While we were finishing up with fieldwork, several of us got an email from Metin Eren. For those of you who don’t follow Paleoindian archaeology closely, Metin is a publishing beast. So, of course, he was sending us an article he co-authored with Briggs Buchanan, another publishing beast.
As soon as I opened it, I thought, “Well, this is timely.” It’s an overview of Clovis lithich technology.
There’s a lot of things I find interesting about these two writing a paper together on this topic. First, I would consider Buchanan to take more of a hard “Clovis-first” position (i.e. there is no pre-Clovis at all) and Metin more of a soft “Clovis-first” position (i.e. there’s solid evidence for pre-Clovis, although Clovis was first in some areas like the Great Lakes). Now, I could have this wrong, because people change their minds, but that’s how I read their thoughts from their extensive publication record.
Second, for the most part, they both come at studying stone tools from two different directions. Metin is an amazing flint-knapper, and he has written a ton on the variation in how people produce stone tools. You can almost think of Metin as someone who has spent a lot of time reverse-engineering the steps in the process of making a stone tool. Briggs, on the other hand, has written extensively on applying “cultural transmission theory” to the finished products. He is interested in what the slight variability in the shape of items like projectile points can tell us about prehistoric learning networks. Granted, there’s a lot of overlap between the approaches and the questions they’re trying to answer, but they’re just different enough for me to be intrigued about how they view Clovis technology.
So, what did they come up with? Well, this baller graphic for one:
Why do I think this is timely? Well, at Swag we have a lot of artifacts, and the overall character of the assemblage seems to fit really well into this lithic tech “cookbook.” Moreover, this flowchart REALLY gets at the heart of the Clovis assemblage at Topper, but Topper is a great example of how this gameplan gets adapted to poor quality raw material. Also, the assemblage at Swag bears some striking similarities to the Topper Clovis assemblage, and in particular to the artifacts that came out of the excavation block that formed the basis for my master’s thesis.
Over the course of the excavations, I noted some of the artifacts that illustrate this to some degree, and I pulled them out and took some photos last week. I’ll also compare them to the Eren/Buchanan flowchart. In a later post, I might compare these to the artifacts from the Clovis assemblage at Topper.
First, it seems like they were hauling in some some big chunks and spalls directly from the outcrop, like this beast of a flake.
And from there, we have have a lot more opportunistic knapping than prismatic knapping. However, we do have a few attempts at creating the blade cores for prismatic knapping. However, they’re not very pretty compared to Clovis sites like Gault or Carson-Conn-Short, which are sitting in close proximity to really abundant, high quality material. Rather than having true, formal conical- or wedge-shaped cores, we have this…
You can see where they peeled off a lot of long removals to create long,skinny flakes, but they they were also trying to overcome some impurities in the raw materials. I’ll save you the suspense and just say that the other side of this piece is ugly. Also, based on some of the other flakes from this unit, I suspect that when Derek Anderson goes nuts refitting this, we’ll find that they kept trying over and over again to rejuvenate this one side to of the core to produce blades.
Ok, what were they doing with those blades? Well, they were making some stuff like this…
…a long, but thick flake that has margins that have been edited to make them more jagged (i.e. serrated or denticulated).
In some cases, they took advantage of opportunistically knapped flakes to make artifacts that have the same basic shape (but were probably not produced by a removal from a formal blade core).
In other cases, they used “opportunistic flaking” to produce artifacts that look like side-scrapers (apologies for the blurry pic – I was in a hurry)…
…and larger, more heavy duty unifaces (similar to those found at Topper).
We also have several heavy duty adze-like tools that are bifacial…
…some bifacial pieces that are just, for lack of better words, clunky…
…and finally a biface that might be a bifacial preform with overshot removals (0r maybe another adze?), like the biface in the far left of the Eren/Buchanan graphic. However, their bifacial preform was placed in a cache, whereas ours was likely a manufacturing reject at a quarry. Predictably, the Swag example here is much less aesthetically pleasing. It still has some of the silt/clay mush adhering to it, and I didn’t have time to really gently remove it before taking the picture.
So, what do I think? I wish we had uncovered a fluted preform, or a biface with more clear overshot removals (like the artifacts on the far left and bottom left of the Eren/Buchanan graphic), but as it stands now, we think think have an artifact assemblage that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Clovis assemblage at Topper and elsewhere in North America.