Thursday, November 19, 2015

Midland vs. Folsom and the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY

Figure one. Fluted Folsom projectile point from Colorado.
These fluted projectile points are diagnostic to the
Folsom prehistoric culture in the Pleistocene of North
America. John Branney Collection.

THE SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY  – Adventures from our Prehistoric Past

The passage in red below is from WINDS OF EDEN, the third book in my high energy adventure series called the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY. In this section of the book, an elderly man in the Folsom tribe around 10,700 years ago is passing along to a child the art and craft of making fluted
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projectile points, a hallmark that would come to represent the Folsom prehistoric culture in the archaeological record.
I am sure that this was how people passed on traditions and their way of life from generation to generation, even as far back as ten thousand years, especially since there is currently no archaeological evidence of writing in the human occupancy of America in Pleistocene time. Now, to the passage from WINDS OF EDEN;        

The old man woke up from his nap when the sun was starting its descent in the sky. He reached over and picked up his satchel. He pulled out a large red and gray striped rock and sat staring at it. He rubbed the rock between his thumb and forefinger while thinking about everything that had happened to him since he had carried the rock from the canyon. Much had happened in his life since then, some of it good and some of it bad. When the old man finished reminiscing, he gently placed the red and gray striped rock back into the satchel. Then, with satchel in hand, the old man stood up and left his tipi. When he was outside the tipi, he had to shield his aged eyes from the bright sun. He slowly edged his way to a flat boulder next to his campfire where he sat down. Then, he pulled five unfinished spear points from the satchel. He laid the unfinished spear points down on the boulder next to him and then dug through the satchel, pulling out a cylinder–shaped punch made from an antler, a large antler hammer, small squares of bison hide, and a sharp deer antler tine. He placed these items next to the five unfinished spear points. He leaned over and picked up a flat rock at the base of the boulder. He set the flat rock down next to his other supplies.
When the old man looked up, a young boy was running like the wind towards him.

Haw! – Hello!” the old man said to the young boy when he arrived at the campfire.

Haw!” the boy replied, somewhat out of breath. “I want to watch you.”

Waste! – Good!” the old man declared with a grin.

The young boy sat down as close to the old man as possible without actually sitting on the old man’s lap. The old man picked up the first spear point and handed it to the young boy.

He táku hwo? – What is it?” the old man asked.

The boy studied the piece of chert, his face frozen in a frown as he concentrated on the old man’s question. The young boy flipped the rock over in his hands, studying every surface. His eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the base of the spear point. Between the two sharp ears at the corners of the base of the spear point, the young boy spotted a tiny knob of chert, jutting out at the middle of the base.

Tóka he? – What is wrong?” the old man asked, a whimsical smile on his face.

The boy flicked the tiny knob with his thumbnail and replied, “You have dulled this part.”

The young boy then ran his thumb across the small knobbed platform and said, “It is smooth.”

The fluted projectile points that the elderly man is helping the boy with became so distinctive that there is no mistaking them for any other projectile point type in the archaeological record. However, did the Folsom People only make this one type of projectile point? I will provide some facts below and let you draw your own conclusions.

A Pleistocene Woman Discovered at Midland, Texas 

In 1953, an avocational archaeologist by the name of Keith Glasscock discovered fossilized human

Figure two. Kansas Folsom and Colorado Midland
projectile points, both made from Alibates chert.
John Branney Collection.
remains in a sand blowout six miles southwest of Midland, Texas. Mr. Glasscock also found several diagnostic Folsom artifacts and a similar unfluted projectile point in these blowouts. Mr. Glasscock understood the importance of finding the fossilized human remains and artifacts. He contacted archaeologist Fred Wendorf who investigated the sand blowouts with Mr. Glasscock and other archaeologists. In all, Glasscock and the archaeologists found seven fluted Folsom projectile points and twenty-one unfluted Folsom-like points during their investigations. The archaeologists had hoped to determine the age of the human remains and the relationship with the two types of projectile points found nearby. Wendorf and his colleagues named the site Scharbauer, after the landowner and initially coined the term “unfluted Folsom” points to describe the projectile points found associated with the fluted Folsom points. In an attempt to classify these unfluted Folsom points, the archaeologists looked for similarities and differences with fluted Folsom points. They evaluated the raw material used in making the different projectile points to see if it was possible that these were different people who had come from different places, but the archaeologists determined that the makers of the fluted Folsom points and the unfluted Folsom points used the same materials. The archaeologists also proposed that many of the unfluted Folsom points were intentionally made without flutes and were just not Folsom rejects. Based on the high volume of unfluted Folsom points found at the Scharbauer site, Wendorf eventually proposed a new name for the unfluted Folsom points, calling them Midland for the nearby town. The name has stuck.     

Figure three. Colorado Folsom and Midland
projectile points. John Branney Collection.

The investigation of the blowouts at the Scharbauer site ultimately led to the conclusion that the human remains were that of a woman who had lived sometime in the late Pleistocene and that the associated Folsom / Midland artifacts most likely postdated her remains. Therefore, the woman was as young as the Folsom / Midland cultures or as old as an earlier prehistoric culture. Based on the geologic association between the Folsom and Midland points at the site, the investigators concluded that both projectile point types could have been part of the same culture, but their evidence for this was not conclusive.     

Perhaps, the Midland points were reworked Folsom points or made from Folsom channel flakes or maybe the Midland points were too thin for Folsom knappers to flute. Some investigators still argue that Midland was a separate complex from Folsom since there is at least one case of a Midland-only site. If Midland was a separate complex, perhaps there was a transition period between fluted Folsom and Midland projectile points?

The Midland Point Mystery

It is my experience that collectors and professionals alike lump other types of projectile points into the Midland projectile point type.

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The Midland projectile point type has become somewhat of a catchall for other types of projectile points that resemble Midland. I have seen Goshen-Plainview, Allen, and even Cody Complex points miscategorized as Midland points. This is somewhat understandable since true Midland points have very little to distinguish themselves from the rest of the herd.

Bruce Bradley (2010: 475) had one of the better definitions of Midland. He described Midland flaking as wide and relatively shallow producing points with very flat cross sections. He noted that pressure flaking may have been used along the edges and base, but for the most part the overall flaking was percussion. He noted that abrupt and continuous marginal retouch thinned Midland points and narrowed the points enough so that elimination of the negative bulbs from thinning flakes occurred. Bradley believed that Midland points were technological distinct and just not failed Folsom points.

Figure four. Broken backs from Wyoming Folsom and
Midland projectile points. John Branney Collection.   
Bradley (2010: 474) stated that even though investigators find Folsom and Midland points together at the same sites, no one has found these two projectile points in a well-defined geologic context that would provide evidence that the two projectile points were in use at the same time, such as would be found in a single-episode kill site. Bradley further stated that investigators have not found Midland artifacts  without the presence of diagnostic Folsom artifacts in the same stratigraphic context, therefore establishing a possibility that Midland could be a separate archaeological complex. He noted a possible exception to this at the Gault site in Texas where investigators found a Midland point three centimeters above a Folsom point in a sealed stratigraphic unit.

From a technological basis, Bradley believed that Midland points were more than just unfluted Folsom points. He noted two technological differences between Folsom and Midland; the method in which final shaping and thinning were done and the marginal retouch. Bradley stated that Goshen points complicate the projectile point transition issue since Goshen predated Folsom and many Goshen and Midland points strongly resemble each other. To date, no radiocarbon dates or geologic relationships conclusively back up the temporal relationship between Folsom and Midland.

What do you think about the relationship between Folsom and Midland?

I believe that Goshen projectile points came into being before Folsom and that Goshen and Folsom ultimately morphed into Midland. However, I believe that evidence will eventually show that these three projectile points types overlapped in both time and space for at least a short period of time. There is no reason for me to believe that prehistoric people locked on to only one projectile point technology and that was all they used. It is easy for me to speculate, however, it is much more difficult to back that speculation up with archaeological data, at this time. ;).                           

If you have not read THE SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY, I hope you do. I do not believe you will be disappointed with these adventures. Click on this link to order the books.  

Bradley, Bruce 
2010    Paleoindian Flaked Stone Technology on the Plains and in the Rockies. In Prehistoric Hunters-Gatherers of the High Plains and Rockies by Marcel Kornfeld, George C. Frison, and Mary Lou Larson, pp. 474-475. Left Coast Press. Walnut Creek, California.  

Wendorf, Fred, Alex D. Krieger, and Claude C. Albritton
1955    The Midland Discovery. Greenwood Press. Westport, Connecticut