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Prehistoric Cultural Changes and Chert Use
(Specific to Missouri and surrounding states.)
~ Article 105 ~

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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.

The second 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 Burlington chert.

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.

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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Page last updated March 16, 2008

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