Saturday, December 12, 2015

Knapping with Chayton and the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL!

FIGURE ONE. A perfect 2.2 inch long Folsom projectile point found by
Lee Pinello Jr. on November 10, 1968 on a family farm in northern Colorado.
Note the flute or channel running up the middle of the point.    

My prehistoric adventure series entitled the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY took place around 10,700 years ago in what we now call Texas and Colorado. The SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY is about the challenging existence of a group of Paleoindian hunters and gatherers called the Folsom People. What makes the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY somewhat different from other fictional accounts is that the Folsom People actually existed in North America’s prehistoric past. How do we know the Folsom People existed? Easy, they left behind a very distinct calling card, a culturally diagnostic stone projectile point we now classify as a Folsom point type.
Click to read about SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL  

Folsom points (Figure one) are thin, small to medium size, well-made projectile points with convex sides, a concave basal edge, sharp basal corners and ground stem edges. What makes Folsom projectile points distinctive from other prehistoric stone projectile point types? Besides the remarkable workmanship, the other most distinctive characteristic of Folsom projectile points are the flutes or channels that start at the base of the projectile point and run up through the length of the entire projectile point. The knapping skill required to create flutes on a Folsom projectile point is without equal in America’s prehistory. Even modern day knapping experts are challenged in making replica Folsom projectile points using the same tools and materials that were available to Folsom People in the Pleistocene.

When the Folsom People created these thin, fluted, projectile points, they not only created an important component in their weaponry, but they also created works of art. Folsom projectile points are arguably the finest projectile points ever made in North America. No one has yet confirmed the exact manufacturing process that Folsom People used to make these fluted projectile points. This is not to say that people do not have their pet theories, they do. In fact, you can add me to that list of pet theories on how Folsom People made their projectile points.

In the first book of my TRILOGY entitled SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL, I wrote about the manufacturing process I thought the Folsom People used to make these fluted projectile points. Since there has never been any confirmation that the Folsom People had any written language, we have to assume that they passed along their way of life from generation to generation via word of mouth and hands-on experience. The scene below in blue is from SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL. In this
FIGURE THREE. A Colorado found Folsom that
exhibits the three attributes of Folsom projectile points;
1). thinness, 2). fine marginal retouch, and 3). flutes.   
particular scene, a young hunter of the Folsom People named Chayton was learning the knapping process for fluting projectile points from a wise old tribal healer named Tarca Sapa
who also happened to be the grandfather of Tonkala, the young woman Chayton loved. Love was the same in the Pleistocene as it is today! Here is what happened in the scene.

The sun rose for the first time since the decision to leave the canyon. Chayton picked up his ten spear points made from inyan wakan [Lakota Sioux words for 'sacred rocks'] and walked across the village. Chayton could see Tarca Sapa’s long white hair from half way across the village. When Chayton arrived, Tarca Sapa was busy grinding a plant into powder against a grinding stone. Tonkala, Tarca Sapa’s granddaughter, sat close to him grinding up dried chokecherries that she had gathered. She looked up at Chayton with her large green eyes and Chayton’s heart began pounding in his chest. She smiled at him and then quickly glanced down at her grinding stone. Chayton smiled and then turned to her grandfather.

Lay he hun nee key lee la waste!-Good morning!” Chayton said.

Leela ampaytu keen waste,-Today is a good day,” Tarca Sapa answered.

“I have spear points for our journey, but I need you to help me flute them,” Chayton requested.

“I have shown you how to flute before. Why have you not learned what I have taught you?”

“I do not want to ruin these spear points since we leave the canyon tomorrow.”

“Do you think I have nothing better to do than to teach you something I have already taught you?” Tarca Sapa queried. “I will watch you flute only one. The rest you must do yourself.”

Chayton had expected this reaction from Tarca Sapa. It was the old man’s way. Tarca Sapa always complained, but always found the time to ensure Chayton learned properly. Chayton handed Tarca Sapa the spear points, one at a time. Each spear point was approximately the length of a finger and wider than a thumb. The tip of each spear point was slightly rounded, but still dangerously sharp while the base of the spear point, where the spear point attached to a wooden shaft, had two sharp ears. In the middle of the spear point’s base, between the two ears, Chayton had knapped a small square platform. When hit with an antler hammer precisely in the right place, the rock would crack and a long thin flake would detach from the middle of the spear point. A flute channel would remain where the long thin flake detached. How well this square platform was constructed and then struck with the antler hammer meant the difference between a good spear point and a broken spear point.
The platform was where Tarca Sapa focused his eyes. Tarca Sapa looked at each spear point carefully and put each inspected spear point in one of two piles. Once his inspection was over, Tarca Sapa touched the pile with seven spear points and said, “These points are good, the others need work. Now, let me see you drive a flute channel into the spear point.”

With his hands shaking, Chayton opened up his leather pouch and pulled out two thick pads made from buffalo hide and two elk antler hammers. He sat down on a nearby rock and covered his legs with the thick pads. He placed a spear point, tip down, along the inside of his left thigh and then placed an elk antler hammer horizontally on top of the platform at the base of the projectile point. He braced the other end of the elk antler hammer against the inside of his right thigh. When Chayton had the hammer precisely lined up with the small square platform, he took the second elk antler hammer in his right hand and swung down hard on top of the first elk hammer. Nothing happened.

Flustered, Chayton looked over at Tonkala hoping that she was not watching. Chayton then looked at Tarca Sapa hoping for some words of encouragement, but Tarca Sapa only stared straight ahead at the spear point still resting in Chayton’s lap. Chayton nervously lined up the spear point, this time swinging the hammer even harder, striking the spear point with much more force. A solid cracking sound came from the spear point and Chayton looked down and saw the long thin flake that had detached from the spear point. To Chayton’s delight, the spear point had a beautiful flute channel running its entire length.

"It looks like you don’t need me after all.” Tarca Sapa said with a smile. “Take the rest of the spear points and finish them.”

FIGURE FOUR. Unfinished Folsom
projectile point or "preform".
FIGURE FIVE. Striking platform to
create flute on projectile point.
FIGURE SIX. Rounded and beveled tip
of projectile point.

      The spear points that Chayton took to Tarca Sapa for fluting were not finished and looked somewhat like the unfinished Folsom projectile point in Figure four, a photograph of a Folsom preform projectile point certified by archaeological consultant Gregory Perino* and in my personal collection. An unknown finder found this particular Folsom preform projectile point in Mecosta County, Michigan. The material is Norwood Chert. This particular preform was almost ready for fluting. This particular prehistoric knapper had pressure flaked both faces of the preform leaving closely spaced flakes terminating near the middle of the preform or what would soon be a projectile point. The preform tip or distal end of the projectile point was rounded, beveled and had light abrasion and grinding done to it (Figure six). This aided in the fluting process.  ight abrasion and grinding on the tip. Isolation of the central portion of the preform base or proximal end took place, leaving a platform nipple in the center of the base. Two pressure flakes were removed from either side of the platform nipple to allow the maker's antler punch to follow the channel flake easier. The platform nipple was beveled, ground, and polished. It was ready for Side A to be fluted. Age somewhere between 10900 and 10200 years ago. Finder unknown. Perino certification. Ex John Baldwin and Ron Van Heukelom Collections. John Branney Collection.

FIGURE SEVEN. Expert knapper Bob
Patten's pet theory of the way Folsom
People fluted their projectile points.
From Mr. Patten's book
Old Tools - New Ways..   

* One or two knowledgeable people have called
this preform a Barnes Clovis, an older and
possible ancestoral point  to Folsom. They called
it a Barnes Clovis based on provenance. It
is impossible to determine whether this
point is Folsom or Barnes, I will go with
Greg Perino's opinion. 

For fluting to be successful, the prehistoric knapper needed to isolate a striking platform in the center portion of the projectile point base or proximal end. The prehistoric knapper accomplished this by creating a small nipple or striking platform in the center of the preform base (Figure five). Then, the prehistoric knapper removed two pressure flakes from either side of the striking platform so that the maker’s antler punch could reach the striking platform without interference (review Figure four). The prehistoric knapper then beveled, ground, and polished the striking platform or nipple, stabilizing it for knapping.


This preform would have made Tarca Sapa very happy! Read the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL for the rest of the story.