Thursday, October 1, 2009

A brief point about types...of points

In addition to analyzing the Aboriginal ceramics from Port Tobacco, I have been cataloging the projectile points that have been found. While Jim has previously emphasized in this blog that classifying points in Maryland can be quite a difficult endeavor, there are a few general guidelines that can be used to place a point within a certain time period, even if the point cannot be readily identified as a particular type. For this general classification I frequently refer to William Jack Hranicky's Middle Atlantic Point Typology and Nomenclature and thus will base my brief descriptions off of his. The general categories he assigns projectile point styles to are lanceolate, notched, stemmed, bifurcate, and triangular. Click on the chart to the left for a general sense of how these categories break down and which attributes of a point are examined and described. Of course, as you read keep in mind that there are projectile points that do not fit neatly into these categories or dates as differences in materials and knapping ability result in each projectile point being at least a little different from the next. Furthermore, the Native Americans that made these points were not sitting down with Hranicky's guide to make sure they were making a point that fit into a particular category! Nevertheless, these types are a good place to start when identifying and dating a point.

Lanceolate points are large triangular points that tend to have excurvate edges, meaning the edges are convex curves. The most well-known examples of these are Clovis and Folsom Points. This is the oldest style of point found in this area, dating from roughly 10,000BC-8500BC. Many of these points were fluted, meaning that flakes were removed from the middle of shaft on the end opposite the tip in order to better haft the blade to a handle. These points are found much less frequently than more recent types, and we certainly have not had any at Port Tobacco.

Notched points were developed next, sometime between 8500BC and 8000BC during the Archaic Period. This development likely had to do with increasing the ease of hafting, as a notched point was much easier to secure to a handle as the notched would prevent the sinew used to hold the point in place from slipping. Earlier notched points were corner-notched, as is the point to the left, found in Stratum 1 of Unit 44. This means that flakes were removed at an upward diagonal angle from the corners of the base to make two notches. The other type of notched point is the side-notch, which, as the name suggests, is when flakes have been removed from the side of the point, perpindicular to the base. The example to the right is from Stratum 1 of Unit 35 . There is no clear chronological separation between the manufacture of corner-notched points and that of side-notched points, and there is frequent overlap of these types during this period. Notched points were
followed by the stemmed point type around 6500BC. This stemmed point, to the left, was not excavated from the Compton field, but is one of the many points from the 1970s Port Tobacco Braley Collection.

A more unique type of point is described as bifurcate, though sometimes these points are grouped with stemmed varieties. Hranicky suggests that this type of point was first used around 7000 BC. Though the quartz point pictured to the right is broken, the lobed bifurcation of the base is clear, making this type of point easy to identify. This point is also from the Braley Collection.

The most recent point type is called triangular. This type first appears during the Late Archaic period and carries into the Woodland and Contact periods, originating just prior to 1000BC. Notched and stemmed points are still found from this period, though triangular points, such as this Braley Collection point to the left, are much more common. Following contact various projectile point types were sometimes made from metal, generally iron, obtained from Europeans.

Many of the points we find are quartz or quartzite, though occasionally we come across a rhyolite point, and, even more rarely, a point made from an exotic material such as jasper.


William Jack Hranicky's (1994) Middle Atlantic Point Typology and Nomenclature, published by the Archeological Society of Virginia

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