Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Clovis Ovate Biface or Folsom Ultrathin Knife in SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL

Figure One - 3.5 inch long semi-translucent biface
surface found in Wyoming. John Branney Collection.  
There is a good chance that the biface in Figure one is an ultrathin knife form from the Folsom prehistoric culture (10,900 to 10,200 years old). The late Jim Roth surface recovered this artifact on private land in Carbon County, Wyoming. For those of you who have read my prehistoric adventure series about the Folsom People, the popular SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL QUADRILOGY, my main character Chayton and other hunters in his tribe carried ultrathin knife forms to filet meat from the prey animals they butchered. Below is a short scene from the second book in my prehistoric adventure series, GHOSTS OF THE HEART. In this scene Chayton and the hunters had trapped and killed a small herd of now extinct bison. In this episode, the hard works begins - butchering.  

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
Figure Two - CLICK to ORDER
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.  

I hope you will join the adventure and read my book series, the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL QUADRILOGY. You will be glad you did. 

Now, what do you think about this knife form? Is it Folsom or could it be Clovis? 

1. The dimensions of this knife form are as follows;  it is 88 mm long, 42 mm wide, and 5 mm thick. The width to thickness ratio is 8.4. The arbitrary width to thickness ratio for ultrathin knife forms is 7 or greater. 

2. The raw material is wild. A beautiful semi-translucent, banded petrified wood was used by its maker. 
Figure Three - 3.5 inch long biface surface found in Wyoming.
One edge of the biface was polished smooth, indicating to me
this was used hand held. Note diving flakes near middle
of biface. John Branney Collection.   

3. In several flake terminations, there appears to be oxidized red ochre stains and deposits. Ochre is a natural mineral containing ferric oxide. It is typically associated with clay and varies in color from light yellow to brown to red. Red ochre has been found in many different archaeological contexts including occupations, especially Paleoindian occupation floors. Stone artifacts were painted with the red ochre and sometimes weapons and tools were covered in the pigment. It has also been associated with burials. Red ochre was widely used at Paleoindian levels at the Powars II, Hanson, Hell Gap, Sheaman, and Medicine Lodge Creek sites in Wyoming. Investigators discovered a grinding slab used for pulverizing red ochre nodules and rocks in the Folsom level at the Agate Basin site in eastern Wyoming. 

Note: I have NOT had this knife form chemically tested for the presence of iron or ochre. My assumption as to the presence of ochre is based on experience and observation of the deposits under high magnification.

4. We know prehistoric people used different types of ochre for paint pigment and we assume they used it for ritualistic purposes. Upper Paleolithic graves in Europe and at least one Clovis grave in the United States contained ochre. Ochre appeared to have an application in the Magdalenian in Europe as an ingredient in an adhesive that was used to haft knife forms and projectile points to handles and foreshafts. Perhaps, North American Paleoindians used red ochre for the same thing to haft points and knives. That would 
Figure Four - Red ochre in its natural state. 
explain the occurrence of red ochre in the hafting area of many Clovis projectile points. Some investigators also believe that Paleoindian flintknappers in North America might have used red ochre as an abrasive to polish and dull the lateral edges in the hafting areas of projectile points. Dulling the edges was a common practice in Paleo and Early Archaic times.
Red ochre is also commonly found with Clovis tool caches but it is not known whether the occurrences were functional or ritual.    

5. It is not coincidently that the predominant colors used in rock art and cave art in the Old World and in some cases, New World, were black (from charcoal, soot, or manganese oxide), yellow ochre (limonite), red ochre (hematite or burned limonite) and white (kaolin clay, burnt shells, powdered gypsum, or powdered calcium carbonate). 

Figure Five - Clovis biface thinning sequence. 
6. I love Paleoindian flintknapping, especially their biface thinning through percussion technology. The flaking on the artifact in figures three and six screams Paleoindian. Paleoindians liked to attack a piece of flint with carefree but skilled abandon. The Paleoindian flintknapper's attitude was "why thin a biface with ten swings of the hammer when five swings will accomplish the same result?"  Paleoindians thinned bifaces with wide, thin flakes that crossed the face of the biface, sometimes overshooting the other edge (see figure five). The end result was wide, thin, and long flakes that were exceptionally flat which thinned the biface without losing overall length or width.
5. On the artifact in figures three and six, several of these wide-thin-flat flakes terminate midway across the face of the biface, creating step or hinge terminations in the middle of the artifact. These diving flakes created a biconcave cross section for this knife form. Some of these diving flakes were met by diving flakes from the other side, creating an even more concave profile in the middle of the artifact.

Figure Six - Reverse side of 3.5 inch long biface. Note diving flakes near 
middle of biface. John Branney Collection.    

Few knife form or biface types are culturally diagnostic. It usually takes finding them in situ under a controlled archaeological process to determine age and cultural affiliation. This knife form was a surface find and I assume it was Folsom or Clovis, based on its production technology, knapping characteristics, and the presence of oxidized red ochre. But, just because that is what I think does not make it necessarily so. This is my opinion on this truly unique knife form.

So, what is your opinion? Is it a Clovis Ovate Biface
or a Folsom Ultrathin Knife or maybe something else?


Thursday, September 27, 2018


Figure One - Photo of a painting called Pre-Columbian Indian with Atlatl by well-known western artist James Bama. 

In Part One of Atlatl and SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL QUADRILOGY, I discussed the concept of the atlatl and the advantages gained by artificially lengthening the throwing arm. With everything else being equal, lengthening the throwing arm through the effective use of an atlatl increases the velocity and distance of a thrown spear or dart. Higher velocity translates to more damage to the target. However, there is an optimal limit to the length of an atlatl and increasing the length beyond that optimal limit decreases accuracy.  

Before we discuss Part Two of Atlatl and SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL QUADRILOGY, I will take you on a very brief hunt from my first book, SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL. In this scene, our hero Chayton is hunting elk with an atlatl. The year is 8700 B.C.  
Figure TwoCLICK to ORDER
Chayton’s weary head pounded as he impatiently waited for the animals’ next move. Then, he realized he was breathing too fast and too loud; they may hear him. He slowed his breathing down and grasped the spear shaft in his hand. He placed the butt end of the spear into the notch of his spear thrower. Then, breathing very slowly, he waited.

Two majestic elk, a young bull and a cow, walked out from behind the trees, heading straight at Chayton. The bull led the way while the cow followed behind. The elk held their heads high and sniffed at the air, smelling for any danger that would set them off running. The elk, upwind from Chayton, did not pick up his scent and kept walking towards him.

Chayton’s left throwing arm was cocked and ready to throw the first spear, but the bull was still walking straight at him. Chayton did not like his chances for a kill with this throw. The bull had no vital organs exposed to Chayton’s line of fire and unless Chayton threw perfectly and severed an artery, the elk would not go down. The last thing Chayton wanted to do was track a wounded elk in this rugged country.
Chayton needed the elk to turn and expose its side to his spear. Chayton thought about moving, but one sound and he would send the elk crashing through the trees in the opposite direction. The elk continued to walk straight towards Chayton. Any closer and they would pick up Chayton’s scent.

Chayton searched the ground with his right hand and found a small rock. While his left arm kept his spear ready to throw, he hurled the rock to his right where it ricocheted off a tree. The bull reared back and ran away from the sound, exposing the left side to Chayton's spear. Chayton hurled the spear…
What happened with the elk? You will have to read the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL to find out. Don't worry, this journey is well worth your time.  

In Part Two of Atlatl and the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL QUADRILOGY, I explore the flight of the atlatl-launched spear or dart, but first a little housekeeping. In the following paragraphs, I will refer to the projectile that leaves the atlatl as a spear, even though some literature refers to the same projectile as a dart. In Part Two, atlatl spear and atlas dart are one and the same. 

The basic mechanics of an atlatl system depends on the flexibility of the spear. When the atlatl pushes the spear forward (figure three), energy is transferred from the atlatl and stored in the spear much like a spring. When the spear lifts off from the atlatl, the stored energy is released and converted to additional velocity as it flies toward the target.  
Figure Three - The ingenious mechanics behind the atlatl is the stored energy within a flexible spear. 

Two concepts from physics help us to better understand the flight of an atlatl-launched spear. The first concept is momentum. Most of us have used the term momentum, perhaps to talk about our favorite sports team or maybe a political race or any of a hundred other reasons. In physics, momentum is defined as the tendency of an object to continue moving in its original direction. Momentum is an object’s resistance to stopping. An example of momentum is a rolling freight train that suddenly needs to stop. The freight train's momentum takes the train past where it should be stopping.  
How do we calculate momentum? Momentum (P) is equal to the object's mass (M) multiplied times (x) the object's velocity (V). As an example, if a light atlatl spear is flying through the air at the same velocity as a heavy atlatl spear, the light spear has less momentum than the heavy spear. Put in a different way, less resistance is needed to stop a light spear if traveling at the same velocity as the heavy spear. Change either mass or velocity of an object and its momentum changes.   

Momentum = P = M x V

As you can see from the above equation, mass and velocity carry the same weight when calculating momentum. Based on the equation, a slow-moving heavy spear can have the same momentum as a fast-moving light spear.   
Figure Four - Middle Archaic atlatl dart points showing size ranges. Longest point is 1.9 inches long.
John Branney Collection 
The other physics concept is kinetic energy which is the energy of an object in motion. The more kinetic energy a spear has, the more available energy it has to penetrate the animal's hide, break bones in its path, and push the projectile point and spear shaft into the prey's body cavity.    

Just like momentum, kinetic energy is defined by an object’s mass and velocity, except mass and velocity affect kinetic energy differently. While mass and velocity carry equal weight in momentum, velocity is much more important and mass is much less important with kinetic energy

Kinetic energy (KE) is equal to one-half times mass (½ M) multiplied times (x) velocity squared (V²).

Kinetic Energy = KE = ½M x V²
To calculate kinetic energy, we cut mass in half and square the velocity!  
In my previous example, I mentioned that a slow-moving heavy spear can have the same momentum as a fast-moving light spear. However, the fast-moving light spear has much more kinetic energy than the slow-moving heavy spear. Velocity has a much higher influence on kinetic energy than it does  momentum. If the heavy spear and light spear are flying at the same velocity, the heavy spear has more kinetic energy because it still has more mass.  Although mass is important when it comes to spears, velocity has a huge performance effect on distance, momentum, kinetic energy, and accuracy. The atlatl itself has no impact on mass but it has a huge effect on increasing velocity.

Figure Five - Paleoindians carrying atlatls and spears. 
Is a heavy or a light atlatl spear more lethal when it comes to hunting? Whittaker, Pettigrew, and Grohsmeyer (2017) explored the  relationship between heavy and light atlatl spears and suggested  that Paleoindians who hunted large mammals such as mammoths or bison required heavy spears and projectile points. The spear had to be able to cut a hole through the animal hide with enough momentum to reach vital organs and/or cause lethal hemorrhaging. Try to imagine hunting a mammoth with a light spear and small projectile point. That would be like “hunting a bear with a switch”. Although it is not prudent to hunt mammoth with undersized equipment, that same equipment is probably suitable for hunting wary antelope on the plains where adding velocity improves distance and accuracy.  

I believe that Paleoindians customized their atlatl weapon systems for the type of game they expected to encounter. If the targeted prey were mammoth or bison, the spears and projectile points were accommodated. If the targeted prey were deer, antelope, or mountain sheep, the spears and projectile points were lighter and took advantage of velocity. This is not any different than what we see modern hunters doing. You don’t see experienced hunters using their elephant rifle on antelope or visa versa.     
2017    Whittaker, John C., Devin B. Pettigrew, and Ryan J. Grohsmeyer
Atlatl Dart Velocity: Accurate Measurements and Implications for Paleoindian and Archaic Archaeology in Paleoamerica, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 161-181. College Station.     

CLICK here in CASE you MISSED Part ONE of my ATLATL Article   

Hey, and check out my books, will ya? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Flintknapping Evolution During Prehistoric Times.

Figure One - Paleoindian. A 4.3 inch long Agate Basin spear point from Nebraska, made from jasper over ten thousand years ago. A true craftsman knapped this point. John Branney Collection.   
When artifact hunters or collectors get together with stories and artifacts, it usually ends up in discussions about the marvelous projectile point / spear flint knapping skills from Paleoindians and Early Archaic people of North America. Paleoindian projectile points are often front and center as ‘eye candy’ and for good reason. It is difficult to find better examples of flint knapping skill and workmanship than a well-made Folsom point or Cody Complex knife form or Agate Basin spear point. Sometimes, I wonder why Paleoindians went through the extra effort to knap beyond the required level of functionality. It seems like overkill.    

Figure Two - Early Archaic. a 3.95 inch long Scottsbluff knife form from Colorado. 
Scottsbluff is in Cody Complex. Made around 9,500 years ago. John Branney Collection.   

After the Paleoindians, in the Early Archaic period, we see a gradual deterioration in the workmanship and quality of projectile points from about 9,000 years ago to the Altithermal, a catastrophic climate change event beginning around 7,000 years ago.  During the Altithermal, the archaeological record for the high plains indicates that both humans and animals disappeared, presumably because of the drought conditions on the plains during that climate event. When humans returned to the high plains around 5,200 years ago in what is called the Middle Archaic, the quality and workmanship of projectile points was not on par with either Paleoindian or Early Archaic projectile points.  

Figure Three - Middle Archaic. The different varieties of points from the McKean Complex 
around 4,500 years ago. These are some of the higher quality points 
from Colorado and Wyoming. John Branney Collection.  
The Oxbow Complex and McKean Complex represent a long period of time in the Middle Archaic on the high plains. The projectile points made by these two complexes were quite functional but lacked the detail and workmanship that we see in Paleoindian or Early Archaic projectile points. There were high-quality Oxbow and McKean projectile points during the Middle Archaic, but from my experience, it was the exception rather than the rule. Middle Archaic projectile points focused on functionality over aesthetics while Paleoindian / Early Archaic projectile points focused on both  functionality and aesthetics. 

Figure Four - Late Archaic. A typical example of a 
Pelican Lake dart / knife form from Wyoming. 
Age is around 2,800 to 1,800 years ago. 
John Branney Collection. 

What do you think caused Middle Archaic flint knappers to be less detailed oriented in their flintknapping? Do you think that flint knapping became less important in Middle Archaic time or did they lose the skill required to make Paleoindian quality projectile points? Something changed. Flint knappers in the Middle Archaic period seemingly lost the desire to create the stone works of art of Paleoindian times. Did life in Middle Archaic times become so difficult that flintknappers could not invest the time? We will never know for sure. 
Figure Five - Late Prehistoric. Bow propelled arrow points. 
High quality and workmanship returns. 
Age between 1,500 to 5,00 years ago. 
John Branney Collection.   

Flint knapping has never been the same since Paleoindian / Early Archaic times but that does not mean that there are not extraordinary examples of flint knapping skills in the later periods. I propose that these extraordinary examples of flintknapping in the Middle Archaic and Late Archaic and Late Prehistoric were more individually based versus culturally based. Just like we have skilled craftsman today, prehistoric tribes had their skilled flintknappers who had the desire and skill to create something more than just a stone tip for a spear, dart, or arrow. In the accompanying photos, I show you some of the extraordinary examples from the prehistoric past of the High Plains.

I invite you to read my prehistoric adventures. 
I guarantee you will enjoy them. 


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

CROW and the CAVE - Who Dun It? - Part Three

Figure One - How I found the projectile point tip in a dry streambed on April 19, 2018.  
In Who Dun It -- Parts One and Two, I discussed Paleoindian projectile point typology, mentioning on more than one occasion how it was as much an art as it was science. In Who Dun It -- Part Three, I am going to show you an example of a Paleoindian artifact that I surface recovered on April 19, 2018 on my Shadows on the Trail prehistoric site. In my recently released prehistoric adventure book entitled CROW and the CAVE, I named the Shadows on the Trail site, Skull Valley or Páhu Ósmaka in the language of the Lakota Sioux. The following text in blue is an outtake from CROW and the CAVE that describes Skull Valley or Páhu Ósmaka. My main character in the book Hoka has arrived in the valley some 10,700 years ago.

Páhu Ósmaka or Skull Valley brought back many memories to Hoka, many good, but a few bad. The Folsom People followed the seasonal migration of the bison herds so Hoka had never known any place as home. Wherever the Folsom People camped was home. But, Hoka had a special connection to Páhu Ósmaka

…Hoka and the wolf dog reached the middle of the bowl-shaped valley as the sun hung above the sandstone bluffs to the west. Bluffs now surrounded the hunter and his wolf dog on three sides. As they rounded the last bend, Hoka spotted the landmarks that marked the location of wakan ya. The birthplace for the valley’s water lay between two scarred sandstone buttes, jutting up from the valley floor. Crossbedded sandstone from an ancient river system formed the resistant cap on both the buttes. Broken sandstone boulders littered the grassy aprons surrounding the buttes. Arroyos radiated outward from the bottom of the buttes like spider webs. At the top of the hump-backed butte on the south side were two rock shelters in a large mound of rock called Páhu Inyan or Skull Rock.

Figure Three - Is it an Allen, Andersen or Fredrick? Or are
all three variants of each other?

Páhu Ósmaka is a mystical place. Walk through the valley and the spirits of people who once inhabited the valley will overwhelm you. Páhu Ósmaka has been very good to me over the years with artifact hunting. On April 11, 2018, it was good to me, again. I knew when I spotted the projectile point tip sticking out of the sand that it was Paleoindian / Early Archaic (figure one). Only the ancient ones had the skill to create such masterpieces. With the proximal end or base of the point missing (figure three), it is impossible for me to identify the projectile point type with any certainty. Based on its flaking pattern, I believe the artifact was either Allen, Andersen, or Frederick projectile point / knife form. I am leaning towards Andersen.

What is an Andersen point? Andersen points are one of those “localized” projectile point types that I criticized in prior articles. In my opinion, an Andersen is a slim version of an Allen point. But, I am not here to argue the merits of Andersen points.  
Figure Four - Perry Andersen collecting artifacts in a large 
sand dune blowout in northeastern Colorado.
Note the level of deflation. 
Courtesy UNSM.  
How did the Andersen point come about? Back in the 1920s and 1930s, there was a ranching family in Yuma County, Colorado by the name of Andersen. Percy and his son Harold Andersen enjoyed artifact hunting and they were at the right place at the right time to take advantage of the best high plains artifact hunting that ever happened. The Andersens were great amateur archaeologists who meticulously documented their finds and kept in close contact with professional archaeologists about what they were finding. 

Under law, homesteaders in Yuma and other counties had to cultivate the land. A long, enduring drought came along, followed by strong winds, and the Dust Bowl was born. The soil in Yuma County ended up in neighboring states, exposing deeply buried layers of soil  associated with the time of the Paleoindians. Percy and Harold Andersen found and documented many Paleoindian and Early Archaic artifacts in these sand dune blowouts. At that time, most Paleoindian projectile points were classified into a broad category called Yuma points. Over time, archaeologists reclassified the different Paleoindian projectile points into types reflecting where they were first documented in archaeological sites. For example, at one time, Scottsbluff, Clovis, Eden, Allen, Frederick, Hell Gap, Eden, Plainview, Goshen, etc. were all considered Yuma points.  

There was one type of Yuma projectile point found by the Andersen family that did not get reclassified into a new or existing projectile point type. These points ended up being called Andersen points by collectors. This projectile point was slim, triangular, and mostly diagonally flaked. It wasn’t quite an Allen and it wasn't quite a Frederick or a Plainview, so collectors dubbed it the Andersen point, and collectors still do.  
Figure Five - Andersen points from the Andersen Collection, bottom row,
right. Courtesy of UNSM. 
Not everyone has accepted Andersen as a projectile point type. As a test, I randomly selected five well-known, high plains archaeology books out of my library and checked whether or not the professional archaeologists who wrote the books mentioned Andersen points. I found nary a word about the Andersen projectile point type. I do understand why. I am certainly not convinced that Andersen points require their own projectile point type, I could see them fitting in with either Allen or Frederick. However, it is nice that the Andersen family was recognized for their significant contribution to high plains archaeology.
Figure Six - Cream de la cream, the original 'Slim Arrow' and the  
type point for the Andersen projectile point type. Notch in base
intentionally burinated. Courtesy UNSM.  

I am calling the point I found on April 19, 2018 an Andersen point, although it could very well be an Allen point, or a Frederick point, or even an Eden point. This just shows you, Paleoindian projectile point typology is as much an art as it is a science.     

                      CLICK for JOHN BRADFORD BRANNEY books

Friday, April 6, 2018

CROW and the CAVE -- Who Dun It? -- Part Two

Figure One - What do you call these High Plains surface finds? I call them Allen points. The three critical attributes
I used to identify were; 1). Pronounced basal concavity, 2). Carefully executed diagonal flaking, and
3). Edge grinding. Longest point is 3.2 inches. John Branney Collection.    
Identifying Paleoindian projectile points by type on the High Plains is often more art than science. Deciding what kind of projectile point is in your hands can lead to some hand wringing, especially for those projectile points that are somewhere ‘between’ two known projectile point types. One of the more confusing array of Paleoindian projectile points are those with indented bases. For decades, people threw all indented base projectile points into two buckets; Clovis if it had flutes and Plainview if did not have flutes. The differences between the various indented base projectile points made by Paleoindians are  subtle. An indented based Paleoindian projectile point can be Clovis, Goshen, Plainview, Allen, St. Mary's Hall, Dalton, Belen, or Midland. Am I missing any? Figure One shows a group of these indented base points. What type do you think they are?

The similarities between projectile point types can be striking and the differences subtle. I have seen two identical projectile points made with the same technology with similar age called different point types just because they were found in adjoining regions of the country. This is precisely why I do not get hung up on a name. In my opinion, we have gone way overboard on naming projectile point types. It appears to me that naming a new projectile point has become a feather in the cap for some people and that those people have gone out of their way in finding differences in projectile points, and not the similarities to an already existing projectile point type.    
Figure Two - The Texas Panhandle point on the left is 
called Plainview while the northern Colorado point 
on the right is called Goshen. Can you tell the difference? 
I can't. Longest point is 2.4 inches.
John Branney Collection.  

For this article, I am staying out of the politics of proposing a new projectile point. It is almost impossible for an amateur archaeologist to have a new projectile point named and recognized. Professionals have a forum for naming and documenting new projectile point types and there is still a lot of politics. It can work the other way as well, i.e. denying the existence of an existing projectile point type. Texas archaeologists have denied the existence of Agate Basin points in Texas as if a future border stopped the Agate Basin people from entering future Texas. I have found and seen Agate Basin points in Texas, but since professional archaeologists have not found them, they do not exist. I digressed to the very topic I wrote I would avoid. ;).    

Imagine that you and I discovered a new prehistoric site while surface hunting. We are finding a different style of projectile point that we have never seen. Since these are surface finds, we do not know the age or the prehistoric culture they come from. These projectile points look kind of like an existing projectile point type, but they are not a complete match. Our projectile points have a couple of features that make them different to the existing projectile point type. We wonder if we have found a new projectile point type.    

Selecting and recognizing the critical attributes in a series of projectile points can be difficult and subjective. At one extreme, we focus on general attributes and fit our group of projectile points into an existing projectile point type. At the other extreme, we focus on the minute differences and variations that distance our group of projectile points from an existing projectile point type.
Figure Three - What would you call these surface found projectile points? I call them Midland points
based on these three attributes; 1). Thin, 2). Indented to flat bases, and 3). Fine, abrupt, non invasive
pressure retouch forming regular and straight margins. Longest point is 2.5 inches.
John Branney Collection   
If the descriptions for existing projectile point types are too tight and rigid, we end up with a plethora of new projectile point types that might only reflect differences in craftsmanship or workmanship, not prehistoric culture. If the descriptions for existing projectile point types are too loose and flexible, we might accept large variations that may actually reflect a change in technology or prehistoric culture. 

Bottom line is; IT IS ONLY A NAME. You might even disagree with what I called the projectile points above. I have no problem with that. The critical item in projectile point identification is doing the homework required to identify your Paleoindian projectile point to the best of your ability.

In case you missed "Part I", CLICK the LINK, and if you want to join my Folsom People adventures CLICK the LINK under my book covers. You will be glad you did. 

                  CROW and the CAVE - WHO DUN IT? - PART I   

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

CROW and the CAVE – Who Dun It? – Part One

Figure One - Four thousand years of High Plains projectile point evolution. From left to right; Clovis, Goshen,
Folsom, Agate Basin, Hell Gap, and Scottsbluff (3.95 inches long). I see a fundamental change in style
from Folsom to Agate Basin. John Branney Collection.   
Amateur and professional archaeologists spend lots of time studying and categorizing High Plains Paleoindian projectile points by technology and type. These projectile point types are associated with specific Paleoindian cultures or complexes, such as Clovis or Folsom. Did the overall Paleoindian culture change between Clovis and Folsom or was it just the projectile point style? Humans seek order and simplicity from disorder and complexity. We identify and classify items that are important to us. When we find a Paleoindian projectile point, the first question is 'who dun it'? We want to know how our projectile point fits into the overall scheme of Paleoindian projectile point types. We want an orderly projectile point sequence or evolution from Clovis Complex to Goshen Complex to  Folsom Complex to Agate Basin Complex to Hell Gap Complex to Cody Complex.

In some cases, Paleoindian life seemed quite simple; survival was the only game. The details of what life was like ten or twelve thousand years ago is impossible to unravel from our spotty archaeological record. The prehistory of Paleoindians on the High Plains is like a thousand and one piece jigsaw puzzle. On a jigsaw puzzle there is the picture of the completed puzzle on the box and inside the box are a thousand and one pieces. Each piece by itself tells us little about the overall puzzle. If I compare these puzzle pieces to the archaeological record, it is similar. We never have a complete picture. We are limited to the puzzle pieces or archaeological data we find and interpret. We might have three puzzle pieces from this corner and four pieces from that corner, but we never have a complete picture. By using various scientific disciplines and the best "Sherlock Holmes" imitation, archaeologists and investigators piece together an incomplete Paleoindian prehistory.

While bone, fabric, and flesh deteriorate in the elements, stone projectile points hold their own, somewhat. We are guilty of using projectile point type as the be-all-to-end-all to identify and differentiate Paleoindian cultures or complexes. What if Paleoindians used more than one projectile point type at the same time and in the same place? That throws a wrench in the orderly sequence of projectile points we all know and love.            

Ruthanne Knudson (2017) wrote it best;  

"Perhaps, the typological labeling of points has resulted in
artificial confusion of “different” complexes when indeed
people living together made differently designed
points at the same time.”        

Bravo! It is amazing how one sentence can explain and reinforce a belief on the subject of Paleoindian projectile points. Based on current evidence, who can say that there weren’t a few innovative Paleoindians who made Clovis and Goshen-like projectile points at the same time, or that Folsom hunters did not experiment with Agate Basin projectile points? Projectile points are an excellent 'broad brush' technique for identifying Paleoindian cultures, but we must be wary to not to let the tail wag the dog. Based on our current understanding, we know that from the Clovis Complex to the Cody Complex, large mammal procurement was the main survival economy of Paleoindians, only the style of projectile points and some of the prey changed over time. As more pieces of the Paleoindian puzzle are found, we will fill in more of that cover on the puzzle box.  
Figure Three - Paleoindians probably spent most of their time trying to survive.
They would probably wonder why 'we' spend so much time and effort 
studying their stone projectile points.  

Knudson, Ruthann
2017    “The Plainview Assemblage in Context” in Plainview: The Enigmatic Paleoindian Artifact Style of the Great Plains. The University of Utah Press. Salt Lake City.   

Figure FourCLICK for Latest Paleoindian Adventure from John Bradford Branney