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Folsom

AN INDIANA FOLSOM POINT AND ITS BEARING UPON FOLSOM ORIGINS

By Richard Michael Gramly, Ph.D.
American Society for Amateur Archaeology

Ever since the finds at Folsom, New Mexico, made a case for man's great antiquity in the New World (Figgins 1927) and the Blackwater Draw site was shown to have vestiges of both Clovis and Folsom occupations, the problem of Folsom origins has been pondered. Did Folsom develop directly from Clovis, or were these two cultural expressions separate and unrelated? Numerous series of radiocarbon dates have shown Folsom to follow Clovis, although it has been difficult to know exactly what is the gap in time between them—or even if there is any gap at all. Re-dating of Clovis sites suggests that their ages fall within a relatively tight time period (see Largent 2007 for an interpretation of findings set forth by M. Waters and T. Stafford).

The Clovis heyday ended approximately 12,800 years ago and coincides with a period of colder conditions. At the Folsom type site, on the other hand, Bison were ambushed and butchered a full three hundred years later or circa 12,500 years before present (Meltzer 2006: 150-151). On this evidence alone one might believe that Clovis and Folsom were not contemporaries and, therefore, possibly unrelated.

Old ideas die hard. One of the most eloquent and long-lived writers about Clovis culture, its antiquity, and development—C. Vance Haynes, Jr.—when asked about the origin of Folsom, suggested that it may have developed from Clovis (personal communication). Professor Haynes drew attention to certain surface sites in New Mexico where "small Clovis points" on a par with Folsom points had been found. He felt that a generic relationship was implied. Such a belief mirrors an opinion advanced nearly 40 years ago by Jerry Dawson and William J. Judge for Palaeo­American remains in the middle Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico. In describing fluted projectile points from camps exposed on the surface there, the writers opined: "Since there are numerous manifestations of Clovis occupation throughout the region, these points (their Types 1 and 2) among other possibilities, could represent stages in the refinement of Folsom technique as it developed from the Clovis tradition" (1969: 153).

The jury is still out on the typological argument presented by Dawson and Judge in 1969, and years later no fresh, convincing evidence has come to hand. Perhaps the problem of Folsom origins should be approached from a different direction.

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Figure 1. March 2004. Alex

Valentine (right) guides Nick Miller (left) and photographer (R.M. Gramly) to Fox Farm Road site, Kosciusko County, north-central Indiana. Note ancient channel of Tippecanoe River in middle background.

Elsewhere I have argued (Gramly 2005a, 2007) that the Cumberland Tradition is most often encountered in northern Alabama and adjacent Tennessee, from whence it may have spread in a northeasterly direction into the Great Lakes and, ultimately, New England.  This process may have taken some time.  During this period, Cumberland points were transformed from thick bifaces fluted by percussion into thinner, more delicate points that were fluted using nippled striking platforms and pressure (or perhaps indirect percussion).  Unifacial flaked tool types and other toolforms persisted while the evolution of classic Cumberlands into the Cumberland variant (known as Barnes) occurred.

The principal quarry of the late Cumberland folk who employed Barnes points, to judge by locations of their sites around the Great Lakes, was caribou and perhaps other cervids.  The specialized, lighter, thinner Barnes point may, in fact, have been an adaption to methods and equipment needed to kill members of the deer family.

At the same time users of Barnes points were bagging caribou, Folsom hunters were employing equally small projectiles of slightly different appearance against species of Bison on the Great Plains.  I find it impossible to believe that these two contemporary hunter populations knew nothing about each other.  If they interacted, as we assume they did, there must be evidence of it somewhere.  Expectable evidence would include, but not limited to, the occurence of Barnes and Folsom artifacts on the SAME site.

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Figure 2.

For at least three decades native Indianan, Alex Valentine of Pierceton, Indiana, has been collecting artifacts from the surface of a site in the Tippecanoe River Valley, Koscuisko County.  During the past 10 years his finds of Palaeo-American flaked stone artifacts have increased—especially on the banks of a fossil channel of the Tippecanoe (Fig. 1). The tally of fragmentary and complete Palaeo points recovered by Alex exceeds 100. A variety of types is present, although thin Holcombe points predominate (Gramly 2005b). Next in abundance are Barnes points corresponding in every attribute to specimens from type localities farther north around the Great Lakes. In addition to the above, there are two specimens made of regionally important Attica chert (the so-called "Indiana green") that command our attention. Likely both would be classed as Folsom points were they discovered at a Palaeo-American encampment in the American West.

The specimen I wish to describe here may be regarded as a Folsom point without any reservations. It is shown in Fig. 2 (drawing by Artist Steve Walltnann) and Fig. 3 (triple-exposure photograph by Pete Bostrom).

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Figure 3. Folsom point of weathered Attica chert found upon the surface of the Fox Farm Road site, Kosciusko County, Indiana, by Alex Valentine. Length is 43.4 mm. Photo by Pete Bostrom, Lithic Casting Lab, used by permission.

It is straight-sided and exhibits only a slight flare or "kick-out" of the ears at the base. Remnants of a nipple, which the ancient knapper set up in order to remove a channel flake on the second side, are evident. Many western Folsoms share this attribute. The interior of the basal concavity (depth = 5.08 mm) as well as the sides of the point (as far as 30 cm upwards from the ears) are ground. The point's maximum width is only 20.55 mm; while its maximum thickness is 5.8 mm, making it a trifle heavy (6.8 grams) compared to many western Folsom points. I attribute this lack of gracility to raw material employed in its manufacture. Attica chert is hardly a superior toolstone! Finally, the Fox Farm Road Folsom is short (length = 43.4 mm), and like many specimens found on western sites, it appears to have undergone retipping or resharpening.

Insofar as I am aware, Alex Valentine's point from north-central Indiana is the easternmost occurrence of the Folsom type. I have personally examined others from western Tennessee and Illinois, but none of these specimens has an exact findspot made known to archaeologists. Its co-occurrence at the Fox Farm Road site with Barnes points —both types made of a regional raw material—is likewise unique.

While some readers may argue for other interpretations of this remarkable co-occurrence, I view it as emerging evidence for Folsom origins in the East. From this hearth bearers of Folsom technology moved out upon the Great Plains into the American West—the former haunt of Clovis hunters.