Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wild Horses - Living Artifacts from our Great Past!


My latest book WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR is about the introduction of horses to the Plains Indians in the late 17th Century. I dedicated the book to the wild horse herds in North America. When I wrote WHEN LEAVES CHANGE COLOR I wanted to portray the majesty and nobility of America's wild horse herds. Whenever I travel across the desert basins of southwestern Wyoming I always try to take a detour off the highways to see if I can capture a glimpse at the splendor and beauty of America's last wild horse herds. Even with the modern world encroaching on their environment from almost every direction, the wild horses maintain their nobility and desire to remain free. These proud creatures represent a living and breathing historical link to our country's past. When these wild horse herds are finally gone, America will lose yet another link to the country's greater past.
Wild horses in the Washakie Basin of Wyoming.
Photograph by John Bradford Branney. 

At the beginning of the 20th Century, there were approximately one million wild horses in the western United States. Over the last one hundred years plus, poachers, mustangers, developers, ranchers, energy companies and the federal government have cut deeply into the wild horse herds. Today, there are less than twenty-five thousand wild horses left and their environment and lifestyle continues to be attacked. The cattlemen and sheep ranchers want what is left of the meager desert rangeland while the oil men and miners want what is buried under the surface of the desert. Wild horses must also compete with antelope, deer, and elk. The ironic part is when newspaper articles blame wild horses for the destruction of the desert rangelands.
Wild horses along Powder Rim in Wyoming. Photograph by John Bradford Branney.  

What can we do about it? Write your congressman! Adopt a wild horse if you have the land! If we do nothing, within the next few decades, the wild horse herds will disappear from North America and the indomitable spirit of the wild horses will become only a memory.

Wild horses along the Wyoming - Colorado border north of Craig, Colorado.
Photo by John Bradford Branney.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Different Strokes for Different Folks! The Shadows on the Trail Trilogy!

Figure One. Paleoindian Projectile Point Transition from oldest on the left to youngest on the right. From left to right, Colorado Clovis, Nebraska Goshen, Colorado Folsom, Colorado Agate Basin, and Colorado Hell Gap (2.55 inches long). 
Below is a scene from my prehistoric thriller SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL. In this particular scene, the leaders of the River People, one of three prehistoric tribes featured in the book, have found a piece of evidence left behind by ruthless warriors from another tribe who destroyed the River People’s village and massacred many defenseless people. Avonaco was the leader of the River People, he and several hunters were away from the village when this vicious massacre occurred. Avonaco was now examining an unusual spear found near the remains of his burning village. Whoever made the stone projectile point made it with an unusual type of rock in an unusual manner. In addition, the wooden spear shaft had carvings. The two other characters in this scene were Waquini and Vipponah, Avonaco’s loyal and capable followers.  

Waquini then handed Avonaco an object and said, “Avonaco, we found this in the brush near the village.”

Avonaco held the spear in his hands. The spear shaft was the same wood that the River People used, but the stone spear point was different. The stone spear point was thinner and longer than any Avonaco had ever seen and made from a shiny, black rock material. Avonaco ran his thumb down the sharp edge of the spear point and quickly pulled his thumb away.

Éŝkos!–Sharp!” Avonaco exclaimed, looking down at his bleeding thumb.

He continued to examine the spear point, “I have only seen a spear point like this once made from this black rock. When I was a boy, I found a spear point much like this deep in the mountains. My father told me the black rock comes from the mountains.”

Avonaco then inspected the sinew wrap that connected the stone spear point to the wooden spear shaft. The River People used sinew from deer or bison to attach their spear points. Avonaco pointed to the sinew and said, “This is too thin, it is not from bison or deer.”

Avonaco ran his fingers down the smooth wood of the spear and noticed it had carvings in it. To see better, Avonaco moved the spear shaft closer to the light of the campfire. Carved into the
wood were five green-painted peaks next to two orange-painted suns : ҉  Ʌ Ʌ Ʌ Ʌ Ʌ  ҉  Waquini and Vipponah leaned over Avonaco’s shoulders to take a better look.

Vipponah asked, “Tipis?”

Avonaco thought about this and replied, “Mountains, maybe.”

Avonaco analyzed the scant clues and came up with a possible answer to the origin of these heartless
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warriors. Just as Avonaco had analyzed the clues, modern day scientists have to analyze the clues when they piece together the early man puzzle from random archaeological sites all over North America. Just as Avonaco noted the differences in material and projectile point types to determine the origin of his enemies, modern day scientists note the differences in projectile point types to determine the presence of different prehistoric cultures. My book SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL is a fictional adventure based on an authentic group of prehistoric people who are called Folsom People. The stone projectile points that Folsom People made over ten thousand years ago were very distinct. When a person finds a Folsom projectile point in an archaeological site or even walking the land, you can be sure that someone from the Folsom prehistoric culture had been there, thousands of years earlier.

Based on the radiocarbon dates from archaeological sites across North America, scientists have been able to establish date ranges for different prehistoric cultures and associated stone projectile point types. For example, scientists have determined that the Folsom prehistoric culture existed between 11,000 to 10,000 years ago. This means that when you find a Folsom projectile point, you can be pretty sure it is between 11,000 and 10,000 years old. As more and more archaeological evidence is unearthed, scientists will learn even more about the Folsom prehistoric culture.
Based on the radiocarbon dates and geologic stratigraphy from archaeological sites, scientists have
Indian Hunting with Atlatl by Daniel Eskridge
determined that certain projectile point types overlap with other projectile point types in both time and space. The projectile point types photographed in Figure One demonstrate a time continuum from the oldest stone projectile point on the left, a Clovis point made sometime between 11,300 to 10,600 years ago to the youngest projectile point on the right, a Hell Gap point made sometime between 10,400 to 9,500 years ago. As you can see from the date ranges Clovis People were likely gone by the time Hell Gap People came on the scene. The Clovis culture did not overlap in time with the Hell Gap culture, but the Clovis and Hell Gap cultures did overlap with the other cultures, Goshen and Folsom.

The best way to illustrate this is with Table One below. Table One exhibits the date ranges for each of the cultures represented with the projectile points in Figure One. The dates in Table One are based on B.P. or Before Present time which is the number of years from the baseline year of 1950. From Table One, you can observe that these projectile point types overlapped in time, just as archeological sites have demonstrated that these projectile point types overlapped in geographic space. One cautionary note – it seems that whatever book you pick up has slightly different date ranges for each of these projectile point types. I pulled the date ranges below from the book Projectile Points of the High Plains by Jeb Taylor, so if you disagree with the date ranges, please disagree with the source of the information, not my point.       

Prehistoric Culture

Earliest Date

Latest date

11,300 B.P.
10,600 B.P.
11,000 B.P.
10,700 B.P.
11,000 B.P.
10,300 B.P.
Agate Basin
10,400 B.P
9,000 B.P.
Hell Gap
10,400 B.P.
9,500 B.P.

 Table One. B.P. or Before Present, benchmarked from the year 1950.
This table opens up a number of mind-blowing questions, at least for me. Were these different projectile point types made by the same people, just using different manufacturing technologies or did different people or cultures make each projectile point type and just utilize the same sites as others? Were these projectile point types made by other tribes of people with different religions and beliefs?

I have not found a good explanation for these questions within any of my readings. No one is sure what kind of relationships these different prehistoric cultures had. In fairness to science, it would be hard to speculate the relationships between these ancient people based on archaeological data. 

When I wrote the three books of the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY, I did my homework by researching the archaeological data on the Folsom People. Then, I wrote a story based on this archaeological data with my own spin on the story. I invite you to read the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY and Enjoy my adventure about the Folsom People! 



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Return to the Shadows on the Trail Site – Part One

Figure one. The 1.6 inch long Lookingbill dart point found on July 9, 2015
at the Shadows on the Trail Site.   

On July 9, 2015 I had the opportunity to return to the Shadows on the Trail Site, the prehistoric site that yielded the Ice Age Alibates discoidal biface, the prehistoric artifact that inspired my prehistoric adventure series called the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY. You can read more about the Alibates discoidal biface and the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY in other blog postings on this internet site.      
I discovered the Shadows on the Trail site in northeastern Colorado five 
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days before Christmas on December 20, 1986. I remember that bumpy jeep trail leading to the small ranch house as if it were yesterday. I drove my car very slowly as I made my way five miles in from the graveled county road. About two hundred yards from the ranch house, the road crossed a dry creek bed filled with loose sand. As I approached the dry creek bed, I punched the accelerator on the front-wheel-drive car and the car slid across the sandy bottom of the creek to the other side. When I finally reached the ranch house, a humongous St. Bernard dog was there to greet my car. The dog sniffed and slimed my driver’s side window as it attempted to identify me as either a friend or a foe. Needless to say, I remained in the car until the rancher’s wife came out of the small ranch house and called off her intimidating beast. For awhile, I thought I was in the 1983 movie Cujo about a rabid St. Bernard that destroys everything in its path. Once I gained permission from the rancher and his wife to walk their hills and valleys, I took off and I am still amazed at the prehistoric artifacts I found on that first visit to that special place.     

Over the years, I have returned to this prehistoric site often while watching the ranch change hands three times. Since my initial visit, I have collected and documented between five hundred to a thousand artifacts from the site. I have collected diagnostic prehistoric artifacts from the First Americans around 13,000 years ago to artifacts of the Indian tribes in historical times.
Figure three. The eroded embankment where I
found the 7,000 year old Lookingbill dart point.
Figure four. Do you see the Lookingbill point?
I returned to the ranch on July 9, 2015 and I was not disappointed. One of the first artifacts I found was a 1.6 inch long Lookingbill dart point made around 7,000 years ago, 3,700 years after the Folsom People of Shadows on the Trail Trilogy fame. Dr. George Frison named Lookingbill points in 1983 for a point type found in northwest Wyoming. Frison classified the Lookingbill points in the Early Plains Archaic Period. Lookingbill points were the first points on the high plains of the Rocky Mountains to be found in appreciable numbers associated with manos and metates.

Lookingbill points were thin, small to medium - sized dart points with triangular blades and side notches. Shoulders were sharp and angular. Notches were rounded and sometimes close to the basal edge. Basal edges were straight to slightly concave. 

The Lookingbill point I found had heavy grinding and polishing done on the basal edge, accounting for some of the basal concavity.

Figure five. 1.6 inch long Lookingbill dart point

I cannot wait to find out what I discover next time at the Shadows on the Trail Site! Stay tuned for more highlights of this July visit to the Shadows on the Trail site. 

In the meantime, do you need a good book series to read this summer? Try the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY, you will be glad you did. Click the links below each book cover to order the books from  




Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Monster of Nature Comes to Ghosts of the Heart by John Bradford Branney

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Allow me to set the stage for this blog posting about Ghosts of the Heart, the second book in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy by John Bradford Branney. Imagine that you are living almost 11,000 years ago in what would thousands of years later be called North America. You and your tribe of First American explorers are literally surviving hand to mouth. You have no possessions that you can not carry. You and your tribe follow the seasonal migration of the herds of Pleistocene mammals. You learned how to survive in this harsh and unforgiving land when you were just a child. You know nothing about science or weather or the physical phenomena of nature. Since you and your people are always one step away from annihilation, you do not have time to ponder anything except where your next meal is coming from and surviving for another sun. One day, you see the sun cloaked into darkness and after that, complete chaos. An unknown beast is coming alive!! You believe the gods are angry, but you don't know why. What is happening in front of your eyes is a horrific mystery that cannot be explained. 

The following text in blue is from my book Ghosts of the Heart, the second book in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. Nahuu was the leader of a hostile band of warriors who were tracking down the heroes of my prehistoric trilogy, the Folsom People. This was what happened.

Nahuu watched the billowing dark clouds to the north of the war party. The dangerous looking storm was crossing the trail the hunters had left to the north. Nahuu and the war party would wait the storm out before continuing their hunt. Iinii stood next to Nahuu, watching the black-tinged clouds swirling and bubbling in the sky. No one in the war party had ever seen a storm like this and the warriors stood there frozen, staring up into the clouds. On the west side of the storm, small swirling claw-shaped clouds descended out of the larger clouds. Each of the claws grasped the sky, like talons from a bird of prey. Then as quickly as the talons appeared, they disappeared back into the cloudbank.
While the large cloudbank slowly rotated through the sky, the talons lengthened and shortened, spiraling left and then right, until they disappeared into the clouds above. The warriors watched the dark clouds with both fear and awe.
While most of the warriors watched the talons in the northwest appear and disappear, Nahuu kept his eye on the furious thunderstorm to the north. The winds gusted when the two powerful storms collided. The sky erupted with lightning and thunder. Out of the storm clouds, five talons dropped down, swirling and twisting their way to the ground.

The five talons gently swayed in the sky, hypnotizing the warriors into believing there was less danger than there actually was. The five talons then touched each other and then quickly separated while ascending back up into the cloudbank. They suddenly reappeared as two larger talons. The two talons swirled and danced while a bolt of lightning struck a dead pine tree, showering the warriors with shards of wood. By the time the warriors looked back up in the sky, the two talons had become one.   

The pointed talon swirled in the sky, its shape weaving back and forth. The talon suddenly lunged towards the ground, colliding into the ground and the dead pine trees. The air erupted with the dust and dirt that climbed up the funnel cloud, turning its color from gray to brown. The Arid Plains lit up with lightning and shook from the thunder as the funnel cloud metamorphosed into a beast, a gigantic tornado that was ripping dead pine trees from the ground by the hundreds and tossing them across the Arid Plains. The war party stood there on the hill, too petrified to move as this monster of nature came towards them.
Well, what do you think? What would you have done? Read Ghosts of the Heart to find out what Nahuu and his warriors did. Ghosts of the Heart is available at better booksellers everywhere. Click Here to Purchase John Bradford Branney Books.    


Monday, April 20, 2015

Bipoint Ultrathin Knife Forms and the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy!

Figure one. Bipoint knife form found in the 1950s on private land near the town
of Farson in the Eden Valley of Wyoming. John Bradford Branney Collection.
My prehistoric novel thriller series called the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy is about the Folsom People, a mysterious group of hunters and gatherers who lived from 10,900 to 10,200 years ago. In previous posts, I have covered several components in the Folsom People's tool kit, but one tool I have not covered is the laurel leaf or bipoint knife form.

What is a laurel leaf or bipoint knife form? In most cases, the name we call something adds clarity to the description of the item. In some cases, the name only adds confusion. In the case of laurel leaf or bipoint knife forms, the name adds clarity. Bipoint knife forms were named after prehistoric stone knives which have dual points, one on each end of the artifact. In the prehistoric record, bipoint knife forms have worldwide distribution and are currently the oldest continuously made tool form in human prehistory. The oldest documented example of a bipoint knife form came from Africa and investigators have dated its origin as far back as 75,000 years ago.

What does a bipoint knife form look like? Figure one is a photograph of a super rare bipoint knife form from the state of Wyoming in North America. This prehistoric knife form is not only bipointed, but is also has another Folsom characteristic, it is also ultrathin. This 6.8 inch long heavily patinated, bipointed ultrathin knife form was found in the early 1950s on a private ranch near the town of Farson in the Eden Valley of Wyoming. The original material, before chemical weathering took place, appears to be a moderate brown jasper. You can see a touch of this moderate brown jasper near the base of the knife form in the lower right-hand portion of the photograph.

Figure two. Cross section of the bipoint ultrathin knife form in Figure one.
John Bradford Branney Collection.
How thin are ultrathin knife forms, specifically how thin is the knife form in Figure one? Very thin! Figure two is a photograph of the cross section of the bipointed ultrathin knife form in Figure one.  The width of this bipointed ultrathin knife form is 58 millimeters and the thickness in the middle of the knife form is only 5 millimeters for a width to thickness ratio of 11.6, well within the designated range for the ration investigators use to define ultrathin knife forms.

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The Folsom People from my books in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy made some of the finest bipoint knife forms in existence and since this is also an ultrathin knife form and exhibits overshot and overface flaking, I am fairly confident that the knife form in Figures one and two was made by someone in the Folsom culture sometime between 10,900 to 10,200 years before present. I only write fairly confident because this knife form was found on the surface of the ground and not in any dated and stratified archaeological context. Therefore, I cannot be fully confident of its Folsom culture origin.
What are some of the characteristics of bipoint knife forms? I want to answer that question by first giving a shout out to one of the best reference books on the subject of bipoint technology. The book is called Bipoints Before Clovis and William Jack Hranricky is the author. This is the only book I am aware of that covers bipoint technology to any appreciable degree. I am going to use the information of this book when I go over the characteristics of bipoint knife forms. For those of you who have more interest in bipoint knife forms and its technology, I encourage you to buy Mr. Hranricky's book, right after you have bought and read my Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. ;)  
Bipoint knife forms are among the oldest prehistoric tool forms in North America. A few investigators believe the technology arrived in North America around 35,000 years ago, a long time
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before Clovis People roamed the land. Cultural distribution of  bipoint knife forms ranges from pre-Clovis to historical Indian sites.

As of the publication date of Bipoints Before Clovis, there were no clear documented associations between bipoint technology and Clovis technology. Let me repeat that because it is an important observation. There were no known examples of bipoint technology found with Clovis cultural material. It appears that Clovis people preferred other knife forms, such as the ovate knife forms. However, the Folsom culture was a different story. Investigators have tied some of the finest bipoint knife form examples in North America to the Folsom People.

How are bipoint knife forms made? They can start out as a biface or a blade. What is a blade? A blade is a piece of rock that a prehistoric knapper struck off a parent core rock. A blade is several times longer than it is wide. Prehistoric knappers produced bipoint knife forms from blades and then finished them as dual-pointed knife forms for cutting purposes . Prehistoric people rarely used bipoint knife forms as projectile points.   

Figure three. 4.2 inch long bipoint knife form found by
Bob Knowlton with a cache of tools on a possible kill site.
John Bradford Branney Collection 
Figure three is another example of a bipoint knife form. This bipoint knife form was found on private property in northern Colorado and found with other knife forms and projectile points on what appeared to be a deer kill site. A non-diagnostic pottery rim and two heavily serrated San Pedro dart points were found with the knife forms. San Pedro projectile points were Late Archaic with an age range between 2,500 and 1,800 years before present. Therefore, I assume that this beautiful white knife form was made sometime between 2,500 to 1,800 years before present, well after Paleoindians and Folsom people had left the planet.

My point? Bipoint knife forms have similar morphological characteristics (shapes, forms, and their grouping into period styles) that were consistent across a long span of prehistory. Therefore, unless the bipoint knife form is found within an archaeologically dated context, it is difficult to assign the bipoint knife form to any specific culture or chronology.

Figure four. Bipoint knife form from Wyoming
John Bradford Branney Collection.    
One more example of a bipoint knife form is shown in Figure four. This 3.4 inch long bipoint knife form was made from a beautiful multi-colored jasper and found on private land in Wyoming. This knife form exhibits the wide, shallow percussion flakes favored by the Paleoindians, as well as fine pressure flaking along the edges. I would love to say this knife form was from the Folsom culture, but I cannot. It was not found with other Folsom materials and it was a surface find. Based on the history of bipoint knife forms, this bipoint could have been made at any time within our country's prehistory.      
I hope you enjoyed the blog posting and I hope you enjoy the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. Please let me know what you think. You can reach me at this blog or on facebook at Shadows on the Trail Trilogy by John Bradford Branney. 
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Clovis People and Blademaking - The Shadows on the Trail Trilogy

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The prehistoric adventure series I wrote is called the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy and it is about a prehistoric tribe of people called the Folsom People. These people roamed North America in the late Pleistocene between 10,900 to 10,200 years ago. I have published several blog postings about the Folsom People, so I will not be discussing them for this particular blog posting. I will be discussing some of the people who came before the Folsom People.

Figure 2.Wonderful example of  a well-worked 4.9 inch long blade found
in Wyoming. After the knapper removed the blade from the core, he or she
worked a scraping edge onto it. The bottom of this blade is smooth with
a slight bend. The ridge or aris running down the face of this blade is the
scar from two previous blade removals from the blade core.    
In the archaeological record of the High Plains of North America, at least two documented cultures preceding the Folsom People, Clovis and Goshen. Some people believe that Clovis People were the ancestors to the Folsom People, but so far I have not read any conclusive archaeological evidence or analysis that verifies this to be true. More importantly, I do not believe there is any evidence that leads investigators to believe that there was a clear relationship between Clovis and Folsom Peoples. Since these cultures did not leave any writing or documentation behind, we are only left with what has been found by investigators in documented archaeological sites, which is scant information when trying to establish prehistoric cultural relationships. 

From the archaeological record, we know the time frames when Clovis and Folsom People existed, we know what these people ate from the refuse found in archaeological sites and that they both focused on big game hunting for subsistence but Clovis People preferred mammoths while Folsom People preferred bison. However, based on archaeological evidence both cultures were not picky what they ate. After all, both cultures were probably in survival mode. 
What other differences were there between the Clovis and Folsom cultures in the archaeological record? One big difference between the two cultures were their lithic or stone tool technologies. We 

Figure 2.5. Probable Clovis blade found May 24, 2003 in an arroyo in
Weld County, Colorado. High quality, pale red Flat Top Chalcedony
was used to make this blade. The blade length is 3.3 inches
and the length to width ratio is 3.3 to 1. The blade demonstrates
fine pressure flaking on all edges.Two other blades and two Clovis 
projectile points have been found by me in this same arroyo. 
know that both Clovis and Folsom fluted their projectile points, but the fluting process for Folsom People was much more involved and intricate than that of Clovis People. On some Clovis points in my  personal collection, fluting appeared to be almost an afterthought or part of a rushed process, whereas Folsom fluting was intricate and almost bordering on art. 

Folsom People also made very thin bifaces with biplanar or biconcave profiles, instead of the typical biconvex biface profile of the Clovis People. These thin bifaces that Folsom People made were called ultrathin knife forms and I actually did a blog posting on these knife forms. We also see an increase in the making and use of end scrapers from Clovis to Folsom cultures. End scrapers were a much more prevalent part of the stone tool kit during Folsom times. 

However, for me one of the most interesting differences between Clovis and Folsom stone tool technologies was the heavy use of blades by the Clovis People. After the Clovis culture, we see a huge drop off in blades found in the archaeological record. Although, investigators have found the occasional blade in Folsom and later tool assemblages, blades had become an exception. 
Blades are one of those confusing and misused terms in North America archaeology. Some people refer to unnotched projectile points or any kind of stone knife as blades. if a well-made knife forms does not have a diagnostic hafting notch component, it instantly becomes a blade. But, in reality, most of these examples above should be called bifaces.  Over the past few years, there has been a concerted effort from professional to amateur archaeologists to clean up the literature by calling bifaces, bifaces and blades, blades. However, old habits are hard to break, so we shall persevere.

What is a blade? Here is one definition of a blade from a wonderful book called Clovis Technology, written by Bradley, Collins, and Hemmings. The authors define blade as a specialized, elongated flake intentionally detached from a core selected and prepared for that purpose. This flake or blade is often twice as long as it is wide.

So, how did Clovis People make blades? Figure 2.7 is from another wonderful book entitled Clovis Blademaking Technology, written by Michael Collins. A general overview of how we think Clovis People produced blades is as follows: a suitable rock or cobble was found (2.7a) which then led to the Clovis knapper making a blade core that could be used for the removal of as many blades as possible. The knapper created a suitable blade core by first knocking off one end of the cobble with a hammerstone (2.7b). The resultant fractured surface on the end of the cobble then became the striking platform for subsequent blade removals.

Figure 3. a 1.9 inch long crested blade surface found
in Logan County, Colorado. Note bifacial flaking.  
Most cobbles usually had at least one face that was pointed or convex enough for a knapper to remove the first blade. When the knapper removed this first blade, it was covered in cortex or rock rind. Subsequent blades were partially covered in cortex (2.7i). If the cobble did not have a suitable pointed or convex face, the knapper created a ridge through bifacial flaking (2.7c and 2.7d). This bifacial ridge is called the crest and the detached triangular blade that came off this ridge is call a crested blade (2.7e, 2.7g, and  Figure 3). Once numerous blades were removed from the blade core, it would have looked something like 2.7f. 

A photo of a crested blade from my collection is in Figure 3. Note the triangular shape and the bifacial flaking. The bottom of the crested blade is smooth and has a slight bend to it.   

Even though we want to adhere to our definition of blade as twice as long as it is wide, blades do come in all shapes and sizes. While some blades show very little modification by human touch, other blades are well worked and fabricated. While some blades were purposely used for cutting only, other blades had drilling, scraping, cutting, engraving, and gouging functionality.

My biggest regret is not learning about blades earlier in my life. I wonder how many blades I have walked over without giving them a second glance? The answer to that question would probably make me a little sick to my stomach. Oh well, we learn each and every day, that's what counts! 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Shadows on the Trail Trilogy - The Hell Gap Complex

Figure One. A 2.45 inch long Agate Basin projectile point at the top and Hell Gap projectile point on the bottom.
Most archaeological investigators believe that Agate Basin projectile points transitioned into Hell Gap projectile
points sometime around 10,000 years ago, give or take. This does not mean that Agate Basin projectile points
became obsolete or were not made. They continued to exist alongside Hell Gap projectile points for some time.   
It was 1958 and James Duguid, a future University of Wyoming geology student, was exploring an arroyo bank along an intermittent stream along the eastern flank of the Hartsville Uplift in southeast Wyoming. Duguid found an unidentified projectile point type eroding from the arroyo. In 1959, Duguid contacted archaeologist George A. Agogino at the University of Wyoming and showed him this unnamed projectile point. The unique projectile point intrigued Agogino who decided to investigate the area. Upon his return from the investigation, Agogino immediately opened a small research project to further investigate this area in southeast Wyoming called Hell Gap.

The rest is history. Fifty-five years later, the Hell Gap archaeological site is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the western United States and that projectile point James Duguid found became a new projectile point type called Hell Gap.  

Figure Two. Winds of Eden, the third
and final book in the Shadows
on the Trail Trilogy.
Click for info on this book.   
The prehistoric trilogy I wrote, called the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy, is about the Folsom People, who lived from 10,900 to 10,200 and for the most part, lived before both Agate Basin and Hell Gap Peoples. Although most archaeological investigators are unsure what connection existed between Folsom and Agate Basin People, most investigators believe that their was a connection between Agate Basin and Hell Gap Peoples and the evidence is in their projectile points. Many investigators believe that Hell Gap projectile point technology was derived from the older Agate Basin projectile point technology. 

You might be asking, what is an Agate Basin projectile point and a Hell Gap projectile point? Good question! There will be more on the technological differences later in the blog, but for now please 'eyeball' Figure One above which shows two projectile points, both made from a rock type called Knife River Chalcedony which is found in North Dakota. The top projectile point is an Agate Basin and the bottom projectile point is a Hell Gap. The manufacturing process that led to Hell Gap projectile points was a time continuation of the well developed Agate Basin manufacturing process. The makers of Hell Gap projectile point simply terminated their production process sooner than the makers of Agate Basin projectile points.        

Since this blog posting is about Hell Gap projectile points, let me briefly describe them. Hell Gap projectile points are medium to large lanceolate-shaped points that are similar to Agate Basin points, except that the Hell Gap has stem limitations and often times it has shoulders. On a Hell Gap projectile point, the stem is long and contracting. The Hell Gap projectile point has straight to concave side edges and a straight to concave basal edge. The stem edge is often ground and polished. The basal corners may be sharp to grounded. Let's now look at the Hell Gap example below.       

Figure Three. Side A of a Hell Gap spear / knife form from Colorado.
Figures Three and Four show sides A and B for a 2.55 inch long example of a classic Hell Gap spear / knife form surface found on private land in Morgan County, Colorado.              

Most investigators believe that 10,000 years ago is a good timeframe for when the Hell Gap Complex existed on the High Plains. As previously mentioned, the Hell Gap projectile point appears to have developed from the earlier Agate Basin projectile point type. In fact, the distinctive Hell Gap shoulder was beginning to develop on some Agate Basin projectile points.
Figure Four. Side B of a Hell Gap spear / knife form from Colorado.

In the book The Casper Site, Frison and Bradley (1974) noted a special bifacial reduction process on quite a few Hell Gap specimens from the Casper Site in Wyoming. They noted that Hell Gap knappers achieved the general shape and regularity of the biface through serial percussion thinning on one side with a hammerstone. Spacing was carefully controlled and thinning flakes ran across the surface of the biface, reaching or nearly reaching the other edge of the biface (overshot).

Then, the knappers turned the bifaces over and thinned them from the opposite edge, creating bifaces with cross sections resembling parallelograms.

After serial percussion thinning, the Hell Gap knapper shaped and straightened the margins of the biface using direct percussion with an antler or hammerstone or by selective pressure flaking. Bradley found in his study of Casper Site Hell Gap projectile points that some knappers used percussion only while others selectively retouched with pressure, especially at the base of the biface. Ultimately, Hell Gap knappers ended up creating bifaces that were lens-shaped.

Hell Gap knappers used platform isolation and moderate to heavy grinding to prepare the striking 
platforms for percussion flaking. Unlike Clovis striking platforms, Hell Gap knappers used smaller and more convex-shaped platforms.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog posting on Hell Gap projectile points and perhaps in the future I will write another prehistoric trilogy, but this time using Agate Basin and Hell Gap Peoples as the main characters. For now, pick up the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy at a better bookseller ad check out the Folsom People. You will be glad you did.     

Figure Five. Shadows on the Trail, the first book in the Trilogy. Click for Info on This Book!