Saturday, September 19, 2009

Perplexing Points

Anne came across the two projectile points pictured to the right yesterday while cataloging the Braley collection. The collection contains materials excavated from Port Tobacco's village green by avocational archaeologists in the early 1970s. This is the same collection that PTAP borrowed from J. Patterson Park & Museum and for which Carol recently discovered the excavation notes in the files of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. (The material that Pete has been trying to make sense of.)

The two projectile points (both quartz) are intriguing because of the types that they represent. The side-notched point on the left (a) could be a less than typical example of a reconditioned Susquehanna broadspear, a common point type in the Susquehanna drainage that dates to the Late Archaic-Transitional period, in the neighborhood of 1,000 BC. But it also has qualities that suggests a less than typical example of a Hardaway-Dalton point, a late Paleoindian type that may date to around 8,000 BC.

The triangular point on the right (b) easily fits the mold of a Levanna (northern variant) or Yadkin (southern variant) point, early Late Woodland types dating to around AD 1,000. But the base is so deeply concave as to suggest a variant of the Hardaway-Dalton point, again a very early style.

The uncertainty points up a continuing problem in East Coast archaeology...many of the projectile points for regions within this larger cultural-historical area have been described and classified on the basis of surface finds, with very early pieces lying along side of relatively recent pieces. Uncertainty is exacerbated by the widespread use of intractable quartz which, at times, seems to have rewarded stone tool makers, or knappers, with caricatures of what they had hoped to make. Well-stratified deposits along the Atlantic coast are uncommon, although the late Joffre Coe conducted and reported amazingly well-layered deposits in central North Carolina that he excavated in the 1940s. Point styles tend to be consistent within a particular layer, suggesting that they were made by one people who shared a common understanding of what was an appropriate shape for a projectile point.

Archaeologists do find single-component sites (deposits representing one period based on the similarity of artifact finds) in this region, and that is nearly as good. A well-stratified site can be understood as a series of stacked single component sites that have the added benefit of demonstrating which point style is earlier or later than those in adjoining layers. Unfortunately, there just haven't been enough well-excavated, well-reported sites--single-component or stratified multiple-component--to help us to more definitively describe point types.

In Maryland, much of the focus has been on identifying and recording site locations rather than on intensive exploration of well-preserved sites. Ironically, the paucity of data from well-excavated sites makes it difficult to understand collections from well-collected surface sites and, I think, hinders the conservation of these important sites.


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