Monday, April 20, 2015

Shadows on the Trail and Bipoint Ultrathin Knife Forms!

Figure one. 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 novel thriller series called the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy 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 have covered several components in 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 we call something adds clarity to the description of the item. In some cases, the name only adds confusion. In the case of laurel leaf or bipoint knife forms, the name adds clarity. Bipoint knife forms were named after prehistoric stone knives which 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 continuously made tool form in human prehistory. The oldest documented example of a bipoint knife form came from Africa and investigators have dated its origin as far back as 75,000 years ago.

What does a bipoint knife form look like? Figure one is a photograph of a super rare bipoint knife form from the state of Wyoming in North America. This prehistoric knife form is not only bipointed, but is also has another Folsom characteristic, it is also ultrathin. This 6.8 inch long heavily patinated, bipointed ultrathin 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 chemical weathering took place, 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, specifically 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 designated range for the ration investigators use to define ultrathin knife forms.

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The Folsom People from my books in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy made some of the finest bipoint knife forms in existence and since this is also an ultrathin knife form and exhibits overshot and overface flaking, I am fairly confident that the knife form in Figures one and two was made by someone in the Folsom culture sometime between 10,900 to 10,200 years before present. I only write fairly confident because this knife form was found on the surface of the ground and not in any dated and stratified archaeological context. Therefore, I cannot be fully confident of its Folsom culture origin.
What are some of the characteristics of bipoint knife forms? I want to answer that question by first giving a shout out to one of the best reference books on the subject of bipoint technology. The book is called Bipoints Before Clovis and William Jack Hranricky is the author. This is the only book I am aware of that covers bipoint technology to any appreciable degree. I am going to use the information of this book when I go over the characteristics of bipoint knife forms. For those of you who have more interest in bipoint knife forms and its technology, I encourage you to buy Mr. Hranricky's book, right after you have bought and read my Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. ;)  
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 ranges from pre-Clovis to historical Indian sites.

As of the publication date of Bipoints Before Clovis, there were no clear documented associations between bipoint technology and Clovis technology. Let me repeat that because it is an important observation. There were no known examples of bipoint technology found with Clovis cultural material. It appears that Clovis people preferred other knife forms, such as the ovate knife forms. However, 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 piece of rock that a prehistoric knapper struck off a parent core rock. A blade is several times longer than it is wide. Prehistoric knappers produced bipoint knife forms from blades and then finished them as dual-pointed knife forms for cutting purposes . Prehistoric people rarely used bipoint knife forms 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 northern Colorado and found with other 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. Therefore, I assume that this beautiful white knife form was made sometime between 2,500 to 1,800 years before present, well after Paleoindians and Folsom people had left the planet.

My point? 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 an archaeologically dated context, it is difficult to assign the bipoint knife form to any 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 Trilogy. Please let me know what you think. You can reach me at this blog or on facebook at Shadows on the Trail Trilogy by John Bradford Branney.
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