghorn Buck a run for his money.

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I sped up the pickup to thirty-five miles per hour and the pronghorn buck matched my speed without too much trouble. I checked the road again and sped up to forty miles per hour. At forty miles per hour, the pickup was all over that rutty county road. I decided that forty miles per hour was my limit. I was hoping that it was the limit for the pronghorn buck, as well. I looked over at my pronghorn friend and saw that at forty miles per hour, he was still not finished with me. He lowered his head and found another gear. His legs chewed up the prairie as he accelerated past the front of my pickup truck. He literally left me in his dust.
I backed off to thirty-five miles per hour and that was when the pronghorn buck decided to zoom across the road right in front of me. The last thing I remember was that pronghorn buck’s white rump waving goodbye to my pickup truck and me. After crossing the road, the pronghorn buck headed out onto the prairie where he finally slowed down and stopped. I watched the pronghorn buck in the rear view mirror as I headed on down the road. I guess he was just showing me who the fastest dude on the prairie was. 
Pronghorn antelope are the second fastest land animal in the world, right behind cheetahs. At thirty miles per hour, pronghorns are loping along. At forty-five miles per hour, they are cruising along. At sixty miles per hour, they are simply hauling!   
High Plains archaeological sites are well represented with the remains of pronghorn antelope. The

Pronghorn antelope buck playing hide and seek with the author.

archaeological record of the Folsom People, the main characters of Shadows on the Trail, demonstrates that pronghorn antelope were an important part of their diet. Investigators have found the remains of pronghorn antelope in Folsom-aged strata at two key archaeological sites, the Lindenmeier Site in Colorado and the Agate Basin Site in Wyoming.

It is now time to climb into our time machine and set it for the late Pleistocene, sometime around 8,700 B.C. We will join three young hunters from my prehistoric odyssey novel called Shadows on the Trail on a difficult trek across the Arid Plains. The three young hunters named Chayton, Wiyaka, and Keya are almost out of water and food. From this passage, it appears things are getting worse not better.       

Wiyaka suddenly stopped in his tracks, causing Keya to run into the back of him. After scolding Keya for his clumsiness, Wiyaka pointed his finger towards the parched prairie, northwest of them, where a huge dust cloud rose into the clear blue sky. The three hunters watched the dust cloud with curiosity, unable to determine what was causing it.

“Prairie fire!” Chayton spoke into a strong northwesterly wind.

Hee ya, – No,” Wiyaka responded. “It is the wrong color and we are downwind, we would smell the smoke.”

“Animals?” Chayton suggested.

“Perhaps, maybe bison, I am not sure?” Wiyaka yelled into the wind. “Let’s get closer.”

The three hunters slowly crept forward, hiding behind the tall sagebrush and greasewood, their spears ready to thrust. As they got closer, a low rumbling sound filled the dusty air. Crouching down, Wiyaka signaled to Chayton and Keya to join him.

“We are close enough!” Wiyaka called out to his companions.

Pronghorn antelope buck cruising along on the prairie. 
The dust cloud was heading directly at the three hunters and Chayton looked around for something for them to climb up, but the naked prairie offered nothing. The rumbling sound became louder and the dust in the air became thicker. As the dust cloud headed straight at the three hunters, Chayton covered his watering eyes against the barrage of dust and dirt. The dust cloud was right in front of the three hunters when Wiyaka’s dirty face lit up in a broad smile. He jumped to his feet, waving his spear and screaming at the top of his lungs. Chayton and Keya still hunkered down, looked up at Wiyaka as if he had lost his mind. Wiyaka jumped high in the air, throwing his spear while screaming at the top of his lungs.

In as much time as it took to scream, the lead animals of the herd sharply veered to the right of the three hunters. The hunters watched hundreds, if not thousands, of tatoke – pronghorn antelope race past. The three hunters could no longer see each another in the dense dust cloud that shrouded the plains. When the sound of thundering hooves finally faded away, the dust cloud dissipated and the hunters looked at each other.       

On a wide-open environment like the Arid Plains, pronghorn antelope are almost unapproachable. They have phenomenal eyesight and they miss very little, even at very long distances. If you are a hunter from the Folsom People tribe, armed with a spear or two and without any mode of transportation besides your feet, it is not hard to imagine the dilemma you would have hunting pronghorn antelope.

However, for prehistoric hunters hunting pronghorn antelope there was hope. Although pronghorn
Click for Info on Ghosts of the Heart
antelope are unapproachable on a wide-open prairie, they become confused when dealing with physical barriers or surrounded by humans. Trap them in some kind of arroyo or manmade fence and pronghorn antelope will run around in circles until they literally fall over with exhaustion without ever attempting to break free from the enclosure. Prehistoric hunters took advantage of this by building brush fences that funneled the pronghorn antelope herds into enclosed areas. There, the prehistoric hunters dispatched the pronghorns with spears or stone mauls.

Pronghorn antelope also have another weakness, they are excessively curious. If most pronghorn antelope see something unusual on the prairie, they have to find out what it is. They will go as far as walking towards the object just to find out what it is, even if it is a hunter. I have tested pronghorn antelope’s curiosity more times than I care to admit while hunting for artifacts on the wide-open prairie. When I see a pronghorn in the distance, I will wave my walking stick in the air to get its attention. Once it locks on to me, then I have it. I will wave my walking staff occasionally and usually I can get the pronghorn to walk towards me a few steps each time. The game usually ends when I lose interest, not the pronghorn.        

Read the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy novels and see how I used pronghorn antelope in the books. 


The much anticipated finale of the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy
will be released for publication in the fourth quarter of 2014.  

Winds of Eden - the third book and finale of the 
Shadows on the Trail Trilogy.
Available Q4 - 2014.  


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Imagine...A Massive Dust Storm and Not Knowing What Caused It

Click the Link - Ghosts of the Heart by John Bradford Branney

First, I am going to ask you to close your eyes and imagine yourself witnessing either a tornado, dust storm or hailstorm for the very first time. But, before you close your eyes, imagine you have a time machine and can go back in time to right around 10,700 years ago in the Pleistocene Epoch, before science adequately explained the causes of these types of storms. Living back in the Pleistocene, you would not have had any earthly idea what caused these storms. Okay, now it is time to close your eyes and let your imagination do the work.

Photograph of a dust storm in central United States in the 1930s.
Are your eyes open yet? Good. Wipe your memory of everything you have learned about weather and storms during your lifetime. I know this is hard to do. Once we have learned something it is nearly impossible to forget it. I want you to be able to imagine you are a First American roaming the plains of Texas and Colorado. You would have no knowledge of what makes weather change or storms tick. How do you think these First Americans explained storms? Perhaps, they believed in an all-powerful being that created these mysteries of nature, much like our early ancestors and most of us believe.

The Pleistocene was no place for wimps. The First Americans not only had to deal with the predatory animals that wanted to put them on their menu (yes, humans were part of the food chain, not the top of the food chain), but they also had to deal with the ravages of storms associated with climate change. 

I took the passage below from the second book in my Shadows on the Trail Trilogy called Ghosts of the Heart. In this passage, our heroes the Folsom People are traveling through a once-upon-a-time pine forest that climate change at the end of the Pleistocene has ravaged. The Folsom People encounter a frightful sight, a black blizzard or dust storm of epic proportion. The Folsom People are stuck in the middle of the desert with no place to run or hide, except the bottom of a dry creek bed. Here is how two of the tribal elders named Wanbli Cikala and He Wonjetah deal with this hair-raising experience.  

Wanbli Cikala and He Wonjetah stood on the bank of the creek, bracing themselves against the gale-force winds and onslaught of flying sand and gravel. The black dust blizzard was directly in front of them, carrying silt and sand high into the air. “It will miss us!” Wanbli Cikala screamed, more of a hope than a fact.

Slol wa yea shnee! – I do not know!” He Wonjetah screamed into the wind.

The sand and gravel pelted their faces while their dust-filled eyes streamed tears into the wind. In a wasted effort, both men held their arms in front of their noses and mouths, attempting to protect their faces from sand and gravel. Tree limbs from the dead pine forest flew past the two men like

spears thrown by the gods. With one arm, He Wonjetah grabbed Wanbli Cikala by the arm and literally pulled him down into the creek bottom. The sky was as black as the darkest night when the front edge of the black dust blizzard exploded on the Arid Plains on top of the tribe. He Wonjetah and Wanbli Cikala stumbled around in the creek bottom, looking for a place that shielded them from the abrasive sand.

Finally, He Wonjetah just shoved Wanbli Cikala to the ground, falling on top of him. The winds roared over them as sand and silt poured into the deeper depression of the creek bottom. He Wonjetah could not breathe as he searched for air to fill his lungs while choking on the thick dust. He heard Wanbli Cikala underneath him, wheezing and coughing as silt and sand poured into the creek bottom, filling it up. The drifting sand and silt would soon bury the tribe unless they kept moving. He Wonjetah stood up and the cyclonic winds knocked him back down.

Now, stay in your playacting role as a First American. Being a First American, how would you explain the cause of this dust storm? Without the knowledge to understand the science behind the dust storm, well, I don't have to explain the problem for the First Americans.

         Read Ghosts of the Heart and experience life as one of our First Americans. Click Link!





Sunday, July 27, 2014

Prehistoric Mammals Excavated from Wyoming Cave!

Shadows on the Trail is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com
and better booksellers.

Now this is an interesting link!  Fossils in Wyoming

Friday, July 18, 2014

Native American Sprituality and the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy

                       John Bradford Branney Books Here!

Shadows on the Trail - the first book of the trilogy.
The seed for the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy sprouted on an early summer morning in 2010 on a northern Colorado ranch where I found a man-made prehistoric tool made from a red and gray striped rock from a prehistoric rock quarry in Texas. As I admired the prehistoric tool that a Paleoindian had made over 10,700 years ago, several questions raced through my mind. How did this tool end up in a prehistoric campsite in northern Colorado, five hundred miles to the north of the prehistoric rock quarry? Who made it? What was he or she like? What happened on its journey from Texas to northern Colorado? Since it was impossible for me to ask the prehistoric person who made the tool, I wrote my own version of his journey in a book called Shadows on the Trail.      

Due to the popularity of the book Shadows on the Trail, it has now grown into a trilogy that encompasses the life of a Paleoindian hunter named Chayton. The story takes place at the end of the last Ice Age on the plains and mountains of Texas and Colorado. The end of the Ice Age was a time of global warming, rising air temperatures and melting ice caps and glaciers. It was a time when several large mammal species went extinct and when small bands of humans roamed the mountains and plains attempting to survive in an unforgiving and violent world. During that time, the Paleoindians lived under a cloud of unknowns. The science behind such things as tornadoes, earthquakes, weather and even death, were not yet known or understood. It does not take too much of an imagination to assume that the Paleoindians associated some or all of these phenomena to a spiritual power that controlled their lives and environment. We know that when the Europeans showed up on the North American continent thousands of years later, historical Indian tribes had well-developed religious and spiritual beliefs.

Ghosts of the Heart - the second book of the trilogy.
Since Paleoindian religion and spirituality is undocumented, I used the religion and spirituality of the historic Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribes in Shadows on the Trail. Of course, using the religion and spirituality from two historic Indian tribes thousands of years after Paleoindians lived, is a stretch. However, there is archaeological evidence that a portion of the religious and spiritual traditions of the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne were around at the time of the Paleoindians, especially traditions related to mortuary practices.

At the burial site at Horn Shelter No. 2 in Texas, the investigators found two Paleoindians buried and associated with animal effigies, evidence of a spiritual connection between animals and humans. The male skeleton was associated with selected portions of a hawk, badger, turtles and coyotes while the adolescent girl skeleton was touching three turtle shells. Investigators believe that this could possibly represent a spiritual relationship with specific bird and animal species.

At another Paleoindian burial site in Montana called Anzick, the investigators found beautiful Clovis projectile points and bifaces buried with a small Clovis child. A red powder called red ochre covered both the artifacts and the child. Many cultures in past millennia have used red ochre in burials. There has also been widespread use of red ochre associated with prehistoric open camps, burials and tool caches across North America. In Oklahoma, archaeologists discovered a painted bison skull in association with Folsom artifacts at a Paleoindian bison kill site named Cooper. The painted bison skull probably has some significance to the spirituality associated with the hunt.  

Folsom projectile point - spiritual
connection or overkill?
            I will add another Paleoindian connection to their spirituality, projectile points. Some of the finest projectile points ever made are Folsom points. Why would the Folsom People exert so much energy in making and maintaining these exquisite fluted projectile points unless they believed these projectile points carried some super power or spirituality into the hunt? We know that the failure rate in making Folsom points was high and the Folsom People could have gotten by with much more primitive stone projectile points and probably would have been just as successful on the hunt.   

The belief in spirituality most likely developed from the Paleoindians’ level of understanding of natural phenomena, hunting, animals, belief in ghosts and spirits, and shamanism. Paleoindian traditions passed from generation to generation until the Europeans helped document the beliefs of the historical Indian tribes. How much the religion and spirituality of the Paleoindians changed over several millennia is anyone’s guess, but we do know what the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne believed in. They believed there was a Great Spirit, they had a deep connection with animals, and they believed in the circle of life. When I wrote Shadows on the Trail and Ghosts of the Heart, I used two excellent books in my research on Native American religion and spirituality. These two books were Lakota Belief and Ritual by James R. Walker and The Wolves of Heaven by Karl H. Schlesier. 

My first book of the trilogy called Shadows on the Trail is loaded with action and adventure with some Paleoindian spiritual undertones. In my second book of the trilogy called Ghosts of the Heart, action and adventure still dominate, but there is much more spirituality than the first book. In my third book of the trilogy called Winds of Eden, which I am currently writing, it still has action and adventure, but the overriding theme is Paleoindian beliefs and spirituality.

            Shadows on the Trail and Ghosts of the Heart are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and other better booksellers. Watch for the final book of the trilogy, Winds of Eden in October 2014.            
                                                Books from John Bradford Branney


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pryor Stemmed Point Type and Complex - Descendants of the Folsom People

Shadows on the Trail, the first book in the trilogy of the Folsom People,
a prehistoric tribe that roamed North America from 10,900 to 10,200 years old.
Order this book on Amazon.com and join the adventure.

Photographed in Figure 2 is a 2.1 inch long Pryor Stemmed point that was surface found on a private ranch in southern Wyoming by Al Gamble. The maker of this point used what appears to be Spanish Diggings quartzite as the material. Spanish Diggings quartzite came from prehistoric quarries in eastern Wyoming. This point appears to be in its original state, i.e. it has never been resharpened or beveled. I will let you read on as to why I believe this.

William Husted (1969) named the Pryor Stemmed point type for specimens found in Bottleneck Cave near the Pryor Mountains in Big Horn County, Wyoming. This site is now under the waters of Yellowtail and Big Horn Reservoirs.

The Pryor Stemmed point tied to a distinctive archaeological horizon marker in the Pryor and Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and Montana. Radiocarbon dates indicated that Pryor Stemmed points were 8,350 to 7,850 years old. Originally, archaeologists assumed that the distribution for Pryor Stemmed points was limited to the mountains and foothills of the Pryor Mountains and Big Horn Mountains, but surface finds in other High Plains locales including plains and prairie environments, widened the distribution.

A first stage Pryor Stemmed point began life with a lenticular transverse cross section and was usually characterized by parallel oblique pressure flaking. However, as Pryor Stemmed points went through their lives, their users continually reworked the alternate edges, producing steep beveling. In some cases, the beveling produced a serrated edge. Ultimately, through the life of the point, the original lenticular cross section became a trapezoidal cross section. In some examples, the users resharpened the points so many times that the blade edge became narrower than the stem. Projections on the shoulders of these points indicate that the users resharpening the points intact, i.e. while hafted.

Reworking was common on broken specimens of Pryor Stemmed points and in many cases deliberate burination was applied using transverse breaks as the striking platforms.

Much of this information came from the works of Kornfeld, Frison, Larson, and Perino.

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John Bradford Branney, Author


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ghosts of the Heart by John Bradford Branney Book Review

Ghosts of the Heart, the second book in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy is available from
Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and other better booksellers in paperback and e book.