The Fluted Points in the File Folder

Before eminent archaeologist John Cotter passed away in 1999, he donated much of his personal library to his colleague Anthony Boldurian and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. As they sorted through the books, file folders, and papers, they found something completely unexpected: a plastic sandwich bag with two neatly wrapped Clovis fluted points inside.

 

File folders
The file holder with the Clovis points (arrow points to the points). Source: Boldurian et al. 2002:203 Figure 3B.

Cotter is best known as one of the pioneers of  American historical archaeology, but he began his career studying Paleoindian archaeology, earning his M.A. in 1935. He had originally planned to write his dissertation on the Clovis material from Blackwater Draw, but by the time he returned to graduate studies at Penn in the 1950s, he had switched his subject to the excavations he had done at historic Jamestown, Virginia with the National Park Service. Yet he always maintained an interest in Paleoindian archaeology, and in fact his final publication, with Boldurian, was titled Clovis Revisited.

One of the points was labeled with his name and the location “Western Kentucky 1939.” At that time, Cotter was the state supervisor of the Archaeological Survey of Kentucky, and much of his time was spent examining the multiple excavations underway and ferrying supplies and artifacts to and from the laboratory, but there is no other contextual information for this point.

The second point is unlabeled, but made from a type of chert (Vera Cruz jasper) found in eastern Pennsylvania. The authors don’t say how difficult it was to figure this one out, but they matched this point to a photo of a fluted point found in New Jersey and published in one of the early articles on Paleoindian stone tools, Edgar B. Howard’s 1934 “Grooved Spearpoints.” That New Jersey point was in the collections of the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, where Cotter became a professor and curator. The authors found a drawing of the same Clovis point in the appendix of Cotter’s 1935 thesis.

Two Clovis Points
The two Clovis points, unwrapped. Source: Boldurian et al. 2002:204 Figure 4B.

The projectile point is part of the Newbold collection, accumulated by a New Jersey gentleman farmer in the second half of the nineteenth century. Michael Newbold would pay his workers as much as five cents for artifacts they found on his farm in Burlington County. After his death, the then-new University Museum acquired his collection – decades before anyone knew how old those fluted points were.

How did they end up among the paperwork? It seems likely Cotter was working with the specimens (he was particularly interested in a specific diagnostic characteristic, called basal polish or basal edge grinding, that both points have) in his office and at some point –perhaps even after his death–  the bag holding them got bundled up with related articles and filed away in a bookshelf. It’s a nice example of lost artifacts being found again.

Oakwood Mansion
A modern view of Oakwood, Michael Newbold’s mansion in Burlington County, New Jersey. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this building was destroyed by fire in 2002. Source: Historic American buildings Survey (HABS No. NJ-1242-3)

 

Reference:

Boldurian, Anthony T., Justin D. McKeel, and Mason G. Pickel

2012    Gifts from an archaeologist’s bookcase: John L. Cotter’s library. North American Archaeologist 33(2):193-237.

Argillite Point from Lamoka Lake

The first interesting find isn’t an animal bone. This argillite projectile point was mistakenly put in with the animal bones in the field. It’s unusual to find argillite tools at the Lamoka Lake site – most of the Lamoka points at the site are made from Onondaga chert. In the original excavations in the 1920s, however, William Ritchie did identify a single biface made from argillite which, he said, was identical to the argillite found in New Jersey.

Argillite Point from Lamoka Lake. LL.1990.93.1
Argillite Point from Lamoka Lake.
LL.1990.93.1

This point is similar to Lackawaxen points found in the northeast, especially in Pennsylvania, that also date to the Late Archaic period. Compare it with these Lackawaxen points excavated from a CRM project in Philadelphia.

Infant Burials, Antler Foreshafts at c. 11.5kya Site in Alaska

Ben Potter and colleagues’ work at the Upward Sun River Site in Alaska is making news, and the Smithsonian has the best headline:

Ice Age Babies Surrounded by Weapon Parts Found in Alaska

Foreshafts and bifaces from the Upward Sun River Site, Alaska. Source: University of Alaska-Fairbanks/Ben Potter/Smithsonian.

Details are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (subscription required):

New insights into Eastern Beringian mortuary behavior: A terminal Pleistocene double infant burial at Upward Sun River

Jack’s Reef Points

Jack’s Reef Pentagonal point from unidentified site in New York State. Source: wikimedia/PAR

A Jack’s Reef point was found at the Lamoka Lake site during the Buffalo Museum of Science excavations.  These pentagonal or corner-notched pentagonal points date to the Kipp Island Phase (beginning around A.D. 500)  of the Middle Woodland in New York State.  Farther south, they are associated with the equivalent Webb Phase.

Darrin Lowery recently looked at Jack’s Reef in the Delmarva Peninsula (i.e., parts of Delaware, Maryland, and a little bit of Virginia). Important sites include Island Field in Delaware, which had over 100 human burials, bone tools, shell beads, shark teeth, and more, and the Riverton Site (18WC5) in Maryland,  another burial site (unfortunately not professionally excavated), which had stone platform pipes, a Ramah chert knife,  and stone celts and adzes.

Jack’s Reef sites can be found eroding out of the shore line, such as at the Oxford (18TA3) and Wheatley’s Point (18DO371) sites in Maryland. One major find at the latter site was a cache of fossil shark teeth. Lowery found and excavated the Upper Ridge Site (44NH440) in Virginia, which had an midden with food remains, including a large number of fish bones.  VA. The lithic evidence at Upper Ridge documents the entire sequence of manufacturing Jack’s Reef points, from core to flake to finished product.

Reference:

Lowery, Darrin L.

2013    Jack’s Reef in in the Chesapeake and Delmarva Region: Research into the Coastal Archaeology of the Era Between circa Cal A.D. 480 and Cal A.D. 900. Archaeology of Eastern North America 41:5-30.