Traditionally, Paleoindians were thought of as free roaming hunters whose subsistence was based on following the seasonal movement of the megafauna, often into totally unexplored regions. This pioneering model has been at least partially supplanted in recent years, especially in the east, by a model that suggests that Paleoindians may have actually operated within semi-familiar, defined territories and while still heavily dependent on hunting they were more generalists in their subsistence patterns than first thought. If a hunting band did take a mastodon or other large animal it may have been culled out of the herd based on age or physical condition or perhaps simply because it was the largest target around and provided the most return for labor invested. More typically their subsistence strategy might focus on deer, elk, caribou, bear and other quarry that could be easily managed by small groups of hunters. Hunting tasks were addressed with a large and varied flaked stone tool kit usually made from high quality tool stone. Paleoindian tool kits would be designed to undertake a variety of large and small tasks and likely include fluted projectile points, fluted and un-fluted knives, prismatic blades from cores, large bifaces that doubled as flake tool cores during the early stages of reduction and a selection of robust scrapers, borers, cutters, burins and other tools made a particular task in mind. Overall the tool kit would be designed with a predictable service life fit for extended periods away from flint sources. By the new model, settlement would be based on a periodic nucleation and dispersal pattern whereby dispersed bands or groups within a region would nucleate or come together on some sort of regular basis, perhaps seasonal, for social maintenance of the entire group that would include trade, the exchange of marriage partners and the renewal of alliances. These activities might be centered on flint quarry areas or based at some other prominent site or easy to find, familiar location on the landscape. As social activities waned the individual groups would then again disperse until the next gathering cycle took place.
Since the Clovis/Blackwater Draw discoveries, fluted point sites have been recognized all over the United States and North America from Maine to Washington to Florida to Arizona and from Canada to Mexico. Like the Blackwater Draw Site some sites, such as Kimmswick in Missouri and the Gault Site in Texas, contain both flaked stone tools and the remains of extinct animals. Other sites, especially in the Great Basin and the high deserts of the Rocky Mountain west, site tool assemblages often consist entirely of large caches of projectile points and associated flaked stone tools made from very attractive forms of flint, chalcedony, agate, quartz crystal and obsidian These would include the Simon Cache in Idaho, the Drake Cache in Colorado and the Fenn Cache, ostensibly from Utah but whose true origins remain somewhat clouded. These and other large caches were discovered without the benefit of any sort of well defined site context so it’s hard to determine the manner or the degree of human activity at these sites although other western sites such as the Anzick Site in Montana and the East Wenatchee Site in Washington that were more thoroughly investigated did in fact produce evidence of complex habitation activities as well as the caching if large numbers of tools.
At Duchess Quarry Cave along the Hudson River in New York, points made from Ohio Upper Mercer Flint were recovered among flint artifacts made of Normanskill Chert and other flints of a more local origin. This was also the case at the Gainey Site near Flint, Michigan where Upper Mercer Flint from eastern Ohio and Ten Mile Creek Chert from northwest Ohio made up a majority of the lithic assemblage and was apparently much favored over the more local Bayport Chert from the Saginaw Bay region. This is also true at the Paleo Crossing Site in Medina County southwest of Cleveland where Hornstone/ Harrison County Chert from southern Indiana was the favored lithic material. It’s also an odd statistical fact of archaeology that a significant percentage of all recorded fluted points were simply isolated finds and not associated with other tools, camp sites or habitation locations. It is probable that they were lost, dropped or misplaced and for whatever reason never retrieved. It’s also not unheard of that such points are sometimes a single representative in that region of an exotic raw material for which there is no rhyme or reason for it to be found where it was found. At an artifact identification event a few years back an individual came by with a small fluted point made from rock crystal quartz. It was found by her grandfather on his farm south of Cleveland. There are several places in North America where quartz crystals can be found that are large enough from which to fashion a point but none of them are within 500 miles of Cleveland. Where it came from or how it got there is anyone’s guess. In a similar vein, such is the case for OHS archaeology item A1021/1. Object A1021/1 was donated to the Society in 1929 by a Mr. Guy Wallace. It was part of a small collection of items he collected in Bratton Twp., located in northern Adams County Ohio. As stated earlier, it is classic in form to many other fluted points that have been found throughout the Ohio Valley. What is not typical of Mr. Wallace’s discovery is the material it is made from. The Ohio Valley has several outstanding high quality flint resources. Upper Mercer and Flint Ridge Flints come from easily accessible Pennsylvanian bedrock outcrops in eastern Ohio and there are several varieties of lesser cherts in the Devonian and Silurian bedrock exposures just to the west. There are also the nodular Hornstone sources in Indiana and a well utilized source of Paoli or Carter Cave Flint in northern Kentucky. Object A1021/1 is made from none of these. Rather, it’s made from a semi-translucent, slightly grainy, honey colored material that in fact isn’t a flint at all but a material known as orthoquartzite, sometimes called sugar quartz. Orthoquartzite refers to a type of sandstone whose individual grains have been bonded or cemented together by chalcedony formed through the transportation of silicates in aqueous solution into sandstone bedrock. While there are a few locations where knapable sugar quartz might be obtained in the eastern United States, the grand daddy of them all is the Hixton Silicified Sandstone deposits in Wisconsin, nearly 600 miles to the northwest of where Mr. Wallace made his find. It’s a country now inhabited by a hardy folk who see fit to attend major sporting events adorned with headgear resembling great blocks of cheese and who lightheartedly but proudly refer to themselves as Cheeseheads. Was this the source of Mr. Wallace’s point? Perhaps, but read on.
Hixton Silicified Sandstone outcrops at Silver Mound (47JA21) near the headwaters of the Trempealeau River in Jackson County of west central Wisconsin. Silver Mound is neither a mound in the sense of a prehistoric earthwork nor is there any silver involved. Early settlers to the region who saw the profusion of quarry pits about the Mound mistakenly came to believe in the legend of a lost silver mine within the Mound, although no silver had ever been recovered there. Even though ample geologic evidence had been produced by the 1860’s to prove otherwise, silver prospecting continued there without results into the 1890’s and for whatever reason the name stuck. Silver Mound is actually a half-mile long, L-shaped hill capped by resistant strata of Cambrian Sandstone that stands about 65 meters above the surrounding rolling terrain. At about 30 meters below the crest is a core stratum of very resilient orthoquartzite referred to geologically as Hixton Silicified Sandstone (HSS). The result is that the combined strata of Cambrian Sandstone and orthoquartzite of Silver Mound has continued to resist weathering while the surrounding areas of un-silicified sandstone have eroded away into a rolling, sand hill landscape. There are other sources of orthoquartzite in the region but none match the quality of HSS for flaked stone tool making. James Porter of the Wisconsin Historical Society argued as early as 1961 that since HSS is such a unique, high quality material Silver Mound is likely the ultimate source for nearly all silicified sandstone artifacts recovered from archaeological contexts. He didn’t say how far afield this might extend but it’s an argument that even today might retain a certain amount of validity.
HSS is composed of well sorted (uniform sized) round to sub-round sand grains cemented together by an opal-chalcedony matrix of silicates likely introduced into the formation by the actions of ground water. HSS is typically white to honey colored with variants ranging from yellow to orange to red due to microscopic inclusions tourmaline, rutile, hematite, apatite and other minerals. A deep red coloration of finished artifacts can also result from the absorption of water born minerals such as hematite and other oxides of iron in the depositional environment and continued exposure to sunlight may produce a white patina indicating a susceptibility to ultraviolet light. For making flaked stone tools HSS is said to be harder than flint. When struck it breaks with a well defined conchoidal fracture that produces a sharp, durable edge. In the tool making process the fracture plain actually travels through both the matrix and the granular structure and not around the individual grains. This imparts a somewhat lustrous sheen to the object and a smoother than expected texture. Light refracting from the faces of the individual grains gives the finished object a subdued sparkling or satin-like appearance.
It is thought that the quarries at Silver Mound were used for at least 12,000 years, from the Paleoindian through Late Prehistoric/Early Historic periods. Studies of the distribution of objects produced in prehistoric quarry areas in general can often offer insights on precisely how the HSS quarry areas themselves may have functioned over time. According to such a study, artifacts made of orthoquartzite from the HSS quarries and representing all time periods would be relatively common at sites located within a certain radius of this lithic source, but less common at more distant sites. The fact that this distribution pattern would tend to change dramatically over space relative to time is due to a mechanism referred to as distance decay. That is, the further afield a commodity like flint (or even an idea) is from its source, the rarer it becomes and the less its influence tends to be in the larger scheme of things. Therefore as distance from the Silver Mound lithic source increases, the artifacts made of HSS would become rarer and rarer. It is also the case concerning Silver Mound and HSS that distance decay could also seem to apply to the estimated age of the artifacts made of this raw material. In other words the closer to the present an artifact is temporally, the smaller the geographic range covered by its maker would be in the overall sphere of HSS distribution. People who utilized HSS for making arrow points a few hundred years ago likely viewed it as a local resource and probably didn't travel that far to get to the Silver Mound quarries. Additionally, all the arrow points produced were likely used within that specific region or catchment area and not traded out. A catchment can be described as that geographic “comfort zone” of sorts – a river valley or region of small lakes - containing those resources most necessary for the group to successfully function. There were probably other lithic sources near the periphery of the Silver Mound catchment considered as good as HSS for arrow points and in a quantity possibly sufficient to satisfy the needs of most of those peripheral groups. This would make these alternate sources even more attractive to outlying groups in a cost-benefit relationship, lessening the importance of HSS and limiting even further the HSS distribution within the catchment. Going back to the Archaic period (about 3,000 to 10,000 years ago) the distribution range of a relatively smaller number of lithic artifacts would be significantly larger as would be the catchment area of the people who used them. What might have been a hunting group’s catchment of perhaps a few dozen to a few hundred square miles in the late Prehistoric/ Early Historic Period could have been as large as several hundred to a few thousand square miles in the Archaic Period. In Paleoindian times(12,000 years ago) a catchment area might have included an entire geographic region covering tens of thousands of square miles and through distribution mechanisms described above it would be expected that a very limited number of objects might be found as much as several hundreds of miles distant from its source. If in fact OHS archaeology object A1021 /1 is made from HSS this concept might hint at, but certainly not fully explain how it got to be where Guy Wallace eventually found it and picked it up. Other factors involved may never be known, recognized or explained.
Silver Mound is now included in the Silver Mound Archaeological District, a 20 square kilometer area surrounding the HSS source itself. Archaeological resources within the district are organized around the extraction of HSS from Silver Mound and reflect a wide range of human activity including quarry sites, lithic workshops and habitiation sites. There are also at least two rock shelters that contain some form of rock art. In 2006 Silver Mound was declared a National Historic Landmark as an important source of high quality lithic material critical to the peopling of eastern North America.
Is A1021/1 made from HSS? It certainly has the correct qualities of color and texture. There are sophisticated tests that can determine if it actually is HSS as there are minor sources of look-alike material. But given it’s find location in the same county as the Sandy Springs Site and considering all the traffic in and out of there in Paleoindian times, it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to see such a point making it’s way through the upper Mississippi region and into the Ohio Valley to Sandy Springs and from there a relatively short jaunt up country to present day Bratton Twp., laying dormant for perhaps a dozen millennia until Mr. Wallace came along. Take a moment to consider all that has happened in the world in the time in between.
A1021/1 is on display in the Windows to Our Collections exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center. Drop by and take a look.
For further reading see:
Dillon H. Carr and Robert F. Boszhardt:
Also see The Lithic Casting Lab web site:
For cutting edge research on Paleoindian sites in the Southwest especially at the Blackwater Draw site see: