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. 

The prehistoric adventure series I wrote is called the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy and it is about a prehistoric tribe of people called the Folsom People. These people roamed North America in the late Pleistocene between 10,900 to 10,200 years ago. I have published several blog postings about the Folsom People, so I will not be discussing them for this particular blog posting. I will be discussing some of the people who came before the Folsom People.


In the archaeological record of the High Plains of North America, at least two documented cultures preceding the Folsom People, Clovis and Goshen. Some people believe that Clovis People were the ancestors to the Folsom People, but so far I have not read any conclusive archaeological evidence or analysis that verifies this to be true. More importantly, I do not believe there is any evidence that leads investigators to believe that there was a clear relationship between Clovis and Folsom Peoples. Since these cultures did not leave any writing or documentation behind, we are only left with what has been found by investigators in documented archaeological sites, which is scant information when trying to establish prehistoric cultural relationships. 

From the archaeological record, we know the time frames when Clovis and Folsom People existed, we know what these people ate from the refuse found in archaeological sites and that they both focused on big game hunting for subsistence but Clovis People preferred mammoths while Folsom People preferred bison. However, based on archaeological evidence both cultures were not picky what they ate. After all, both cultures were probably in survival mode. 
What other differences were there between the Clovis and Folsom cultures in the archaeological record? One big difference between the two cultures were 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. 
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 actually did 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. 

However, for me 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 blades. if a well-made knife forms does not have a diagnostic hafting notch component, it instantly becomes a blade. But, in reality, most of these examples above should be called bifaces.  Over the past few years, there has been a concerted effort from professional to amateur archaeologists to clean up the literature by calling bifaces, bifaces and blades, blades. However, old habits are hard to break, so we shall persevere.

What is a blade? Here is one definition of a blade 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 then 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.  
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 has a slight bend to it.   

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 have walked over without giving them a second glance? The answer to that question would probably make me a little sick to my stomach. Oh well, we learn each and every day, that's what counts! 


Read the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy for the Folsom story!

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