Knife River Quarry to be Dedicated as NHL

Knife River Quarry is well known to those who study prehistoric lithics on the Plains of North America.  Owned and protected for many years by the Lynch family of North Dakota, the quarry was included as a National Historic Landmark in 2011.  The dedication will happen this Saturday, June 9 at the property.  Thanks to Damita Engel of Metcalf Archaeological Consultants, Inc. for writing the nomination, an often thankless task.

A sample of KRF from lithic sourcing web page.

Bismarck Tribune Article

Official NPS link

While visiting the quarry, don’t miss the Knife River Indian Villages National Park.  A great stepping stone into the Upper Missouri region and the village where Lewis and Clark picked up their most famous guide, Sakakawea.

Earth Lodge at Knife River

For more on North Dakota’s Historic Preservation programs visit their site here.

From the log of the Starship Enterprise

In January of 1967, an episode of Star Trek entitled “The Galileo Seven” aired, and caught the attention of Dr. George Agogino, a past Director of the Paleo-Indian Institute at Eastern New Mexico University. In the episode, Spock and his crew crash-land on a hostile planet with “caveman” like creatures lurking around, and throwing spears at the crew. Dr. Agogino saw a morphological resemblance between the spear points used in the episode and Folsom points, so he decided to send a letter and request that the spears that were used in the television show be donated to the Blackwater Draw Museum. A few months later Robert Justman, the associate Producer of Star Trek received Agogino’s request, and was enthused to answer it.

Justman noted that the spears were based on the Folsom points that had originally been found in New Mexico in the late 1920s, but he made sure to address the “dramatic license” that was practiced by enlarging the spears to 15 feet in length. Nonetheless, Agogino was still thrilled at the possibility of having Folsom themed Star Trek memorabilia on display.

Below is a scene out of the episode featuring the spears:

Many letters went back and forth between Agogino, Justman, and NBC, mainly addressing shipping and logistics of mailing 15 foot spears, but eventually the spears made their way to Portales, New Mexico, and then to the Blackwater Draw Museum where they are still proudly on display.

Star Trek prop spears on display in the Blackwater Draw Museum.

Blade Cache

A little lithic eye-candy for tool-users out there.  These are some quick photos I shot while making an examination of some blades for the ongoing tool analysis here at Blackwater Locality 1 (LA3324).  Excuse the poor quality of the photos but look forward to seeing them in full all-color glossy glory in the future.

In 1990 a tool cache, including four blades and a large, unifacial flake knife, was unearthed along the western margin of the prehistoric pond on the Clovis site by Joanne Dickenson.  Many blades are known from the site and are fairly typical of the Clovis tool-kit, being used as knives, scrapers, and preforms for other tools.

All of these tools were made from extremely high quality Edwards Plateau chert from Texas, although not from the same core.  This material hints at the vast distances traveled by early hunter-gatherers on the high plains.

Artifact of the Week 2/6/2012

LA3324/25285

LA3324/25285

Gray chert Folsom point (catalog number 25285) recovered 15 August 1985.  Discovered on the east side surface of the South Bank.  The specimen appears in Boldurian’s (1990; pp 70-71, Figure 38A) Plains Anthropologist Memoir 24 on Lithic Technology at the Mitchell Locality of Blackwater Draw.  Click the image for a higher resolution.

13th Annual Cynthia Irwin-Williams Lecture


Every spring Eastern New Mexico University’s Department of Anthropology and Mu Alpha Nu (Anthropology Club) host a lecture series held in honor of Cynthia Irwin-Williams, a past professor of anthropology at ENMU. The event is free and open to the public.This year’s presenter is Dr. Ted Goebel who will be speaking on the topic of peopling of the Americas. Dr. Goebel works in a number of locations such as Siberia, Alaska, California, Oregon, Utah, and Idaho, he also works on a number of different materials collected form archaeological sites such as coprolites, ancient insect remains, and lithic tools. For more information about Dr. Ted Goebel click here.

The lecture will be held on February 24, 2012 at 7:00 pm on the Eastern New Mexico Campus in the Jack Williamson Liberal Arts building (room number is TBA).

Born April 14, 1936 in Denver, Colorado, Cynthia Irwin-Williams developed an early interest in archaeology along with her brother, Henry.  When she was only 12 and her brother 14, both began working part-time at the Department of Archaeology in the Denver Museum of Natural History and formed an association with the curator, Dr. H. Marie Wormington.  These youthful pursuits led to Cynthia’s interest in the Archaic period and to professional publications on the Magic Mountain, Lo Daiska, and Agate Bluff sites around Denver.

Cynthia attended college at a time when women were still expected to be homemakers.  If they did decide to pursue higher education, they definitely were not expected to become archaeologists.  Yet, Cynthia did enroll and graduated form Radcliffe College with B.A. and M.A. degrees in Anthropology in 1957 and 1958, respectively.  In 1963 she received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard University. Cynthia once remarked about how she was forced to sit in the hallway during courses at Harvard as one of her professors did not believe that women should be enrolled in archaeology courses!

Cynthia persevered and quickly made her mark as a professional, having a towering grasp over specialties that ranged from archaeology to related aspects of geology, paleontology, climatology, remote sensing, desertification, and desert reclamation.  From 1963-1964 Cynthia lectured at Hunter College in New York,  From 1964-1982 she taught at Eastern New Mexico University and in 1978 she was awarded the Llano Estacado Center for Advanced Professional Studies and Research Distinguished Research Professorship.  Cynthia served as President of the Society for American Archaeology from 1977-1979, only the second woman to hold this position.  In 1982 Cynthia became executive director of the Social Science Center, Desert Research Institute of Reno,Nevada.  From 1988 until her death in 1990, she held the title of Research Professor, Quaternary Science Center, DRI.

A truly remarkable woman, multilingual (English, Spanish, French, Russian), with over 60 publications and 30 years of professional experience, Cynthia is considered to be a role model for women who aspire to scientific careers.  This is why the students of the Anthropology and Applied Archaeology Department have named a lectureship series in honor of Dr. Cynthia Irwin-Williams.

(Biography acquired from ENMU Anthropology Archives)

A Surprise Find

Sometimes in archaeology things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes the past hides gems under our noses (or boots).

Last November, students working with ENMU faculty as a part of an NSF New Mexico EPSCoR grant gained experience in climate change research. The purpose of the study is to better understand the Pleistocene to Holocene transition, and to apply the results to modern climate changes. Students collected pollen, phytolith, diatom, ostracod, and stable carbon isotope samples from a variety of sites along the eastern border of New Mexico. One of the areas that was of interest lies a few hundred meters south of the main portion of Blackwater Locality #1 known as Locality X. This locality has been surveyed and excavated sporadically over the last few years, and is mainly composed of lithic debitage.The climate study group was attempting to relocate a unit that was dug during the ENMU 2010 Field Session, which can prove to be a daunting task, even with good notes and today’s technology. The students did locate the unit, but in the process disturbed an adjacent unexcavated unit. During the screening of the disturbed dirt, a small arrowhead surfaced and revealed more information about this locality.

Much of the early work in Locality X was limited to surface collection and limited coring.  This southern portion of the site has yielded Paleoindian, Archaic, and Late prehistoric components including an anomalous metate fragment on the surface, arrow and dart points, and a graver.  Although we tend to focus on and highlight the Paleoindian components of the Blackwater Draw site, we always keep in mind that the occupation ranges from Clovis-age deposits through Proto-Historic and even Historic Native American settlement.  The arrow points found scattered on the southern landscape of the site probably indicate hunting that occurred around the outflow channel and dunes between the ancient lake bed and the draw.

Clovis Points

Clovis points from the Clovis site.  These likely all date to a few centuries around 11,000 RCYBP and most were found in association with Mammuthus columbi and a few with Bison antiquus.  The Clovis site contained at least 28 mammoths that died or were killed around the pond margin and there is good evidence that six or more were killed by humans.

Points from Clovis strata at the Clovis type-site

As can be seen in this image, the raw materials were variable but high quality.  Also notable are the small size of the points.  Non-hunters often mistakenly think that a small point is for small prey but quite the opposite may be true.  Until recently, small arrow points were used in Africa to bring down elephants, buffalo, and other large game.  The object is to pierce a vital organ or artery and a wider blade needs more force to cut through hide to reach the protected organs.  There was probably much more thought to the animal’s behavior and the situation of the kill and it may be no coincidence that all of the known mammoth and bison kills at the site are within the muddy pond margin.

The majority of raw materials are Edwards Plateau Chert or Alibates Agate from the Canadian River in Texas.  Other materials include quartzite, likely procured in the upper reaches of the Canadian, Tecovas jasper from north Texas, silicified wood, and obsidian.

More to come…

Artifact of the week 11/9/2011

Folsom ultrathin biface from the Clovis site North Bank.

Ultrathin bifaces are a recently recognized element distinctive to the Folsom toolkit.  Ultrathin bifaces are found at many Folsom sites including those in North Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.  Ultrathin bifacial manufacturing technology appears consistent between numerous sites recognized by distinctive, opposed diving bifacial thinning flakes (Root et al. 1994).

Morphologically, the Folsom ultrathin biface is broad in width, has finely retouched excurvate margins, and is extremely thin (Boldurian 1999:111).  Functionally, its use is generally interpreted as a non-hafted knife or cutting implement used for butchering and processing game.  Pegi Jodry (1998) has suggested that ultrathin bifaces were used and maintained by women for specialized butchering required for drying strips of meat.

Comments welcome.

Boldurian, Anthony T.  1999  Clovis Revisited:New Perspectives on Paleoindian Adaptations from Blackwater Draw, New Mexico.  University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia.

Jodry, Margaret A.  1998  The Possible Design of Folsom Ultrathin Bifaces as Fillet Knives for Jerky Production.  Current Research in the Pleistocene 15:75-77.

Root, Matthew J., J. D. William, Marvin Kay, and L. K. Shifrin  1999  Folsom Ultrathin Biface and Radial Break Tools in the Knife River Flint Quarry Area.  In Folsom Lithic Technology: Explorations in Structure and Variation, edited by D. S. Amick, International Monographs in Prehistory, Archaeological Series, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Photo of the Week

An Agate Basin point made of Alibates Agate from north Texas found in situ below a bison mandible.  While the quality of these photos are not great, they show an amazing find that was not discovered until long after the bison mandible was exposed and pedestaled.  This mandible is contained in the excavated bonebed still on display in the South Bank Interpretive Center at the Blackwater Draw site.

Under analysis by the blog author.

View of the hafting end.

Pre-Clovis site in Texas?

For decades archaeologists have been searching for sites that conclusively prove that a pre-Clovis culture existed in the Americas.  Several sites have been discovered and excavated within the Western Hemisphere that could potentially be pre-Clovis, but the data is equivocal and has been highly criticized- leaving no sites to date widely accepted as being pre-Clovis.  A recent article published in the March issue of Science (vol. 331) by Michael R. Waters et al, claims to have found proof of a pre-Clovis culture at the Debra L. Friedkin Site in central Texas.  The authors state that a lithic assemblage, dating between 13.2 and 15.5 thousand years ago underlies a Clovis assemblage and that the stratigraphic integrity is sound (Waters et al, 2011).

It will be interesting to see what conclusions further analysis produces about the site, and if it is ultimately accepted by the archaeological community as being pre-Clovis.

As always, please comment and join in the discussion about this site, Waters’ claims, and the dating techniques used.  A full reference to the Science article can be found below.

Waters, Michael R.
2011 The Buttermilk Creek Complex and the Origins of Clovis at the Debra L. Friedkin Site, Texas.  Science 331:1599-1603.

Here is a link to the AAAS News website with an interview with Waters.