Object of the Month
By Amanda Mather
For the past 2.5 million years, people have been manipulating rock to do our bidding: sharpening and shaping stone into things we can scrape, hunt, cut, and drill with. Rock has been our friend!
Projectile points and stone tools are great ways to see how cultures have changed over time and to pinpoint who was at a particular archaeological site at a given time. Odds are that where there were people, there were projectile points, more commonly known as arrowheads. As cultures evolve, so too does the material, shape, style and use of their stone tools, making them a great way for archaeologists to track cultural shifts and evolutions. Our fair state has played a pivotal role in the tracking, dating and discovery of projectile points.
New Mexico is the namesake for two of the most famous types of projectile point cultures found on this continent. The Clovis and the Folsom cultures dominated stone tool making in North America for about 4,000 years, give or take a couple of centuries. These projectile points were the first used by Paleo-Indian hunters to take down their mammoth, bison antiquus and other giant, now extinct, prey.
Clovis, named for picturesque Clovis New Mexico, came first, lasting from about 13,200 BCE until the advent of Folsom culture around 9,000 BCE. Clovis points were first discovered in 1929 by 19-year-old Ridgely Whiteman in the Black Water Draw, a small often dry creek bed in Clovis. These projectile points were in close association with all kinds of big extinct animals: sloths, dire wolves, camels and horses. Many of these animals are no longer with us, or had disappeared from this side of the world until contact brought them back home. What this meant, as is obvious to us now, is that whoever was making these arrowheads to take out camels must have been here a long, long time ago — 13,000 years ago or so!
Of course, by the time Clovis was discovered, we had already established that people must have been here for quite a span of time, and that is because of one really smart cowboy in Folsom New Mexico in 1908.
Folsom New Mexico, is a very small town with a population of 56 near Raton. After a very nasty flood washed through town, killing 18 residents, a freed slave and then ranch foreman, George McJunkin, was fixing fence lines in Wild Horse Arroyo when something caught his eye. Jutting out of the freshly washed away arroyo were some very large rib bones. George knew they were bison, but these were no ordinary run of the mill modern bison. This animal was a monster. He recognized it for what it was, Bison antiquus, a long since extinct ancestor of modern bison that was about twice the size of our furry friends today. George knew what he had found was important, and spent the rest of his life trying to get the right people to listen to him.
Four years after George’s death in 1926, the right people finally did, and formal archaeological excavation began at Wild Horse Arroyo. They struck pay dirt, finding not only the remains of 30 Bison antiquus, but in one of them nestled between two ribs, what was soon to be called a Folsom point. At the time, the prevailing thought was that humans had only been on this continent for about 4,000 years, but what George McJunkin had found set that date back to at least 9,000 years! You can visit George’s discovery for yourself next time you’re in Washington, D.C. where it lives happily ever after at the Smithsonian Institution.
At El Rancho de Las Golondrinas, we are privileged to have folks talented enough to make these beautiful things from scratch. Our flintknappers use their talent to turn rock into something beautiful and useful.