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Prehistoric Cultural Changes and Chert Use
(Specific to Missouri and surrounding states.)
~ Article 104 ~

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

by Don R. Dickson

The Middle Archaic in Missouri and the surrounding area may be considered as that time between 7500 and 5000 years ago. Apparently the climate became quite dry throughout this region at this time. In fact many of the so called “prairie mounds” were formed as wind-blown sand lodged in clumps of shrubs or bushes. Many sites that were intensively occupied during the Early Archaic were essentially abandoned at this time. Such sites include the well-known Rodgers Rock Shelter, the Albertson Shelter and many other regional caves and shelter sites. In fact Middle Archaic sites in the study area are rather rare. As an archeologist I have worked at a few locations used by Middle Archaic Native Americans. These few sites include the huge Calf Creek Cave, located near the perennial stream of Calf Creek as well as several springs, and the Hogan Creek open site in Taney County, Missouri. In fact the latter site was essentially a one component Middle Archaic location with very few Early Archaic and Late Archaic artifacts present. The small Tom’s Brook shelter in Johnson County, Arkansas also seems to have had a substantial Middle Archaic occupation.

In all probability some dependence upon such vegetal crops as squash and seed producing domestic crops supplemented the traditional hunting and foraging economy. And of course the erection of earthen mounds started at least in Louisiana well before the great Poverty Point earthwork system was started. Otherwise life during Middle Archaic times seems to have been a continuation of the Archaic life style.

One of the really diagnostic Middle Archaic artifacts is the full grooved ground stone axe. These are often associated with burials in Middle Archaic sites and worn out discarded specimens have been found at such Middle Archaic sites as Hogan Creek. An abundance of grooved net sinkers at Hogan Creek suggests that fishing was an important economic practice at that site. At least three probable Middle Archaic bannerstones were recovered from Calf Creek cave in Searcy County, Arkansas. Middle Archaic people may have made ground stone gorgets and beads also.

The most commonly found Middle Archaic biface form in southern Missouri is the side notched White River type. Some of these have concave bases and others have straight bases. For years these points were called “Big Sandy” after similarly shaped bifaces from the eastern United States. However, the Big Sandy type is probably an Early Archaic form and there is no evidence that a connection exists between the eastern Big Sandy and the Missouri and northern Arkansas White River type. It is more likely that the White River type evolved from the Early Archaic Graham Cave category. Carbon dates for the White River type have consistently averaged about 6000 years ago.

Another Middle Archaic point seem to be the Johnson type, found throughout Arkansas and occasionally in southwestern Missouri. The stem on this broad point type may slightly contract or it may be almost parallel sided. Margins of the stem are often ground. Johnson points are especially common in the Arkansas River Valley area of western Arkansas and further south into Louisiana.

The basal notched Calf Creek type initially was considered to be an Early Archaic form and it certainly may have originated late in this time period. Serrations and extremely fine pressure flaking on some specimens suggest the Early Archaic. However, a number of radiocarbon dates from sites that have produced Calf Creek points in Oklahoma are all Middle Archaic, so current archeological opinion places the Calf Creek type in the Middle Archaic. Most chert knappers will tell you that the Calf Creek type is one of the most challenging to produce because the deep but narrow basal notches are hard to execute. Very few modern knappers make the notches the way the prehistoric Middle Archaic knappers did, so modern replications are usually easy to distinguish from prehistoric specimens. The Andice and Bell types of Texas are probably regional variations of the Calf Creek type. Since the name Calf Creek was given before the terms Andice or Bell, some archeologists call them all Calf Creek.

It seems likely that traps, snares and various types of nets were being used to obtain fish and small game at this time. Evidence of such artifacts have vanished from most sites due to their perishable nature; however, woven materials from Arnold Research Cave in Missouri apparently date to Middle Archaic times.

Milling stones, digging tools and choppers, commonly found on Middle Archaic sites, suggest an increased dependence upon such plant foods as nuts, acorns, roots and various edible seeds. Pitted stones are often found in Middle Archaic contexts. While these artifacts have been interpreted as evidence of bipolar reduction in chert knapping, a more probable explanation is that they were used to position walnuts and hickory nuts as they were being cracked. They certainly work well in this capacity. While axes are usually interpreted as woodworking tools, those made at Hogan Creek were produced from a chalky cottonrock and thus may not have been used in woodworking. Perhaps Middle Archaic axes were mainly designed as defensive weapons. Damage on many specimens suggests arduous tasks were performed with them.

Local cherts seem to have been used mostly by Middle Archaic knappers. At Calf Creek cave Pitkin chert was a favorite chert type, although one point found by the writer was made from red Pierson chert (found locally). One Calf Creek point was made from heat-treated Arkansas novaculite. This stone was obtained in the Hot Springs area and represented either travel on the part of Calf Creek Cave residents or trade.

The Hogan Creek site yielded many examples of worked hamatite, a material used to produce red body paint and powder often employed in a burial context. The finding of hairpin fragments and shell ornaments at Arnold Research Cave in Missouri in probable Middle Archaic contexts may mean both ornamental and religious functions for some artifacts. This in turn tells us something about life at that time.

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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