Blackwater Draw Atlatl 2013

A few photos from the Blackwater Draw Atlatl 2013.

Bronze Age Technology

The recovered portion of the Dover Boat on display.

Robin Wood is a remarkable traditional craftsman from Britain.  He has recently been involved with replicating the Dover Boat, a Bronze Age ship discovered in 1992 (see the news article here).  The find is about 3500 years old, placing it right at the cusp of early metal-working technology.

The Oetzi axe

The reconstruction is half-scale but staying true to the technology, they are attempting to use replicated tools for much of the construction.  Pallstaves were cast from an original and hafted both like an adze and like an axe.  This isn’t speculative as there are quite a number of preserved Bronze Age examples from wet contexts in Europe.

“Pallstave” replicas.

As with other ships and boats from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, ingenious methods were used to connect the planks and stiffen the hull.  Technologically, these fall somewhere between composite dugouts and true framed ships.  There are many factors in holding together a boat including lots of movement from all angles, swelling/shrinking of the planks, and the need for light weight.  The solution on the Dover Boat was to stitch the entire thing together with yew “withes” and stiffen the body with heavy lathes driven through carved mortices.

It seems that a better candidate could not have been chosen to work on this project and I’m very glad to see that he is documenting it on his blog for all to see.

Adzing a plank by eye, leaving the mortices standing to accept the lathes. (Click the photo or link below to go to Robin’s website).

“Experiential Archaeology” in action.

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.

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…

And the evidence continues to build.

Score one, possibly a definitive one, for the pre-Clovis people.  Below is an abstract from an article by Michael R. Waters et al published in the October, 2011 issue of Science that summarizes his findings concerning a projectile point lodged into a rib of a mastodon at a potential pre-Clovis site.


The tip of a projectile point made of mastodon bone is embedded in a rib of a single disarticulated mastodon at the Manis site in the state of Washington. Radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis show that the rib is associated with the other remains and dates to 13,800 years ago. Thus, osseous projectile points, common to the Beringian Upper Paleolithic and Clovis, were made and used during pre-Clovis times in North America. The Manis site, combined with evidence of mammoth hunting at sites in Wisconsin, provides evidence that people were hunting proboscideans at least two millennia before Clovis. [Waters et al, 2011]

Here is a full reference to the Science article, as well as a link to a BBC article that discusses the findings.  Additionally, I have found an NPR interview with Waters, and I will provide a link to it also.

Waters, Michael R.
2011  Pre-Clovis Mastodon Hunting 13,800 Years Ago at the Manis Site, Washington.  Science 334: 351-353.