The Benton Cache: An Archaic Enigma
by Steven Jordan, Shelbyville, Tennessee
Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.2, pg.96

It was a gray, cold and misty on October 18th, 1993, not the kind of day that you'd think anything significant would happen. I was on my way to a site in my car with a friend. I don't know why I said to him "Today is the day I'm going to find 16 Benton's and they are going to be the nicest find I've ever made". He laughed at me and said "You wish you'd find a cache of Benton's"!

The site we were heading to was one I had hunted many times before. I had already found many artifacts here. So had many oth­ers, as it was a popular surface hunting spot for many collectors. This site, in Davidson County, Tennessee, looked out over the Cum­berland River. From the various array of lith­ics, stone banner weights, shell beads and ar­tifacts of bone, this was obviously a Middle Archaic shell refuse midden site.

I have been involved with archaeology since I was just six years of age. I was lucky enough to come upon Malcolm Otis Parker, who became my life long teacher. Malcolm was a prominent Tennessee collector and ad-vocational archaeologist who was the curator of a museum of artifacts displayed in a room beneath the Nashville Parthenon. Malcolm and I often swapped information on various sites.

My friend and I arrived at the site and we walked to the bank edge. We were now essentially standing opposite of the middle of the shell midden. I noticed an oval black soil circle, and quickly took out my knife to inves­tigate. Digging into it, I uncovered a very nice large Benton blade. I called out to my friend, who seemed surprised at my find, since I had already announced it on the way to the site. As I continued to dig, they just kept coming out. Red ocher was clumped all around each point I unearthed and the blades were stacked like cord wood. My prediction proved correct, as the cache contained 16 whole Benton blades: This cache is pictured in it's entirely in Fig­ures 2. & 3.

Over the years, I have examined these blades closely. The craftsmanship is extraor­dinary. They reveal a high level of lithic pro­duction skills and superior craftsmanship. My study of the points appears to show that a group of three individuals did the workshop utilization on the points. There is collateral flaking with fine micro flaking on the sinu­ous and even non-sinuous edges. There is no evidence of even crude end terminations or steps that can be found on any of the forms. This cache included examples of transverse oblique, secondary, primary flaking with fine micro edge work revealing that the Benton people were highly skilled technicians.

In looking at the distant past, we can only guess what really was the motivation behind the actions of a culture. My discov­ery that three individuals made this cache of points brings up more questions than it an­swers. Why did the Benton period people of central Tennessee call upon several persons to make the cache and place it there? I feel that perhaps the cache was made and placed to ei­ther 1.Symbolize a festival of hunting to their deity 2.Sanctify a religious meeting place or 3.Signify a right of passage. The spot where these points were found was a very special occupation for approximately 200 years or more and may have not been actually lived on full time, but utilized as a place of ceremony. The task of placing multiple point caches may have been a normal part of their ceremonial routine. Obviously burying caches has a large ancient tradition. David Lutz has several ban­neerstone caches of three bannerstones pic­tured in his book The Archaic Bannerstone. He also pictured several caches that included bannerstones and blades (Figurel.).

This placing of ceremonial caches has been seen in many other time periods before and af­ter the Benton Culture. We see caches in North America from the Clovis People to the Mis­sissippians. I have also discovered that the an­cient Maya had a similar context of deposition concerning blades. Many of their blade caches were found near temple mounds. Maya cach­es were for burial interment but they are also associated with non-burials. In their burial association, sometimes rows of skulls were buried and blades were placed between the maxilla and lower mandibles. The Maya too, have oval blade caches that are stacked just like the caches of the Benton culture.Interest­ingly, these stacked caches are not ever asso­ciated with burials. Perhaps with the Maya, the reasoning for caching was the same as the ancient peoples of North America.

Over the years I have visited many other shell middens along the Cumberland. I have heard stories of other caches and seen some of them. It is my opinion, based on research and study, that there were several individuals that produced the Benton cache I discovered. There is an obvious pairing of three's as to the style and type classification of the workman­ship. This is apparent if you look at the pic­tures of the cache and study the flaking meth­ods utilized. It is obvious a lot of work went into fashioning these blades. Whatever reason they were created for is lost in the sands of time and we can truly only guess as to their true purpose.

Regardless, this is my find of a lifetime and the best day archaeologically I have ever known. I hope one day perhaps to discover their true purpose and meaning, but until then I'll continue to admire and care for these ex­ceptional works of ancient man.


Figure 1. A cache found in Warrick County, Indiana. These were all found together on a shell mound site near the Ohio River. The cache includes eight blades, the longest of which is 5 inches, plus an antler pick and a claystone Green River Oval style bannerstone. Collection of Steve Clark, New Salisbury, Indiana.

"Used by Permission of the Author"
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