Monday, January 23, 2017

SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL and the Clovis Ovate Biface

Figure One - Obsidian ovate biface probably made by
Paleoindians, most likely from the Clovis Complex.
Found on private land in Oregon in the 1960s. 
One of the most controversial topics in today's world is climate change, but changing climates have been around literally forever. You just have to review Planet Earth's geologic past and fossil record to find example after example of climate change. Climate change has been the rule, not the exception, in our Earth's history.  

One of my main themes in the book SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL was the climate change that took place over ten thousand years ago at the tail end of the last Ice Age. A changing climate forced my main characters, the Folsom People, to abandon the canyon where they had lived for close to a generation. SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL was about the Folsom People's journey to a place called the North Country. It was their intent to escape rising temperatures, starvation, and intolerable drought conditions. 


Figure Two - 4.1 inch long discoidal biface made from
Texas Alibates Chert and found in Northern Colorado.
Of Paleoindian origin, mostly likely Folsom Complex.   
Below is an excerpt from my book SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL. In this passage, our hero Chayton is preparing to leave the canyon with his tribe, some 10,700 years ago. Since Chayton and the Folsom People really did not know what to expect on the journey, he visited a prehistoric quarry to find raw material for making stone tools during the journey. Chayton could not be sure if they would find good raw material on the journey so being prudent, he decided to carry some of his own raw material.           


As one of the young men of the tribe, the elders selected Chayton to be one of the three forward scouts on the journey. He began his preparation by going to the rock quarries and digging for the sacred red and white rock for making his weapons and tools. He could not rely on finding rock on the journey and the inyan wakan, the word the tribe used for the sacred rock, was plentiful in the canyon. He walked deep into the canyon and found a pile of rubble where other humans had dug a huge hole in search of inyan wakan. Chayton was not going to dig in the sweltering heat of the canyon, so he scraped through the rubble pile and found several large pieces of inyan wakan. He took a large round river pebble from his pouch and struck each large piece of inyan wakan until they broke into several sharp pieces. When he found a piece of rock he liked, he then used a hammer made from an elk antler to shape the piece into a flat disc-shaped rock, larger than his open hand. He continued his search until he had five disc-shaped rocks made from the sacred rock. Chayton would take these rocks on the journey and use them to make knife blades, tools and spear points.


After putting the five pieces of inyan wakan in his pouch, Chayton walked deeper into the canyon where underground springs had always fed the creek.

Chayton and the Folsom People were not the first Americans to actually create rock to carry on their journeys. Below, is an example of the same thing from the Clovis prehistoric culture.   
Figure Three - The Paleoindian Book - SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL.  

In SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL, you just might say that Chayton was preparing for a rainy day by securing raw material to make stone tools on the way to the North Country. This was not unusual, based on archaeological evidence. There are numerous documented examples of prehistoric people hording or caching non-local raw material for stone tools. Since most of these prehistoric people had a  nomadic existence, they could not afford to get to a region and not be able to find raw material for making their stone tools. So, they solved the problem by carried some raw material with them. 
One of the earliest examples of this hording and caching of raw material came from the Clovis People, those hardy prehistoric individuals who archaeologists for decades thought were the First Americans. The Clovis People carried preforms with them to new areas. Preforms were not stone tools as such, but were resources of raw material which could be transformed into a desired tool or implement on the spot. One of these preforms, that I suspect came from the Clovis People, is in Figures One and Four. Archaeologists call this particular type of preform an ovate biface. In the upcoming paragraphs, I plan on borrowing freely from a tremendous book by Michael R. Waters and Thomas A. Jennings entitled The Hogeye Clovis Cache, published in 2015 by Texas A & M.  
Figure Four - 6.3 inch long ovate biface of probable Clovis
Complex origin. Found on private land in the 1960s in Oregon.  

Why do I believe that this particular preform in Figures One and Four originated from the Clovis People? First, this type of biface has a well documented association with the Clovis prehistoric culture (Hogeye Clovis Cache for a start). Some people refer to this artifact as a 'Clovis platter', but morphologically I believe it is best described as an ovate biface, distinguished by its oval shape and knapped on both faces. Ovate bifaces have no clear base or tip. They may have served Clovis People as flake cores or knife preforms. If the Clovis knapper decided to use the ovate biface as a knife preform, he would sharpen the edges, as needed. If the Clovis knapper needed the ovate biface for making flake tools, additional blanks could be removed from the mother rock. Regardless of their ultimate use, ovate bifaces were preforms for projectile points and / or a source of raw material for additional flake tools.

I draw your attention to Figure Four, again. Note the wide, long and shallow flakes running across the face of this prehistoric artifact. This is another Clovis trait. Ovate bifaces were thinned by overshot and overface flaking using both alternate-opposed and serial flaking (Figure Five).
Figure Five

In the Figure Four example, I believe the Clovis knapper used the alternate-opposed flaking method, a sequential method whereby the repeated removal of an overshot or overface flake from one edge is followed by a similar removal from the opposite edge on the same face. This was a common flaking practice within the Clovis prehistoric culture. 

In Figure Six, I am demonstrating the bifacial reduction or lifecycle of an ovate biface from left to right. Please disregard the different materials of the four artifacts and assume the material is the same rock and the lifecycle of the ovate biface on the left ultimately ends up as the spear point to the right. Here is what I mean; 

Figure Six - Bifacial reduction from left to right, from the original 6.3 inch long ovate biface on the left to
a Clovis spear point on the right.

Our Clovis knapper originally created the ovate biface on the left, perhaps at the prehistoric rock quarry. As time went on, the knapper whittled away at the ovate biface as he needed raw material for stone tools, reducing the overall size of the ovate biface (second from left). At some stage, the Clovis knapper decided to create either a spear or knife preform (third from left). This ultimately ended up as a knife or a spear point (far right). Even the original knife or spear point was reduced in size through resharpening to the point where it was either lost, broken, or retired. The process going from left to right could have taken a few weeks or perhaps a year or so, depending on a number of factors. Who knows?  

So, now it is time for you to read the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY for the rest of the story. Available at and other fine booksellers.