Monday, April 20, 2015

Bipoint Ultrathin Knife Forms and the SHADOWS on the TRAIL Quadrilogy!

Figure one. 6.8 inch long bipoint knife form found in the 1950s on private land near the town
of Farson in the Eden Valley of Wyoming. John Bradford Branney Collection.
My prehistoric thriller book series called the Shadows on the Trail Quadrilogy is about the Folsom People, a mysterious group of hunters and gatherers who lived from 10,900 to 10,200 years ago. In previous posts, I wrote about the various components that defined the Folsom People's tool kit, but one tool I have not covered is the laurel leaf or bipoint knife form.

What is a laurel leaf or bipoint knife form? In most cases, the name of something adds clarity to the description of that something. In a few cases, the name of something can cause confusion. In the case of laurel leaf or bipoint knife forms, the name adds clarity. Bipoint knife forms were named for prehistoric stone knives that have dual points, one on each end of the artifact. In the prehistoric record, bipoint knife forms have worldwide distribution and are currently the oldest continually made tool form in human prehistory. The oldest documented example of a bipoint knife form is from Africa and investigators believe it is around 75,000 years old.

What does a bipoint knife form look like? Figure one is a photograph of an extremely rare bipoint knife form. This prehistoric knife form is not only a bipoint, it is an ultrathin bipoint knife form. This 6.8 inch long, heavily patinated, bipoint knife form was found in the early 1950s on a private ranch near the town of Farson in the Eden Valley of Wyoming. The original material, before pedogenic carbonate covered it, appears to be a moderate brown jasper. You can see a touch of this moderate brown jasper near the base of the knife form in the lower right-hand portion of the photograph.

Figure two. Cross section of the bipoint ultrathin knife form in Figure one.
John Bradford Branney Collection.
How thin are ultrathin knife forms and how thin is the knife form in figure one? Very thin! Figure two is a photograph of the cross section of the bipointed ultrathin knife form in Figure one.  The width of this bipointed ultrathin knife form is 58 millimeters and the thickness in the middle of the knife form is only 5 millimeters for a width to thickness ratio of 11.6, well within the ratio investigators use to define ultrathin knife forms.

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In my books from the Shadows on the Trail Quadrilogy, the Folsom People made some of the finest bipoint knife forms in existence. The ultrathin knife form in figure one exhibits another Paleoindian trait; overshot and overface flaking, I am fairly confident that the knife form in figures one and two was made by the Folsom People between 10,900 to 10,200 years before present. I can only be fairly confident since this ultrathin knife form was found on the surface of the ground and not in a dated and / or stratified archaeological context.

What are some of the characteristics of bipoint knife forms? One of the best reference books on the subject of bipoint technology if titled Bipoints Before Clovis by William Jack Hranricky. This is the only book that I have found that explores bipoint technology in any detail. I will be using the information from his book to go through the characteristics of bipoint knife forms.   
Bipoint knife forms are among the oldest prehistoric tool forms in North America. A few investigators believe the technology arrived in North America around 35,000 years ago, a long time
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before Clovis People roamed the land. Cultural distribution of  bipoint knife forms in North America ranges from pre-Clovis to historical Indian sites.

As of the time of publication of Bipoints Before Clovis, there were no documented associations between bipoint technology and Clovis technology. Let me repeat this because I think it is an important observation. There currently are no known examples of bipoint technology found with Clovis cultural material. It appears that Clovis people preferred other knife forms, such as ovate or fluted knife forms. The Folsom culture was a different story. Investigators have tied some of the finest bipoint knife form examples in North America to the Folsom People.

How are bipoint knife forms made? They can start out as a biface or a blade. What is a blade? A blade is a rock flake struck off a core rock. A blade is several times longer than it is wide. Prehistoric knappers produced bipoint knife forms from blades and finished them off as dual-pointed knife forms. Prehistoric people rarely used bipoints as projectile points.   

Figure three. 4.2 inch long bipoint knife form found by
Bob Knowlton with a cache of tools on a possible kill site.
John Bradford Branney Collection 
Figure three is another example of a bipoint knife form. This bipoint knife form was found on private property in western Colorado and found with similar knife forms and projectile points on what appeared to be a deer kill site. A non-diagnostic pottery rim and two heavily serrated San Pedro dart points were found with the knife forms. San Pedro projectile points were Late Archaic with an age range between 2,500 and 1,800 years before present. I have to assume this beautiful white knife form was made between 2,500 to 1,800 years before present, well after Paleoindians and Folsom people had left the planet.

Bipoint knife forms have similar morphological characteristics (shapes, forms, and their grouping into period styles) that were consistent across a long span of prehistory. Therefore, unless the bipoint knife form is found within a dated context on an archaeological site, it becomes difficult to tie a bipoint knife form to a specific culture or chronology.

Figure four. Bipoint knife form from Wyoming
John Bradford Branney Collection.    
One more example of a bipoint knife form is shown in Figure four. This 3.4 inch long bipoint knife form was made from a beautiful multi-colored jasper and found on private land in Wyoming. This knife form exhibits the wide, shallow percussion flakes favored by the Paleoindians, as well as fine pressure flaking along the edges. I would love to say this knife form was from the Folsom culture, but I cannot. It was not found with other Folsom materials and it was a surface find. Based on the history of bipoint knife forms, this bipoint could have been made at any time within our country's prehistory.      
I hope you enjoyed the blog posting and I hope you enjoy the Shadows on the Trail Quadrilogy. Please let me know what you think. You can reach me at this blog or on facebook at Shadows on the Trail Quadrilogy by John Bradford Branney.

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