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Folsom

UPDATE ON THE WESTFALL FOLSOM SITE

By Tom Westfall

In 1999, Grayson Westfall discovered a Folsom campsite along the Upper Bijou Creek in Elbert County, Colorado. Since that time the site has been routinely visited by the Westfall family for surface collecting, and the University of Kansas has conducted two separate field schools at the site, along with several surface surveys. Over 2500 chipped stones pieces have been recovered from the site including fluted preforms, channel flakes, retouch flakes, scrapers, gravers, varied flake tools, and point fragments. To date, no complete or even mostly complete points have been recovered from the site.

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Representative artifacts from the Westfall 
Folsom site, Elbert County, Colorado.

Initially, wind erosion had exposed artifacts over an area of approximately 13,600 square meters. Within this space, however, were areas that did not produce artifacts, and it is likely that these areas were simply not eroded down into the occupation level. In the ensuing years, the field has been planted into alfalfa and little wind erosion has occurred. The lack of erosive action has severely limited surface collecting. Although the region is currently experiencing a drought, from time to time a thunderstorm will move off the mountains and soak the area. Following these events, a small amount of lithic material can generally be found. In addition, there are a number of gophers in this field, and on occasion, lithic material is found near a gopher hole.

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Black Forest wood Folsom point from the Polly blow-out, Yuma County, Colorado.

The majority of artifacts from the assemblage are made of Black Forest silicified wood (about 96%) which outcrops in many areas of the "Black Forest Region" of Colorado. Black Forest (sometimes called Elizabethan) wood occurs as cobbles and residual pieces within three-quarters of a mile of the Westfall site. Westfall is one of several sites (including the Hahn site, which is located some ten miles south of Westfall in El Paso County, Colorado) where Folsom people produced artifacts from this distinctive stone. Generally speaking, the stone is yellow and mottled brown, although some may be nearly translucent, with orange and nearly red streaks appearing, along with some crystalline inclusions. Folsom artifacts of this material usually occur in small numbers in assemblages throughout the central High Plains of eastern Colorado, southwestern Nebraska, western Kansas, and the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. The author has collected Black Forest wood Folsom point fragments from the San Luis Valley, the Smoky Folsom site in Kit Carson County, the Polly Blow in Yuma County, the Wenger site, and has a Folsom "snap-tip" made of Black Forest wood from the South Platte "River Folsom Site" in Logan County, Colorado.

The Westfall family, along with Dr. Jack Hofman, archaeologist with the University of Kansas, have identified five areas in the site that seem to be the most productive at the present time. Area A has been by far the most productive, yielding a variety of retouch flakes, broken tools, point fragments, broken preforms and channel flakes. In addition, several pieces of hematite were recovered from Area A, including one large ground piece, and several large sandstone pieces, which may have been part of an anvil.

A variety of mostly late-stage stone tool fabrication and tool retouch is evident in Area A. There are a number of reddened flakes (which occurs to Black Forest wood when it is exposed to heat) and this is interpreted as the presence of one or more hearths in this area. Burned artifacts and a cobble tool were discovered in Area B, along with several tools, including an end scraper. Area C is located on a portion of the field that had not eroded much. However, one year the farmer made a road through this portion of the field (a trail road caused by daily trips through the area to feed cattle) and the deflation of the road yielded several tools and tool fragments. Area D has yielded several Flattop chalcedony tools, including a small graver, while Area E artifacts include Alibates flakes, and an Alibates point fragment. On the lower areas of the field, following the last really good wind storm which caused any erosion on the site, the family found four point fragments and very little debitage, which may suggest that this was a meat processing area, rather than a manufacturing area. To date, no test units have been dug in this area, though it is anticipated that this will occur during a subsequent field school (2008). It is assumed that these areas represent more or less contemporaneous activities, but the refit pieces have not yet yielded any direct links between the areas, such as happened frequently at the Shifting Sands Folsom site in west Texas.

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2004 University of Kansas field school, Westfall Folsom site.

The most common artifacts are flakes made of Black Forest wood. More than half of these have intact platforms, and this suggests that there has been minimal post-removal breakage due to factors such as trampling or plowing (which has occurred on the site a number of times over the years). In the most recent excavations at the site (2004) several late prehistoric arrow points made of Flattop chalcedony were removed during excavation. These were found within the plow zone, and it is speculated that plowing churned some of the later artifacts, depositing them nearer the bottom of the plow zone.

Manufacturing activities are evidenced by early-stage biface failures and Folsom preforms which failed during the removal of the first or second fluting attempts. Numerous channel flakes have been recovered. Surprisingly, not many endscrapers have been recovered from the site. None found thus far exhibit the rounded polish associated with dry-hide wear. It may be that the hide-processing area of the site has yet to be found.

One of the most interesting tool forms recovered at the site are "notched" flakes. The use for these notched flakes has yet to be determined, and use-wear analysis studies will be conducted in the future. At least 34 notched flakes have been found at Westfall, and it appears that this may be a "yet to be named" Folsom tool type. Since discovering these notched flakes at Westfall, the author and his family have been careful to note the presence of this type of tool at the other Folsom sites they study/collect. Thus far they have discovered notched flakes at Smoky Hill, San Luis, Blackmore (Washington County, Colorado) and at the Charles site (Kit Carson County, Colorado).

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Examples of notched flakes from the Westfall site.
34 notched flakes have been recovered from the site. The
picture above is from a poster entitled: "Recent Research at
the Westfall Folsom Site, Colorado" which was presented at
the Plains Anthropological Conference in 2004.
One of the benefits of working with professionals is that
they may produce papers or posters on an interesting aspect
of your collection.

A spring/marsh area is located near the site, and a series of low hills in most directions protect the site. The site sits at headwaters of the Bijou drainage which may explain why there are no alluvial deposits covering this 10,000 year old site. Wooded ridges occur nearby as does extensive open range. This site would have afforded Folsom people access to water, wood, nearby lithics, and a wide variety of game, including deer, bison, bear, and elk.

Further field work is anticipated, and will be expanded into some of the previously described "non-productive" areas of the site. It is hoped that these portions of the site may be buried slightly deeper and may not have been exposed to as much erosion, increasing the likelihood of discovering an intact hearth.

It is likely that there is some type of kill site in the general area, although to date this particular feature has not been found. One area on the west end of the site has produced a number of broken point fragments (rather than fragments of points broken in manufacturing) and this might suggest the presence of a kill site feature nearby.

The owner of the site, who declined to have his name attached to the site due to the fact that his name is quite distinctive and would essentially be an "advertisement" to area surface collectors, has been highly cooperative in allowing this important site to be researched. The Westfall family, along with their colleagues at the University of Kansas, thank the owners for their willingness to allow archaeological explorations at the site. Due to the extensive use of Black Forest wood at this site, further study at the site will help us more fully understand its usage throughout the plains. From a regional perspective, the use of this distinctive material is of special interests as it was apparently a minor lithic source during Folsom times. Additionally, the further evaluation of this relatively large assemblage (2500 pieces) can provide insight into the activities and movement of Folsom people on the High Plains.