Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Figure 1.Wonderful example of  a well-worked 4.9 inch long blade surface found
on private land 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. John Branney Collection.

The prehistoric adventure series I wrote is called the Shadows on the Trail Quadrilogy and it is about a prehistoric people who existed called the Folsom People. These people roamed North America in the Late Pleistocene / Early Holocene between 10,900 to 10,200 years ago. I have published several blog postings about the Folsom People, so I won't be writing about them in this blog posting. I will be writing about some of the people who came before the Folsom People, the Clovis People.

In the archaeological record of the High Plains of North America, at least two distinct cultures or complexes preceding the Folsom People, Clovis and Goshen. Some people contend that the Clovis People were the ancestors to the Folsom People, but there is no archaeological evidence that defines the relationship between Clovis and Folsom. Since Clovis or Folsom People did not leave behind any communications or documentation, we are left with what they left in recorded archaeological sites. This is scant information when trying to establish the relationships between these various prehistoric cultures. 
We know from radiocarbon dating and stratigraphy the general time frames when Clovis and Folsom People existed. We know from their campsites and kill sites what they ate. We know their cultures focused on big game hunting, Clovis preferred mammoths and bison while Folsom People were left with bison. The archaeological record also shows that both cultures were not too picky with what they ate.  
One difference between Clovis and Folsom that we see in the archaeological record relates to their lithic or stone tool technologies. We 

Figure 2.5. Probable Clovis blade surface recovered 5/24/2003 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.
John Branney Collection.   
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 have previously published 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. 
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 a blade. If a well-made knife form does not have a hafting notch component, it instantly becomes a blade. But, in reality, most of these examples should be called bifaces.  Over the past few years, there has been a concerted effort from professional and amateur archaeologists to call bifaces, bifaces, and blades, blades. Old habits are hard to break, so we shall persevere.

What is a blade? Here is a definition 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 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.
John Branney Collection.   
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 from its distal end to its proximal end, it has a slight bow to it.   

Figure 4 - High Plains blades, showing the variety of shapes and sizes.
Blades were used to cut, scrape, gouge, drill, and slice. Longest
blade in frame is 4.3 inches long. John Branney Collection.   
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 walked over while artifact hunting without giving them a second glance? Getting an Answer to that question would probably give me heartburn. Oh well, what makes this passion great is learning each and every day!  

CLICK below for the rest of the story on the Folsom People. 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015


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
book in the Shadows
on the Trail Quadrilogy.
Click for info on this book.   
The prehistoric adventure series I wrote, called the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL QUADRILOGY, 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.
Figure Five - The Latest addition to my prehistoric adventure series.

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 QUADRILOGY at a better bookseller and check out the Folsom People. You will be glad you did.     

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

WINDS OF EDEN, Book Review for the Finale!

Click to Order John Bradford Branney Books
Fans of the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL series from bestselling author John Bradford Branney are already ordering copies of the final book in the trilogy in droves.

What happens when the hunters become the hunted? That is what readers have been eagerly waiting to find out in WINDS OF EDEN, the thrilling finale to John Bradford Branney’s series of books about a Paleo-Indian tribe in prehistoric America.

In the conclusion of this highly acclaimed historical series of novels, the Folsom People return to the plains and mountains of Texas and Colorado at the end of the last Ice Age, a time of dramatic climate change, rising temperatures and melting glaciers. This was a time when several large mammal species went extinct and when small bands of humans roamed the mountains and plains attempting to survive in an unforgiving and violent world. WINDS OF EDEN quickly propels readers into the story where the first two novels of the trilogy left off. Chayton and the Folsom People are continuing their fight of survival in a violent and unpredictable prehistoric world with little more than their spears and wits.

“We are thrilled to be bringing out this latest installment,” said Sarah Luddington, Mirador Publishing’s Commissioning Editor. “John has a knack for bringing this era to life and combines this with an incredible eye for detail in a thoroughly engaging story. John’s attention to historical accuracy is extraordinary and he even includes three genuine indigenous languages within the narrative.”

Hailed for its accurate depiction of life on the prairies and mountains of prehistoric Texas and Colorado, WINDS OF EDEN is a fast-paced read that accurately builds on clues from the archaeological record and traditions practiced by the first Americans.

“In the first two books of the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY my emphasis has been on the dynamics of survival for these early explorers of prehistoric America,” the author stated. “In WINDS OF EDEN, I took a slightly different direction from the first two books of the trilogy. Yes, the book is still a high-intensity adventure, but I have added another twist. In WINDS OF EDEN, the main characters must face the reality of their own finite mortalities. I am hoping that readers take away much more than just reading a fun adventure story. This book is my most fulfilling work that I have written so far and I hope readers feel the same way.”

John Bradford Branney holds a geology degree and MBA from the University of Wyoming and the University of Colorado, respectively. John currently lives in Texas and Colorado with his wife, Theresa. WINDS OF EDEN is the fifth published book by Author Branney.

SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL, GHOSTS OF THE HEART and WINDS OF EDEN are available in all good bookshops and online retailers both in paperback and eBook formats. 
Below is the latest book review of WINDS OF EDEN by the Prehistoric American Journal. 



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