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Flint Artifact Collections

An Interesting Way of Maintaining a Solid Archaeological Record of Surface Finds
Allen Site: A Jimmy Allen occupation site in Yuma County, Colorado, this site has been studied by Dr. Jack Hofnzan, and a paper on the material will be published later this year.

As the years mount up on years, the habits of many collectors regarding the acquisition of artifacts, not unlike the seasons of our lives, begins to grow and mature. Much as a young hunter wants to shoot "anything that moves" while a veteran of thirty seasons is much more tempered in his/her approach to taking game, so too will the veteran artifact hunter become more interested in the artist or archaeological aspects of collecting as opposed to merely the acquisition of more and better artifacts.

In my salad days, when I was green in judgment, I was the aforementioned "young hunter." When it came to artifacts, my goal was to amass a truly large number. Scant attention was paid back then to the archaeological value of these pieces, and although I did record some of my better finds, I certainly did not do an adequate job keeping track of the associative artifacts that I was finding along with projectile points. In my artifact room, I have a number of cases of scrapers and tools that have only limited provenience. Since I could only ride my bike out hunting back when I first started, I know all the finds were from western Yuma and eastern Washington Counties in Colorado, but I have no way of being more specific than that. I think back to this time of ignorance and wince when I consider the number of channel flakes, for example, that I probably discarded since they did not look like something I would "put in case".

Young hunters grow up and the "shoot anything that moves" attitude morphs into "getting a limit." Artifact wise, this translates into finding or acquiring more and better artifacts. It is during this time that artifact collectors are susceptible to purchasing fraudulent pieces, if that is how they are choosing to build a collection. The reason for this naiveté is simple—the collector has learned just enough to know what he/she wants to acquire. Whereas the beginner doesn't know an arrowhead from a paleo projectile point, the "seasoned neophyte" has looked at magazines, surfed the internet, and gotten a few books which show a large number of incredible artifacts, the likes of which most young hunters have never seen.

The stages of addiction differ from individual to individual in terms of length, but generally speaking most collectors begin to refine their collecting habits a bit. This may mean that they begin to specialize in a certain type of hunting. For example, one of my friends is an old-time collector who still likes to hunt blow-outs. He knows that he is not going to find nearly the number of points he could on a blown wheat field site, but at the same time, he is aware that he has a greater chance of finding a Paleo Indian projectile point in an old sand blow that has the "blue-clay" layer exposed. My friend may hunt an entire year and only find one or two points, but invariably, one of them will be a Paleo.


Scottsbluff Site: In the spring of 2006, the author and his wife found these seven artifacts in a low spot on a cultivated field, where bone was eroding out. These were the only artifacts visible and the GPS coordinates of the site were recorded. The farmer re­planted the field and further access has been denied until harvest. These artifacts all appear to be Cody Complex pieces. Dr. Hofnzan has recorded this material and may produce a paper on them, as there is a need for comparative samples from a variety of these types of sites.


Ford Hill: This Washington County site has witnessed at least 10,000 years of occupation. Note the Folsom fragments, along with the bow fragment on the left of the picture, with many different point types in between. These include McKean, Hanna, Pelican Lake, and Besant. In the lower left of the frame, you may note several "V" or "U" based points. These are an unusual type for the area, and it is suspected they are somehow related to the Gary type found in Texas. 


The Paleo Field: Just off 1-70 in Kit Carson County, this once productive site is now in the Conser­vation Reserve Program (CRP) and is unhuntable. It produced a wide range of artifacts, but spe­cifically many different types of Paleo Indian points, including: Clovis, Folsom, Allen, Scottsbluff Alberta, Agate Basin, Belen, Lusk, and Eden. Most were merely fragments, but even fragments are important to the archaeological record of a particular site.

This change is not unlike our "young hunter no longer" who now is seeking out that trophy bull or buck. He/she has killed enough animals over his/her lifetime to satisfy the urge to subdue nature, and the remaining thrill is in seeking out that "animal of a lifetime." This aging hunter will pass up animal after animal, waiting for the trophy —much like "trophy artifact hunting". River hunting in Colorado is "trophy hunting". 100 hours may produce only one or two artifacts, but almost invariably, one of them will be of Paleo Indian proportions! While finding few points in the river, we probably passed up the chance to find several hundred Woodland and Archaic points on the upland sites. Now don't get me wrong—I am not saying I don't enjoy the occasional upland hunt, and I would certainly rather hunt these types of sites than nothing at all; but given a preference, I'll take my chances on a "trophy".

As the lust for a trophy begins to fade, our hunter, now "long in the tooth," may still enjoy the hunt, but the goal has changed. I hunted pheasants with one such hunter. We had walked several miles and when we finally busted a brace of ringnecks, I did all the shooting. I asked him about this and he replied that he had not even loaded his gun—he was content in his knowledge that had he wanted to, he could have brought down a bird or two. He was there for the process, and the clear, blue-skied crispness of that crackling November day was enough reward.

This leads me to the original point of this article. As I have aged, and gone through the inevitable stages of collecting, I have discovered that I am far less interested in "perfect arrowheads" than I am the archaeology of the finds I am making. My catalogueing is getting much better, and one of the ways that I have begun displaying many of my artifacts is by site.

As I find a new site, and if it appears to have promise as more than just a place to find a random artifact, I make a frame for that site, and include a label in the frame. This year, I started a frame of material from "Antelope Gap" and by the end of the season had a case with about forty-five artifacts in it. There weren't a lot of perfect points, but it did occur to me that the number of large Flat Top scrapers was an interesting note. Thinking this through, it is likely that there was a "natural migration" from Flat Top butte, northwest of Sterling, to this area, and that the large quarry blanks that had been obtained at the quarry site could have easily been transported this far for later use. Apparently this group of people had plenty of lithic material available for use because there are a number of large Flat Top waste flakes. Just a little south of this area, the Flat Top waste flakes are much smaller, and by the time you get the Arikaree river drainage, if you find a piece of Flat Top, chances are that it will be an artifact—there just was not that much of the material left to work with, in terms of creating camp debitage.

Another advantage of collecting or "framing" by site is that you begin to see some interesting patterns. I might not have noticed the hook scrapers at the Smoky Hill site, had I not had them all together in a frame. Or at Hell Creek Camp—the projectile points are all made of nice flint including Flat Top, Alibates, Hartville, petrified wood, and clear chalcedonies, while the majority of knives and bifaces we find have been crafted from local quartzites. I do not know that there is any real significance to this, but it pleases me to be able to encode these patterns of the ancients.

My son is a fanatic about the pursuit of American Indian prehistory. It has been at his insistence that we began collecting and framing by site. He keeps telling me that there is much to be learned from surface found collections, but the entire assemblage has to be intact in order to provide really good information. Over the years, many of the professional archaeologists with whom I have worked have echoed this sentiment as well.

At the Westfall Folsom site in Elbert County, we now have recovered over 2400 pieces of lithics, and all are presently housed at the University of Kansas Museum, where they are being studied and catalogued. Most are merely waste flakes, but even these waste flakes begin to show patterns of use wear that I wouldn't have noticed were it not for seeing them together and studying them as a group.

I am sitting in my "museum" as I write this article. As I look around I see a frame from the Wenger Paleo Indian site, the Seedorf Jimmy Allen site, the "Paleo Field site," Hell Creek Camp, Buffalo Ridge, the Virgin Hill, and others. These frames include many broken points, scrapers, and flake tools and several include a few pottery shards. In addition to the frames, each of these sites has a drawer or zip-lock baggie filled with other artifacts and interesting flake tools from the specific sites.

The frames are not necessarily aesthetically pleasing and when I go to an artifact show, these will not be the frames I will bring along. On the other hand, when I am working with various students on their graduate or undergraduate projects, it will be these frames and others like them that they will gravitate to, because as opposed to merely being a frame of arrowheads, these cases represent the essence of what was happening on a specific site through time.