Prehistoric Cultural Changes and Chert Use
(Specific to Missouri and surrounding states.)
by Don R. Dickson
There are probably more Late Archaic sites in southern Missouri, northern
Arkansas and northeastern Oklahoma than any other class of site.
Apparently there was a population explosion at this time in the area. Two
factors may be involved. One, the development of more agricultural crops
may have made reliable food supplies available during all seasons of the
year. This in turn made it possible for large permanent or semi-permanent
villages to be established. Some Late Archaic sites are quite extensive.
In addition, many small hunting camps have been recognized.
factor may have been climate-related. For example, in the western Ozark
area such northern plains artifact types as Duncan, McKean, Hanna and
Mallory bifaces suddenly appear in quantity. This may mean that dry
weather in Wyoming, Nebraska and Western Kansas forced hunters and
foragers in these areas to move eastward in search of dependable food
supplies and adequate water. This concept is more thoroughly explored in
Chapter Six of the book Prehistoric Native Americans in the Ozarks.
It is obvious that dart points become much smaller during the Late
Archaic. Experiments by the writer suggest that this was due to the
addition of fletching to much shorter darts. For example, a seven to eight
foot dart tipped with a heavy point will fly straight and hit with great
impact. But one cannot carry many darts of this size, although several
foreshafts can be carried. Much shorter five-foot darts can be equipped
with fletching and a small point and be quite effective against game as
large as deer.
Several distinctive biface styles reflect Late Archaic activities. The
basal-notched Smith knife is commonly found on sites of this time period
(5000 to 2500 years ago). Some Smith points were over six inches in length
before resharpening and many were over four inches in length. Most local
examples were made from Reeds Spring and Keokuk cherts. Other Late Archaic
biface types include the Stone Square Stemmed, Etley, Castroville, Uvalde,
Fairland, Marshall, Pandale, Table Rock Stemmed, Afton, Stone Corner
Notched, Hickory Ridge, Hemphill and Adena. Of course one must add the
Hanna, Duncan, McKean and Mallory types also (especially near the western
margins of the study area). Occasionally Red Ochre bifaces are found in
the Ozark area, although they are more common closer to the Missouri River
as are the Sedalia and Nebo Hill lanceolate bifaces. The same area
produces quantities of Sedalia diggers and triangular gouges (or adzes).
Reworked or exhausted Late Archaic bifaces were often modified into
perforators (often erroneously called drills). Most of these simply do not
work well for drilling even soft material such as wood. Most chert
“drills” were actually used to perforate leather much like a bone awl was
employed. Only very heavy-duty perforators may have functioned as a drill.
Bone and antler tools of Late Archaic age include atlatl hooks, antler
handles and bone awls. The bow and arrow had not been introduced at this
time, so the atlatl was still an important hunting tool. Snares and traps
may also have been used to procure game. Near the end of the Late Archaic,
an early fiber-tempered pottery was being made at the Nebo Hill (Missouri)
site, just north of the Missouri River near present day Kansas City.
Whether this was used for cooking, storage or both is unknown. It was
certainly a soft and poorly fired ceramic. Milling basins are quite common
at Late Archaic sites. Apparently, these were used to process acorns, nuts
and various seeds. Evidence of corn is not available at this time,
although it could have cultivated during Woodland times.
Late Archaic knappers seem to have used mainly local cherts, although a
few obsidian points (all of either Hanna or Duncan types) have been found
in the Ozark area of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Late Archaic
points in the Stockton Reservoir area were often made from Ordovician
Jefferson City chert while those in southwestern Missouri were produced
from local Reeds Spring or Keokuk cherts. The latter, or Keokuk chert, was
used extensively in northeastern Oklahoma where it outcrops widely. Late
Archaic points in central Missouri often were made from local varieties of
An abundance of large village sites suggests well-developed social
orders. One site that I used to surface hunt as a teenager was the large
Spavinaw Spring site in Benton County, Arkansas. It occupies all of a
slope and hilltop adjacent to a large spring that flows immediately into
Spavinaw Creek. I recovered many large Smith points from this site before
it was converted to permanent pasture. This village site covered at least
ten acres. Large Late Archaic sites were located on the Illinois River,
also in Benton County, Arkansas, and along most large streams in southern
Missouri. Almost all shelters in the study area were used by Late Archaic
hunting parties, possibly on a seasonal or occasional basis. Discarded
dart points and exhausted knives are the most common tools recovered as
these sites are excavated.
The tremendous variety of Late Archaic biface styles in the Missouri,
Arkansas and Oklahoma areas suggest many interactions with peoples in all
directions. For example, the Marshall, Fairland, Castroville and Pandale
types are forms found mainly in northern Texas and western Oklahoma. The
Etley type is commonly found in Northern Missouri and even Illinois. The
Adena type is more common in Illinois and eastern Missouri, as are the
Hemphill and Hickory Ridge side-notched types. Whether we are dealing with
exchanges of ideas from many directions, trade or extensive seasonal
cycles is not known. The size of Late Archaic villages makes it most
likely that widespread trade networks existed and many concepts were
exchanged during the Late Archaic.
Several years ago Historic Preservation Associates of Fayetteville,
Arkansas conducted a study of the very large Wimmer collection from the
Stockton Lake area of Cedar, Dade and Polk counties of Missouri. Mr.
Wimmer had collected from every site that he found in this area, picking
up every artifact he recognized whether complete or broken. These had been
catalogued by site. It is interesting to note that 50% of the 718 bifaces
he found were Late Archaic specimens.