John Bradford Branney's prehistoric adventure book series titled the Shadows on the Trail Quadrilogy. Post topics surround the plots of the books and include life in the Pleistocene, large mammal predators, hunting and gathering, acts of nature, and human drama.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
The Adventure SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL and Folsom Points!
SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL is a historical-based, fictional adventure about a mystical group of people called Folsom who actually roamed North America from
approximately 10,900 to 10,200 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. How do
we know the Folsom People existed? They left behind an exquisitely made fluted
projectile point type that was ultimately named Folsom after its in situ discovery
with an extinct bison at an archaeological site near Folsom, New Mexico in 1926.
The longitudinal flutes and the phenomenal workmanship differentiated the
Folsom point from other types of projectile points used around the same time-period.
Figure 1 is an 1.36-inch long Folsom projectile
point found in northern Colorado. The author found this Folsom point, made from
a localized rock called Flat Top Chalcedony, near the Alibates Chert discoidal biface which would become
the inspiration for the story behind SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL (see other blog postings).
Creating longitudinal flutes
from the base of the projectile point to its tip was an extremely difficult
process for the Folsom people. For the projectile point to survive, the fluting
process had to be in tune and under control. Even with modern science and the
various mechanical gizmos that people have utilized to replicate fluting of Folsom points in
modern times, it is still a difficult and time-consuming process. No one seems
to agree on the process that the Folsom people used to flute their projectile
points, but we can all agree it was a remarkable achievement for over 10,000
The chipping debris found
at excavated Folsom complex sites such as Lindenmeier in northern Colorado demonstrate
the high failure rate in making fluted projectile points (Wilmsen and Roberts
1978). Even if the projectile point survived the intricate process of fluting,
the completed Folsom projectile point often ended up thin and fragile, which
ultimately translated to very few complete Folsom points surviving in the archaeological
record. For someone like me, who regularly searches for prehistoric artifacts,
finding a Folsom point is a rare and exceptional event.
Figure 2 is a photograph of an artifact from my collection that I believe was a preform of a
fluted projectile point (either a Clovis or Folsom projectile point at its very
earliest stage). The prehistoric human created a nipple on this 2.25 inch long piece
of petrified wood early in the process of making a projectile point (see where mechanical pencil
tip is pointing). This nipple would have been used as a striking platform for driving
flutes longitudinally up through the rock. This preform was found at the same site
as the Alibates Chert discoidal biface and Figure 1.
The short scene below
takes place in the first chapter of Shadows on the Trail. Our hero Chayton
visits a tribal elder named Tarca Sapa to get assistance in fluting projectile
points needed for the tribe’s journey to the North Country. Chayton was nervous
about fluting the projectile points for two reasons: Fluting projectile points was
a difficult process with a high probability of failure and he was performing this
activity in front of his mentor and his mentor’s granddaughter, Tonkala, who just
happened to be the love of Chayton’s young life.
With his hands shaking, Chayton opened up his leather
pouch and pulled out two thick pads made from buffalo hide and two elk antler
hammers. He sat down on a nearby rock and covered his legs with the thick pads.
He placed a spear point, tip down, along the inside of his left thigh and then
placed an elk antler hammer horizontally on top of the platform at the base of
the projectile point. He braced the other end of the elk antler hammer against
the inside of his right thigh. When Chayton had the hammer precisely lined up
with the small square platform, he took the second elk antler hammer in his
right hand and swung down hard on top of the first elk hammer. Nothing
Flustered, Chayton looked over at Tonkala hoping that she
was not watching him. Chayton then looked at Tarca Sapa hoping for some words
of encouragement, but Tarca Sapa only stared straight ahead at the spear point
still resting in Chayton’s lap. Chayton nervously realigned the spear point,
this time swinging the hammer even harder, striking the spear point with much
more force. A solid cracking sound came from the spear point and Chayton looked
down and saw the long thin flake that had detached from the spear point. To
Chayton’s delight, the spear point had a beautiful flute channel running its
Bravo! Let’s give Chayton
a round of applause! He was either lucky or perhaps he was skilled at the art
of fluting projectile points. For a Paleoindian at the end of the Ice Age,
fluting a projectile point was an extra step in creating a projectile point. The
author is unaware of any archaeological or scientific evidence that demonstrates
that Folsom projectile points were any more effective at bringing down a deer
or a bison than other projectile points during that same time-period.
Figure 3 is a photograph of two 1.65 inch long Folsom
points from the author’s collection. Both Folsom points exhibit evidence of the
nipple or striking platform at their bases (see mechanical pencil tip). The striking
platform was used as a place to direct a blow for driving flutes longitudinally
from the base to the tip of the projectile point.
So, why did Folsom People
go through the painstaking process of adding flutes to their projectile points?
No one knows the answer. We can only speculate. Perhaps, they believed the
flutes allowed better blood flow from animal wounds or that the fluting made it
easier to haft the projectile points on to their spear and dart shafts. Perhaps,
they did it as a ritual or making these beautiful points was a spiritual thing.
Maybe, it was a combination of several factors. We will never know. What are
Edwin N. and Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr.
1934-1974 – Concluding Report on Investigations.Smithsonian Institute Press. Washington D.C.