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Stone's Archaeology Pages

Beveling of Prehistoric Blades and Knives

Fluted Point Densities: A revealing look

ASV Special Pub #28

Beveling: a quick look at the Technique
In the practice of beveling a point or knife, several things occur:

First, during resharpening, flakes are removed from only one edge of each face;

Second, as the knife passes through several resharpenings, the angle of the sharpened edge increases, relative to the unworked face of the blade;

Third, by beveling the knife's edges, the reduction of blade-length is kept to a minimum, thereby prolonging the life of the blade. Bi-facial resharpening removes more material per resharpening, reducing blade-length more quickly than Beveling;

Fourth, the blade generally takes on a distinctive form--in section, the blade will become Rhomboidal--like a rectangle with its short end-lengths tilted left or right, leaving each surface parallel to its opposite surface.

Fifth, the edge produced retain its cutting abilities for a greater period than will blades resharpened Bi-facially, due to the thicker, stronger nature of the edge itself.

Sixth, it is suggested that most of the Beveled blades were thus knives, not projectile points, due to the nature of the technique and its obvious applications to knife use and resharpening;

Seventh, beveling is the easiest means of creating and maintaining a straight, even knife edge;

Eighth, retouch flaking is accomplished with the removal of very short flakes; no great expertise is required to retouch a dull edged knife.

In theory, the greater numbers of knives than points produced during the Early Archaic Period may be suggestive of the use of traps, snares and wiers for catching game and fish. This methodology required less hunting-time per person, and promises to provide a greater quantity of food/hides/ect. per man-hour. In my personal observations, the point-typologies of the Early Archaic Period exhibit greater numbers of serrated and/or serrated-beveled blades than do earlier or later cultural periods and typologies. A serrated edge is not as effective in penetrating the skin of game--the resistance is greater due to the increased 'length' of the blade's edge; however, this increased length offers greater cutting abilities, the serrations offering more sharp edges to cut with.

Below are pictured three Beveled points/knives, each with a description of the Blade and its specific workmanship.

This specimen is an Early Archaic Knife, made from tough-to-work Quartzite. While the serrations along the blade's edge are well worn and almost unnoticable, there are just-perceptable scars which allude to the serrations, and the Beveling Process. This knife's main Diagnostic Trait is the Left-Hand Beveling of the blade's working edges. Beveling of the edges tapers off towards the Base. Both edges are so treated. The overall form of this blade is also typical of the period, but the Beveling is distinctively diagnostic of the Early Archaic Period. Of note are the two large thinning flakes drawn from the base, possibly a remnant of Paleo Period traditions.

This fine example of Beveling occurs on a Dalton Knife of the Transitional Paleo-Indian Period, and is from Missouri. Again as above, this point is Left-Hand Beveled--notice the fine, short ribbon-like flakes removed to produce a serrated edge. The maker of such a Blade held the piece in his left hand, at the heel of the palm, with a leather pad protecting the hand. With the Distal End pointing away from the maker, he pressed the antler tine against the near-edge of the point, close to the tip, and removing flakes in succession, worked back towards the base. Having resharpened this edge, he simply rolled the point over in his hand, along its axis, and again pinning it in place with his curled fingers, began removing flakes from the edge nearest him. This produced the blade's distinct rhomboidal cross-section. The same application of technique would be used to resharpen over and over again, until the blade was of no more use, or was suitable for conversion to a drill.

This fine Blade, a Hardin Barbed, displays a rare and unique trait: the blade is Right-Hand Beveled--opposite the style rendered upon the the two preceeding points, which are Left-Hand Beveled. The Distal End of the blade would be turned towards the knapper, instead of away, during the bevel-flaking of the edges--or--it could be an indication of left-handedness, the blade resting in the maker's right any event, Right-Hand Beveling is uncommon in any typology. The workmanship displayed in this point is superb--the faces are flaked flat with thin, broad Direct Percussion strokes of the antler billet, the beveling is executed smoothly with an even spacing of flake scars along the length of both edges, and the overall form is very symmetrical and well balanced.
The Hardin Barbed type clearly belongs to the Scottsbluff type-cluster: in haft-orientation and size, length, width, notch-size and age, the Lower Illinois River Valley's Hardin Barbed points are nearly indistinguisable from those termed Scotsbluff in the literature. Even the dichotomy between Scottsbluff type I and Scottsbluff type II is paralleled in what are locally refered to as Short-Base Hardin Barbed points. This typology dates to a time-period analogous to that of Scottsbluff points, and is estimated as occuring between 7,500 and 10,000 years BP (Before Present)

Fluted Point Densities: A revealing look...

The chart shown below reflects the available data concerning recorded finds of Fluted Points, by county, across the contiguous 48 states. While viewing/studying this chart, it should be kept in mind that there are a number of factors that bear consideration:

(1)The terrain in many of the western states has been drastically altered during the past 12,000 years--many Fluted Point-bearing sites are often encountered only when erosion and/or blow-outs have penetrated more than 20-30 feet of deposited soils and rock. The frequency with which one can encounter Paleo-Indian sites in the west is likely to be quite small, due to the region's geology.

(2)The number of Eastern US sites pre-dating the Paleo-Indian Period is growing each year. With confirmed dates established (Meadowcroft Rockshelter-16,500+ BP; Cactus Hill-15,300+ BP...), many researchers are postulating that ancient peoples arrived to these shores via a crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean. In such circumstances, it is plausible that the Fluted Point technology was established in the east prior to its movement westward, that the peoples who established this tradition arrived here in the east much earlier than the dawn of the Paleo-Indian Period at around 12,000 BP.

(3) Eastern US sites yeilding Fluted Points, clearly more numerous than the number of western sites, are more frequently encountered because the geology is different--sites are frequently encountered along beaches, hill-tops, sandy knolls overlooking streams and swampy creeks. The geology is such that most Fluted point sites are found relatively close to the surface.
Another factor wedged into this "East or West Debate" is the population density found in the east; the resultant high level of construction and road building which covers the eastern regions of the country far outstrips that found in the western states.

After all is said and done, of the states where concentrations of Fluted Points are indicated, most have a Fluted Point Survey established for the sole purpose of registering these points and their find-locations.

A number of excellent publications have come from studies conducted of sites where Fluted Points are/have been found. Among these, Joe McAvoy's "Nottoway River Survey, Part I: Clovis Settlement Patterns" (1992, Archaeological Society Of Virginia, Special Publication Number 28) has proven of considerable value in sheding light upon the accomadations sought by Paleo-Indians of the region, the lithics sources used for their point/tool production, and the migrational routes used during their travels within the region, largely via distributions of points/tools from known lithics sources.
Of additional interest, and for valuable information concerning the Williamson Paleo Indian Site and the artifacts recovered there through several excavations, noted archaeologist, historian, and author Rodney Peck has compiled and edited a fine selection of articles which he has published as "The Williamson Site, Dinwiddie County, Virginia" (1985, Rodney Peck). I consider this publication to be essential to the understandings of the lithics traditions practiced by the Paleo Indians of Virginia. Additionally, a more recent publication by Rodney Peck, "Eastern Fluted Points" (1998, Rodney Peck) provides a comprehensive overview of the Fluted Point as it occurs in the eastern United States. Of particular note: a table of radiocarbon dates associated with Paleo Indian Sites(figure 1).

*As I am made aware of additional studies, such as the one cited above, I will post this information here.

Clovis Sites, Quarry-Sources, and the Movement of Cherts
Material remains of several Paleo-Indian Cultures, ca. 9000 BC to 8000 BC, are present in the survey area.
Represented are the distribution of the numerous Clovis Fluted Points (ca. 9000 BC) found here. Sites and quarries used by the Clovis hunters, as well as the directions of movement of chert from quarries to camps and kill-sites. (Figure 2)

Clovis Sites on the southern interior Coastal Plain of Virginia. Arrows indicate directions of movement of chert from quarries, which are indicated by Q. Base Camps are indicated by B, and small Hunting Camps are indicated by HC or CH. Probable Clovis Camps are indicated by P, possible Clovis Kill Sites by K, and Clovis Quartzite Quarries by a Q with a horizontal slash across it. Where H is used, it refers to a Hunting-Related Activity at the site. Within and near the Survey Area are small triangles which indicate isolated finds of Clovis Points.

From this study, certain movements of local Clovis Hunter Bands may be suggested. The relocation of materials known to be quarried within and near the Survey Area, and the significantly fewer finds of 'exotic materials' located at various camps within the area lend strong support for the theory that localized Clovis Hunter Band groups operating within the general bounds of the Survey Area, rather than their hunting and traveling over a wider domain.

Paleo-Indian Camps
The known campsites (12) within the Survey Area display a range of similar traits. These similarities are demonstrated in the chart: (figure 3)
It is fairly clear that the Clovis hunters of the southeastern Coastal Plain followed a cyclical pattern of occupation of sites, with a return to important sites periodically. Important resource locations, such as the Williamson quarry, may have been inhabited several times a year. This is not to say that the same group returned here each time, but that there may have been several groups which included this site in their cyclical pattern of migration. Other resource locations, of less reliable predictability, may have been popular for a short period of time before being abandoned. Of the small Paleo Indian Sites, which were most likely food-procurement locations for small microbands, many do not demonstrate placement with consideration for southern exposure and north wind breaks--considerations which must have been of great importance for winter camps. It seems indicated that during warmer months the bands broke up into microbands, or even smaller social groups, to exploit highly localized plant foods as well as hunting. Perhaps winter was a time of intensive group hunting. Although more individuals would share in the proceeds of the hunt, a greater number of hunters would likely ensure that everyone got at least something to eat. Winter hides are most prized for their fur--larger communal-hut type living quarters would provide the best overall application of hides for shelter, blankets and containers for carrying things to the next season's camps.

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