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.
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
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.