Spring Polished

DSC_0162 (3)This little beauty was found associated with the main spring head at the Clovis site back in the 1960s.  Like other lithic tools in that area, it exhibits a silky, slippery polish.  People have thought it was plastic at first sight.


About George Crawford

archaeologist, archer, primitive technologist, and wannabee musician ... mostly
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6 Responses to Spring Polished

  1. Doc' & CJ says:

    Hello George,

    Great Paleo posts! I’ve seen that same “waxy” sheen and feel on multiple other Paleo artifacts as well. I strongly suspect it has to do with 3 major contributing factors.

    1. The Paleo people had first access to the best choices of knapping material. I’ve seen many cases where a later culture picked up an anciently broken Paleo piece and reshaped/repurposed it into another form simply because the remaining material was A. large enough. And B. of a much better knapping quality. (My primary conclusion)

    2. I’ve also seen samples of glossy finishes on what most consider to be heat treated chert. I suspect the Paleo people were just as intelligent and resourceful as any other man today. It would be logical to assume they did in fact both discover, and utilize heat treating. (My secondary conclusion)

    3. This can also sometimes occur due to long term erosion from either sandy locations or water. I’ve seen both, but the “polishing” effect was almost always obviously directly attributable to the in-situ conditions it was recovered in.

    I’m pretty sure this piece qualifies under all three conditions. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this piece and the suppositions of a rookie like me. 😉

    Thanks For Sharing,

    • All good points. Our Clovis folks were not heat treating in that period but were definitely going for the extremely high grade cherts. In this case, this is a fine piece of Georgetown variety Edwards Plateau chert (flint). The cherts that take to heat treating well often get that waxy look you speak of but the spring polish almost look like their coated in a thin, slippery coating. The springs out here had very uniform, fine sands that really did a number on the tools.
      I’ll try to locate a few more spring polished examples and get them on here some time.
      Humans everywhere are lazy and almost all groups seem to re-use or re-purpose old stone tools. Mason discovered that in the late 1800s when he went out with some natives to document how they gathered and selected stone. They ended up just picking over an older site and re-knapping the tools they picked up.

      • Doc' & CJ says:

        Yes, my first thought was Georgetown on that piece too, although I’ve seen plenty of similar high grade material come from closer sources along the Edwards Plateau. Amazing how far materials were carried and/or traded!

        I look forward to future examples, and conversations. 😉


      • Doc' & CJ says:

        Hello George,

        Been thinkin’ about Mason’s suppositions. While I wholeheartedly agree that people are indeed lazy, I’d have to disagree based on the time and cultural factors involved. From a knappers perspective, the 1800’s was a very late point in time (historic) to be obtaining high quality materials. Even in lithic rich areas the higher grade stuff was already in short supply from the Paleo period forward and as previously discussed they (Paleo people) had already pretty much exhausted the natural supply long before.

        I have no doubt Mason’s observations were accurate, “They ended up just picking over an older site and re-knapping the tools they picked up.” I’m sure that by that time good quality lithic supply was becoming more and more scarce and it would make sense that the remnants of the native tribes of the time were scrambling to use pretty much anything they could find. Previously existing sites would not only be likely, but one of the few and best locations available. (As well as expedient) (Perhaps creating the impression of “laziness”?)

        And I’m pretty sure the cultural changes of the time (the conquering and decline of an ancient culture) did produce a certain level of “laziness” but I would relate that more to a period of chaotic transition than I would a standard practice throughout the entire span of human occupation in NA.

        Surely humans are quick to adapt to their environments and capitalize on opportunities whenever possible no matter the time period they lived in, “laziness” is most certainly obvious in current times. But I doubt ancient peoples could often afford such a luxury and still be able to survive. Although I believe we would be amazed to know the full truth of some of the innovative and creative advancements they were able to accomplish, I doubt there was very much time allowed to be lazy for most.

        Considering the importance and use of lithics to the ancients, I’d have to disagree with Baker’s conclusions because they were based on a very narrow observation perspective during a point in time which is not representative of the whole.

        Think about it, Georgetown Blue Paleo points at Blackwater. With numerous other adequate Edwards Plateau sources so much closer, was it scarcity of material or quality that brought that point to Blackwater?


  2. Ben Swadley says:

    We see that kind of polish in NE Arkansas on hoe blades, usually made of Mill Creek Chert. Your point and the hoe blades were polished by two very different methods, but they were both polished by being in contact with sand or sandy soil and look like they are wet because of the polish. Our hoe blades just got polished a lot quicker!

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