Monday, November 3, 2014

Folsom and Agate Basin Points and the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY

Figure 1 - Top projectile point is a Folsom dart point found along the
Colorado-Wyoming border in Albany County, Wyoming. Bottom
projectile point is a 2.35 inch long Agate Basin dart point
found in Jefferson County, Colorado. John Branney Collection.

In an earlier post on the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy blog, I explained why I used three Native
American languages to differentiate the linguistic and cultural differences between the three tribes in Shadows on the Trail. I also differentiated two of the tribes through their use of different projectile point types for their hunting and weapons systems.

In Shadows on the Trail, I used Folsom projectile points for the Folsom People and Agate Basin
points for the Mountain People. Figure 1 below is a photograph of a Folsom dart point at the top and an Agate Basin point at the bottom. Both are from my collection and made from similar material (Knife River Chalcedony), but as the photo illustrates, the technology was quite different in making these points and obviously, so were the differences in styles. Why did I use both Folsom points and Agate Basin points in Shadows on the Trail to differentiate two distinct cultures? Let me explain.

Click to Order Shadows on the Trail
In Wyoming, there is a very famous and important archaeological site called Hell Gap neat Guernsey. At the Hell Gap site, the investigators found an extensive stratigraphic section of rock with corresponding human cultural levels for thousands of years. According to Irwin-Williams, the radiocarbon dates from the Hell Gap site indicated that the use of Agate Basin points took place between 10,500 to 10,000 years ago and occurred in time after Folsom points, i.e. Agate Basin was younger in age than Folsom. If you can remember from one of my earlier blog posts, I stated that the use of Folsom points took place between 10,900 to 10,200 years ago based on radiocarbon dates from both the Hell Gap and the Agate Basin sites. The geologic evidence and overlapping radiocarbon dates indicated that there was possibly an overlap in time between the later Folsom People and the earliest Agate Basin People.
Order Ghosts of the Heart (Book Two)

Below, is a passage taken from my book Shadows on the Trail, the first book in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. In this scene, Avonaco and two hunters from the River People were looking for evidence as to who ransacked their village and massacred their people. The hunters found a strange spear with a different style of projectile point. Avonaco describes his past experience with this newly discovered projectile point.

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. 

Even though there appears to have been a time overlap between the Folsom and Agate Basin Peoples, Bradley (Frison 1991; Kornfeld, Frison, and Larson 2010) did not believe that Agate Basin technology evolved from Folsom technology. While the Folsom point was wide, thin and fluted; the Agate Basin point was thick and lenticular in cross section. If Agate Basin technology was derived from Folsom technology, there was a dramatic change that has not been explained.

Figure 2 - Agate Basin on top and 2.85 inch long Folsom
on the bottom. Different knapping technology, different
culture? John Branney Collection.

Since the technology to make Agate Basin points was so much different than that of fluted Folsom points, do you think that maybe there were two culturally different human populations utilizing the same bison resources during the latter years of Folsom? Stanford (1999: 312) postulated that Agate Basin technology may have come from an earlier Northern Great Basin / Plateau projectile point that was typologically similar to Agate Basin but predates Agate Basin on the High Plains by over one thousand years. Stanford proposed that it was possible that Agate Basin technology came southward from the Paleoarctic/ Denali Complex people in eastern Beringia who transferred the technology to northern plains people. Figure 3 is a photograph of a 2.85 inch long Folsom point on the left and an Agate Basin point on the right. The technological differences between these two projectile points was dramatic and the only things common were they were both knapped from rock and have sharp points.   
How will we ever find out the true relationship between the Folsom and Agate Basin Peoples? We probably won't. Archaeologists fit the archaeological puzzle together the best way they know how with the archaeological evidence at hand. But in this archaeological puzzle, we are most likely dealing in cultural differences, which does not always show up in the archaeological record.   

Order Winds of Eden (Book Three)

Frison, George C.

1991        Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains. Second Edition. Academic Press.

Irwin-Williams, Cynthia, Henry T. Irwin, George Agogino, and C. Vance Haynes
1973    Hell Gap: Paleo-Indian occupation on the High Plains. Plains Anthropologist. 18      (59 ):   40-53.   

Kornfeld, Marcel, George C. Frison, and Mary Lou Larson
2010    Prehistoric Hunters-Gatherers of the High Plains and Rockies. Third Edition. Left    Coast Press. Walnut Creek, California. 

Stanford, D. J.
1999    Paleoindian Archeology and Late Pleistocene Environments in the Plains and Southwestern United States. In Ice Age Peoples of North America, edited by R. Bonnichsen. Oregon State University Press. Corvallis, Oregon.