Friday, July 7, 2017

SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL and Agate Basin to Scottsbluff

Figure One - Development continuum of Paleoindian projectile point types. From left to right, olest to youngest,
Agate Basin (Colorado), Hell Gap (Wyoming), Alberta (Wyoming), and Scottsbluff (Colorado).
Agate Basin is 4.6 inches long. John Branney Collection.  
In my prehistoric thriller books the SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY, three Paleoindian tribes culturally and physically clash in the midst of the High Plains. All three tribes were hunters and gatherers, but what differentiated them was their weaponry. While the three tribes used the same ‘old world’ spear thrower technology, their stone projectile points varied in both style and technology. I want to take you on a short journey into the past so everybody climb into my time machine, destination, southern Colorado around 8,700 B.C.
Figure Two - Delorean time machine from Back to the Future.  
In the first book of the TRILOGY entitled SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL (clever, huh?), a tribe of people called the Mountain People brutally attack the village of the River People. While the attack was happening, many of the hunters from the River People were on a meat-gathering expedition. There was really no one in the village to defend the brutal onslaught of the Mountain People. When the River People hunters returned from their expedition, they found the complete destruction of their village and the murder of friends and loved ones. The hunters craved revenge, but first they had to determine who did this deplorable act to their tribe. The only evidence left behind by the diabolical Mountain People was a spear found in the brush. The spear had the message of its origin carved in its shaft and a different kind of stone projectile point at its tip. One of the hunters brought the spear to Avonaco, the leader of the River People. Here is what happened. Lights, camera, action:   
Avonaco held the spear in his hands. The spear shaft was the same wood that the River People used, but the stone spear point was different. The stone spear point was thinner and longer than any Avonaco had ever seen and made from a shiny, black rock material. Avonaco ran his thumb down the sharp edge of the spear point and quickly pulled his thumb away.


Éŝkos!–Sharp!” Avonaco exclaimed, looking down at his bleeding thumb.


He continued to examine the spear point, “I have only seen a spear point like this once made from this black rock. When I was a boy, I found a spear point much like this deep in the mountains. My father told me the black rock comes from the mountains.”


Avonaco then inspected the sinew wrap that connected the stone spear point to the wooden spear shaft. The River People used sinew from deer or bison to attach their spear points.

Avonaco pointed to the sinew and said, “This is too thin, it is not from bison or deer.”


Avonaco ran his fingers down the smooth wood of the spear and noticed it had carvings in it. To see better, Avonaco moved the spear shaft closer to the light of the campfire. Carved into the wood were five green-painted peaks next to two orange-painted suns,      ҉ Ʌ Ʌ Ʌ Ʌ Ʌ      ҉. Waquini and Vipponah leaned over Avonaco’s shoulders to take a better look.
Wow, I wonder if the River People ever achieved their revenge…I guess you are going to have to read the book to find out.
In Figure One above, I have photographed four different Paleoindian projectile point types, from left to right and oldest to youngest, they are Agate Basin, Hell Gap, Alberta, and Scottsbluff. The adoption of these four different projectile point types was widespread, going from Canada to Texas through much of the Great Plains and the southwestern United States.

We know from archaeological evidence that different Paleoindian cultures used different projectile point types. We know from the archaeological evidence at several single episode bison kill sites that Paleoindian hunters used the same projectile point types at each bison kill. This leads me to believe that specific cultures drove projectile point style and technology within the hunters that participated in the bison kills. A few examples of these Paleoindian bison kill sites and the respective projectile point types in parentheses are Casper (Hell Gap), Olsen-Chubbuck (Firstview), Hudson-Meng (Alberta), Jimmy Allen (Allen) and the Horner Site (Cody Complex).
Agate Basin is the oldest projectile point I am covering in this posting. Current archaeological
Figure Three - Agate Basin projectile points. On some Agate Basin
projectile points the "Hell Gap shoulder" was already developing.
John Branney Collection.
evidence indicates that Agate Basin projectile points and knife forms began showing up sometime around 10,400 years ago. Based on radiocarbon dates and stratigraphic studies, the Agate Basin projectile point may have briefly overlapped with at least three other projectile point types; Folsom, Hell Gap, and Alberta.
Based on stratigraphic relationships at the multicultural Hell Gap site in Wyoming, investigators determined that Hell Gap was younger than Agate Basin. The age most often assigned to Hell Gap is around 10,000 years. Based on flint knapping technology, many investigators believe that Hell Gap projectile points came from Agate Basin projectile point technology. In experimental hunting exercises, Agate Basin proved to be a very effective piece of weaponry, so why did Paleoindians need to evolve from Agate Basin to Hell Gap projectile points? One possible reason might be expediency of time and effort. If you have ever studied an Agate Basin projectile point, much time and effort went into their making. In many Agate Basin projectile points, extensive pressure flaking was used to achieve exceptional point symmetry. Perhaps, this went to the point of flint knapping overkill. The Hell Gap flint knapper usually terminated the finishing process of the projectile point much earlier than an Agate Basin flint knapper. The Hell Gap flint knapper used only pressure flaking on the stems and tips, leaving a much rougher and less symmetrical projectile point from Agate Basin. The shoulders that developed with Hell Gap projectile point also led to a more efficient haft.
Ten thousand years ago near Casper, Wyoming, Paleoindian hunters used these Hell Gap projectile points to kill bison that they had stampeded into a trap comprised of sand dunes. During the same timeframe in Nebraska, a different group of Paleoindian hunters used what we call Alberta projectile points to dispatch bison they had trapped in an ancient arroyo. Dr. H. M. Wormington identified and named Alberta projectile points from surface recovered examples found during the dust bowl in Alberta, Canada. The long stem and abrupt shoulders differentiate the Alberta projectile point from both Agate Basin and Hell Gap. We assume that some Paleoindians saw the Alberta projectile point as an advancement in weapon technology from Agate Basin and Hell Gap projectile point design. When spearing a bison or other game animal, the shoulders and long base of the Alberta projectile point took much of the stress and impact of the point, creating a more efficient weapon.    
The Alberta projectile point technology and style gave birth to another projectile point. The point to the far right in Figure one is a Scottsbluff point, a continuation of the Cody Archaeological Complex and the point design originating from the earlier Alberta projectile points. The stem and shoulders found in Alberta points still exist in Scottsbluff points and fine pressure flaking returned to the    
Figure Four - Examples of Cody Complex artifacts, including Alberta
(Far left) and Scottsbluff (Third from left).
John Branney Collection. .  
So, what do you think drove the development continuum of Paleoindian projectile points from Agate Basin to Scottsbluff? Was it technological innovation driving the change or was it different cultures wanting to put their own mark on weaponry? Why did cultures and individual tribes adapt the same projectile point type across such a wide geographic expanse? Why did Paleoindians use a specific projectile point type at one bison kill while Paleoindians used another projectile point type at a different bison kill? Different people? Different cultures?   
We can only speculate about the answers to these questions because we just do not know. But, isn’t it fun speculating?