Monday, August 19, 2013

From SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL-Folsom Points, Beautiful and Deadly


and transport yourself to 8700 B.C.  

Figure One - Click for a Ticket to Shadows on the Trail

Figure 2 - 1.7 inch long Folsom dart
point found in Park County, Colorado.
John Branney Collection.
In my novel SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL, the Folsom People made a special fluted projectile point that would ultimately be called the Folsom point after its in situ discovery in an archaeological site near Folsom, New Mexico in 1927. The skill and additional effort required for the Folsom People to make these exquisitely fluted projectile points was significant. The added value that the Folsom People received from the additional effort they expended fluting these projectile points will always be a matter of speculation. Figure 2 is an example of the incredible workmanship of a fluted Folsom dart point found in Park County, Colorado.
Now, let's get into our time machine and dial it back to 10,700 years ago to the time of SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL. A young hunter named Chayton was asking a tribal healer named Tarca Sapa for help in creating flutes on the ten spear points he had brought with him. Tarca Sapa had taught Chayton to be self reliant and independent. He would counsel Chayton on how to flute the projectile points, but he would not do the work. The scene went like this; 

Chayton had expected this reaction from Tarca Sapa. It was the old man’s way. Tarca Sapa always complained, but always found the time to ensure Chayton learned properly. Chayton handed Tarca Sapa the spear points, one at a time. Each spear point was approximately the length of a finger and wider than a thumb. The tip of each spear point was slightly rounded, but still dangerously sharp while the base of the spear point, where the spear point attached to a wooden shaft, had two sharp ears. In the middle of the spear point’s base, between the two ears, Chayton had knapped a small square platform. When hit with an antler hammer precisely in the right place, the rock would crack and a long thin flake would detach from the middle of the spear point. A flute channel would remain where the long thin flake detached. How well this square platform was constructed and then struck with the antler hammer meant the difference between a good spear point and a broken spear point. The platform was where Tarca Sapa focused his eyes. Tarca Sapa looked at each spear point carefully and put each inspected spear point in one of two piles. Once his inspection was over, Tarca Sapa touched the pile with seven spear points and said, “These points are good, the others need work. Now, let’s see you drive a flute channel into the spear point.”
As stated in the above passage from SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL and my other postings on this topic, Folsom projectile points demonstrated some of the finest workmanship and technology in prehistoric America. The people who made these exquisite projectile points selected the highest quality material. The three hallmarks of Folsom projectile point production were;
  • Flutes, longitudinally up the center of the projectile point, often from base to tip.
  • Thinness. Not all Folsom points were paper thin, but the better examples of the type demonstrate a thinness that can come only through the complete control of the fluting process (and a lot of rejects).   
  • Delicate marginal linear retouch along the projectile point edges!!  

Figure 3 - 1.4 inch long Folsom dart point, a surface find
from the sand hills of Cherry County, Nebraska. Note
delicate marginal retouch. John Branney Collection.    
Figure 3 above is a Folsom dart point from Cherry County, Nebraska from my collection that demonstrates all three hallmarks for Folsom projectile points. It is fluted, thin, and has the steep, consistent, and patterned edges that have become a characteristic of finer Folsom projectile points. The length of the section of this projectile point that is reflecting sunlight is one inch. In that one inch, I counted at least sixteen flakes taken off the edge by its maker.

The quality edgework found on many Folsom projectile points is one of the most difficult processes for modern flint knappers to duplicate. Professor Bruce Bradley stated on page 476 in Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers on the High Plains and the Rockies by Kornfeld, Frison, and Larson that "To my knowledge, no modern knapper has replicated the minute regular retouch with a tool that could have been used in Folsom times."

So, what long, slender tool with a sharpened tip did Folsom People use to create this edgework? Perhaps a sharpened bone or antler. I have even read one article where the author speculated that it could have been done with a porcupine quill. Having recently had to pull about one hundred porcupine quills from my German Shepherd Madd Maxx's snout and mouth, I can personally testify that porcupine quills are too soft for knapping edgework.  
Figure 4. 1.3 inch long Folsom dart point surface found by
John Branney on August 30th, 2007 on the Shadows on
the Trail site.
Figure 4 above is a northern Colorado Folsom dart point from my collection. This point demonstrates fine Folsom edgework. The length of the edge on this projectile point is .9 inches long and I counted roughly twenty-two flakes taken off the edge. There was no apparent functional reason why Folsom people learned the skill and extended the effort to create fluting and these steep, patterned edges. So why did they flute? We will never know for sure. What is your opinion?

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