Archaeological Work in Progress

I don’t normally share my professional work on this blog but thought it might be of interest.  We were out re-recording a rock shelter yesterday known for some rather mysterious pictographs.  Mysterious in that they are vague and probably mostly wiped out due to weathering.  Only the protected portions of the shelter contain clear images and only one image is a petroglyph (pecked as opposed to painted).

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Looking for hidden glyphs.

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There are no clear cultural symbols that would tie these panels to a single time period or affiliation but there are some hints at an Archaic connection (or at least stories about the Archaic).  It is strongly suspected that the site has been known and has been collected on for at least two centuries as Europeans  had a presence here since the early 18th century.  This may account for the complete lack of diagnostic artifacts on the site.  However, diagnostic points have been collected nearby and show a strong association with the Missouri Late Archaic tradition in the form of Langtry points.

Hope you enjoy some vicarious archaeology.

Making Tools

Back to the beginnings.  Larry Kinsella is a great flint knapper and an all-around talented guy who, amongst other things, recreates stone-age technologies from his home near Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (one of the great cities of the prehistoric world) in Illinois.

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A 6.35 kilogram (14 US pound) nodule of Burlington chert.

Back in 2008, Larry, prompted by Tim Baumann, created a great lithic experiment for a Missouri Archaeology Month poster.

On May 28th,2008, Larry received an e-mail from Dr. Tim Baumann:
Larry, “I still need your help with the Missouri Archaeology Month Poster.
The theme for 2008 is prehistoric lithic resources in Missouri. The back of the poster will have unmodified samples of chert and other lithic resources used by Native Americans in Missouri. I am working with Jack Ray and utilizing his new book on Ozarks lithic resources. Jack is also organizing the fall symposium on this same topic, which will be held on Saturday, Sept.27 at Meramec State Park in Sullivan, MO. If you would like to give a presentation at this event, please contact Jack.

For the front of the poster, I would like to show the entire assemblage of lithic debitage and tools made from a single Burlington chert cobble or similar light colored chert. I was hoping that you and/or some of your friends at the Devil’s hole knap-in would be willing to supply the raw material and muscle to create this assemblage. I will then take the debitage and tools and arrange them with a computer design program into a spiral pattern with a background of obsidian or another dark colored lithic source.”
Since this original contact, a few things were changed. Pete Bostrom was asked to do the layout and photography, for one.
As with any project, unexpected hurdles arise and it’s up to the participants to modify their strategies and adapt to those hurdles.
 
First:
     After Larry blanked out the nodule, it became apparent that he was producing much more debitage and many more tools than he had anticipated. That’s when he decided to stick with only a Late Archaic Assemblage. The wide variability in point sizes, shapes, and chert, along with the occurrence of many different types of chert tools, during the Late Archaic, seemed to gravitate toward that time period. Also, the tools could have been heat-treated if the stone had not worked as well as it did.
Second:
   It also became apparent that this project presented a unique opportunity to try to understand the amount of material needed to produce certain point types. So, after the initial photograph of the raw nodule was taken by  Pete Bostrom, and at the suggestion of Dr. Baumann, Larry saved all debitage, from all the point-making attempts, separately. This provided the opportunity to not only see what type of point could be made from a single spall but also, the other tools could be isolated to their specific spalls.
Third:
The sheer amount of material produced during the project, presented Pete Bostrom with problems too. How could he possibly display all that material and make it interesting to the general public? After all,  that’s what the poster’s supposed to do, get the general public interested in archaeology.
So:
1) It was decided to keep all debitage, from each spall, separate.
2) Keep separate notes and times on each spall using Larry’s pre-printed forms. Like this:
3) Photograph the resulting point types with their debitage.
4) Use the debitage from each point to make additional tools.
5) Photograph each point type, its additional tools, and debitage, together.
6) Screen all debitage, from each spall, through window screen, to determine how much chert grit would have been available to do core-drilling for other projects, such as, drilling bannerstones.
7) Weigh all materials. (Dr. Bauman weighed all the material, in Larry’s absence, due to surgery).
8) Present Pete Bostrom with all the material so he could lay out and take the photographs for the poster.
9) Present the photos to the printer so the posters could be made.
 
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Initial reduction from core to useful materials.

After reduction, each piece took it own trajectory and became a projectile point, other tool, or was cast away as debitage.  Students of archaeology (and some professionals I know) can learn much from this type of experiment by examining the range and number of flaking debris generated in a single reduction episode.

nodule14lbgrouplargeAfter Pete received the materials, he created this excellent poster which is a remarkable work of art in its own right.  Have a look at Larry’s pages explaining the process and learn something of the universal human technology that put us, for better or worse, in the place we are today.