Sunday, January 24, 2016

B is for Burin and S is for Shadows on the Trail, Of Course!

Figure one. Scottsbluff knife form from Wilson County, Texas. The most
interesting feature on this 8,500 year old beauty is its burinated tip. 
A burin was a specialized, chisel-like stone tool created by driving a flake or flakes off the edge of another flake, biface, or blade to produce a ninety-degree edge for working hard substances such as ivory, antler, and bone. The sharp corners created by the burin were so useful that prehistoric knappers deliberately made them. The removed edge fragment is called a burin spall. 
Figure two. Burin tip of the Scottsbluff knife form
pictured in Figure one. Note the stop notch below burin.
This stop notch was to ensure burin did not travel further
down the edge of the knife.

Figure one is a 3.7 inch long Scottsbluff knife form, made from Edward's chert and found on private land in Wilson County, Texas. This artifact is Early Archaic with an approximate age of 8,500 years. The knife form has had two or three resharpenings that have reduced its overall length, but the most interesting feature of this Scottsbluff knife form is its tip. The tip of the knife form at some time was pressure flaked into a burin tip (an engraver) and was retipped two times. 

Most burins and burin spalls were unspectacular. Most people do not even recognize them. Caution is needed in identifying the difference between an impact fracture and a burin. Burination strengthened the tip of this Scottsbluff point exponentially, keeping the edge from failing as it would ultimately do if left sharp.

Figure three. My heart was pumping!
Burination is the flintknapping process where a small, relatively thick flake is removed from a flake, blade or biface using a snapped termination or previous burination scar as the knapping platform.  Burination can also be used to remove a sharp edge for safe handholding of a knife form. Burination was extremely common in the “Old World” Paleolithic of Europe, Siberia, and Beringia. Paleoindians in North America also made and used burins. For some reason, Clovis People only used burination in rare instances, but it became more popular in Folsom and Cody Complex times. Most of my burin tools came from my Folsom and Cody Complex sites.  

Figure four. DRAT! The tip was missing!
I might as well stick with Cody Complex artifacts for another example, even though my prehistoric adventure book series the SHADOW ON THE TRAIL Trilogy took place at least one thousand years before the Cody Complex. On 23 August 2008 I was artifact hunting on the same ranch in northern Colorado that inspired the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL Trilogy. That day, in the sand of a dry stream I saw the artifact in the photo in Figure three. I remember my heart was beating out of my chest. It was obvious what I had found. The square base and the flaking pattern were distinctively Scottsbluff, one of the rare projectile point types from the Cody Complex. After a pretty long photo session, I decided to pull the Scottsbluff point from its sandy grave. When I  dug the Scottsbluff point out of the sand, my heart sunk when I saw the tip was missing. "DRAT!" I yelled when I saw the artifact in Figure four. Broken, I thought. My first impression was that this 2.8 inch Scottsbluff ended its life with an impact fracture, but after taking the point home and studying it, I realized that the approximate 9,000 year old human that made this Scottsbluff point had intentionally created a double burin and used the point for scraping wood or hides.  

Figures five and six
What I think happened was that this projectile point suffered an impact fracture on a hunt or something similar. Maybe the point hit a bison bone and shattered the tip or perhaps it collided with the ground on an errant throw. What I do know is that the Cody Complex hunter than refurbished the broken point. He removed a burin spall on both edges near the impact fracture (Figures five and six). Then the innovative hunter knapped a chisel-like edge on the tip of the impact fracture. He used this Scottsbluff point as both knife and a chisel for use on bone, wood, and hides.

How do I know it was used for this purpose? Elementary, my dear Watson. The tip is well polished from use (actually a different color and texture) and the flaking pattern is different than the rest of the point. The Cody Complex hunter may have re-tipped the burin tip several times before he lost it and I found it 9000 years later.     

Burins found in Paleoindian contexts seldom demonstrate use wear on the edge formed by the burin spall in front of the striking platform. Instead, use wear was on the edge adjacent to the striking platform or point. In the case of this last Scottsbluff point, use wear was on the tip.

So, there we are, a couple of examples of burins on Cody Complex knife forms. You will have to read the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL Trilogy to see if the Folsom People made burins. All the information needed to order your copy is below. Don't miss the adventure!    

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