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Prehistoric Cultural Changes and Chert Use
(Specific to Missouri and surrounding states.)
~ Article 103 ~

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Prehistoric Cultural Changes and Chert Use (05/17/2005)
(Specific to Missouri and surrounding states.)

by Don R. Dickson

The Early Archaic will be considered in this article, the third in a sequence of short papers on regional prehistory. There is considerable argument over what constitutes the termination of Paleoindian times and the inception of the Archaic. We must all remember that archeologists suggested these categories and terms many years ago on the basis of incomplete data. Since such terms as Paleoindian and Archaic are so well entrenched in the archeological literature, they continue to be used, although many archeologists choose to define such terms each time they use them.

Originally, the term Paleoindian referred to a big game hunting economy that depended upon the killing of extinct megafauna, such as mammoth, mastodon, extinct bison, terminal Pleistocene camel and horse as well as other extinct forms. Fluted points were a hallmark of this pattern of culture. Archaic was defined as a small game hunting and foraging way of life that existed before such innovations as agriculture, mound building, ceramics and the introduction of the bow and arrow. This was acceptable for a while until more data came in. Then it was discovered that Clovis hunters also killed many small game species and foraged for seeds and nuts. It was also determined that various crops, such as squash, gourds and possibly Chenopodium (Lambís Quarters) and other seed crops were being grown as early as 4457 years ago in Hickory County, Missouri. Mounds were being built during the Middle Archaic in Louisiana, and some ceramics appeared in the Savanna River Valley of South Carolina as early as 4500 years ago. Fiber-tempered sherds from the Nebo Hill site near Kansas City, Missouri may possibly be 3500 years of age. So we need to define terms even in a short article such as this one.

Here the Paleoindian period is defined as the time in which some emphasis was placed upon killing extinct megafauna or scavenging their remains and the time during which fluted bifaces were being made. Archaic relates to the time when mostly small game, such as deer, bear, beaver, raccoon, etc. were killed and foraging for nuts, acorns, roots, berries and other fruits was widely practiced. Projectile points and knives were no longer fluted and a variety of stemmed forms appeared rather suddenly. Incipient horticulture and some mound construction were done late in the Archaic Pattern. This writer considers Dalton to represent either a transitional period or the earliest Archaic expression.

Many biface traditions appear during what is usually referred to as the Early Archaic. For example, such side notched types as Thebes, Graham Cave and Cache River were made at this time (between 10,000 and 7500 years ago). Corner-notched types, such as Rice Lobed and Jakie were being flaked, and such square stemmed types as Scottsbluff and Kirk stemmed were used. Contracting stemmed forms as Hidden Valley and Searcy were produced in the study area. The Hidden Valley type appears early in the Archaic tradition, while the Searcy type was made near the end of the Early Archaic (about 7500 years ago). Many of these biface forms seem to have been used as knives or cutting implements, as the beveling, frequent serrations and use wear suggest. But some were employed as dart points, especially after resharpening reduced their length. It may well be that points of bone or fire-hardened wood were often used to tip atlatl darts throughout Early Archaic times.

Throughout much of Missouri, especially the southern and eastern portions, many bifaces were flaked from Burlington chert. Most Burlington chert is light cream-colored to light gray or tan in color, but shades of brown are often found. In the St. Louis area the colorful High Ridge Burlington was available. In south-central Missouri and to some degree in southwestern Missouri the Ordovician Jefferson City and Cotter cherts were selected in areas of availability. Gasconade and Roubidoux cherts were used in areas where they were exposed, but the quality was not comparable to the Jefferson City. The well-known Mozarkite is actually a colorful variety of Jefferson City chert. In southwestern Missouri Reeds Spring cherts were used predominately for knapping purposes. In localized areas the Devonian Fortune chert was used in biface manufacture. The St. Francois Mountains of southeast Missouri yielded knappable Precambrian rhyolites and felsites (of igneous origin).

Chert tools made during Early Archaic times included projectile points, hafted and hand-held knives (often beveled by resharpening), thin end scrapers, adzes, choppers, gravers and burins (another type of engraving tool). Artifacts of bone and antler include knapping tools, bone awls and at least one atlatl hook (from Albertson shelter). Sandstone was used to form abraders and milling stones. Hammerstones were made from chert, tripoli (a weathered chert) and hard limestone.

Available data suggest that Early Archaic hunters were killing and processing small animals, working their hides into rawhide or leather items, making bone tools, working wood, digging for roots and tubers and grinding nuts, acorns and seeds into meal that was cooked and eaten. Major base camps seem to have been located along the larger streams, while smaller temporary hunting camps were situated adjacent to small tributary streams. Most rock shelters were used seasonally or occasionally. In Arkansas the huge Calf Creek cave apparently functioned at least part of the time as a permanent base camp, but such shelters as Rodgers in Missouri probably served mainly as a seasonal or temporary hunting/foraging site.

Copyright © December 2004 Don Dickson
Not to be reprinted or copied in any form without written permission from Don Dickson and/or Missouri Trading Company. 
All rights reserved.

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