OF CHEESE HEADS AND CLOVIS POINTS: A POSSIBLE OCCURENCE OF HIXTON SILICIFIED SANDSTONE IN THE OHIO VALLEY


OF CHEESE HEADS AND CLOVIS POINTS: A POSSIBLE OCCURENCE OF HIXTON SILICIFIED SANDSTONE IN THE OHIO VALLEY

Pictured right, OHS archaeological collections item number A1021/1, can be considered an excellent example of a fluted or Clovis type projectile point made in a style often seen in the eastern half of the of the United States. It measures nearly 5 in length by 1½ in width and is made from a material not particularly common among flaked stone artifacts in Ohio but more on that below. Fluted points such as these date to the late stages of the Pleistocene or latest Ice Age in North America or to about 11,000 -13,000 years before present. They were used by Paleoindian hunters as the primary weapon form to bring down their hunted quarry that could include mammoths, mastodons and other Ice Age megafauna as well as smaller, more familiar species such as deer, elk and caribou. As a tool or weapon, fluted points can be described as somewhat elongated lanceolate forms with straight to slightly excurvate lateral edges. For about the lower third of its length the edges are often ground or at least smoothed, probably to facilitate hafting. A slight asymmetry of the lateral blade margins above the haft areas may develop over time from damage repair or continued re-sharpening. The finished points are flaked on both faces and are flat to slightly lenticular or lens shaped in cross section and the basal edge is usually indented to a certain extent and thinned on each face by the removal of one or more elongated channel or fluting flakes, thus the descriptive name. Even without a temporal placement these points were recognized early on to collectors and antiquarians as a distinctive type, curiously different from the more abundant stemmed or notched forms. Some even thought the smaller specimens especially to be some sort of rare arrow point. Their relative antiquity was recognized in 1929 at a site called Blackwater Draw near Clovis, New Mexico where fluted points were found intermixed with the remains of Ice Age megafauna including mammoth, horse, camel, bison, saber tooth cat and dire wolf. Their absolute age of around 12, 000 years was later determined in the 1950s with the advent of radiometric or C-14 dating. Traditionally, Paleoindians were thought of as free roaming hunters whose subsistence was based on following the seasonal movement of the megafauna, often into totally unexplored regions. This pioneering model has been at least partially supplanted in recent years, especially in the east, by a model that suggests that Paleoindians may have actually operated within semi-familiar, defined territories and while still heavily dependent on hunting they were more generalists in their subsistence patterns than first thought. If a hunting band did take a mastodon or other large animal it may have been culled out of the herd based on age or physical condition or perhaps simply because it was the largest target around and provided the most return for labor invested. More typically their subsistence strategy might focus on deer, elk, caribou, bear and other quarry that could be easily managed by small groups of hunters. Hunting tasks were addressed with a large and varied flaked stone tool kit usually made from high quality tool stone. Paleoindian tool kits would be designed to undertake a variety of large and small tasks and likely include fluted projectile points, fluted and un-fluted knives, prismatic blades from cores, large bifaces that doubled as flake tool cores during the early stages of reduction and a selection of robust scrapers, borers, cutters, burins and other tools made a particular task in mind. Overall the tool kit would be designed with a predictable service life fit for extended periods away from flint sources. By the new model, settlement would be based on a periodic nucleation and dispersal pattern whereby dispersed bands or groups within a region would nucleate or come together on some sort of regular basis, perhaps seasonal, for social maintenance of the entire group that would include trade, the exchange of marriage partners and the renewal of alliances. These activities might be centered on flint quarry areas or based at some other prominent site or easy to find, familiar location on the landscape. As social activities waned the individual groups would then again disperse until the next gathering cycle took place. Since the Clovis/Blackwater Draw discoveries, fluted point sites have been recognized all over the United States and North America from Maine to Washington to Florida to Arizona and from Canada to Mexico. Like the Blackwater Draw Site some sites, such as Kimmswick in Missouri and the Gault Site in Texas, contain both flaked stone tools and the remains of extinct animals. Other sites, especially in the Great Basin and the high deserts of the Rocky Mountain west, site tool assemblages often consist entirely of large caches of projectile points and associated flaked stone tools made from very attractive forms of flint, chalcedony, agate, quartz crystal and obsidian These would include the Simon Cache in Idaho, the Drake Cache in Colorado and the Fenn Cache, ostensibly from Utah but whose true origins remain somewhat clouded. These and other large caches were discovered without the benefit of any sort of well defined site context so its hard to determine the manner or the degree of human activity at these sites although other western sites such as the Anzick Site in Montana and the East Wenatchee Site in Washington that were more thoroughly investigated did in fact produce evidence of complex habitation activities as well as the caching if large numbers of tools.

East of the Rocky Mountains habitation, hunting camp and quarrying sites are more the norm or at least they are more easily recognized. These sites range in size from one or two points and a few flakes to very large sites that likely represent multiple reoccupations. As a pure function of time moderately populated sites like the Vail Site complex in Maine can accumulate a full range of points, preforms, scrapers, borers, other tools as well as large quantities of debitage or waste flakes.

Other items in the Paleoindian material culture such as leather work, basketry and carvings in bone wood or ivory were of a perishable nature and no longer exist and almost all of what we know or have surmised about the people of that time comes from the study of flaked stone tools. Nobles Pond (33ST357) near Canton Ohio is one of the most extensively studied large Paleoindian sites in eastern North America.

Nobles Pond is actually a 25 acre complex of at least 22 discreet loci located on the edge of a glacial age kettle lake. Although it is not quarry centered it is located within a manageable distance of the flint sources in and around Coshocton County and along Flint Ridge in eastern Licking County and depended heavily on these two primary sources of flint. This is reflected in the fact that these two flint types alone account for a very high percentage of the total flaked stone assemblage. There were undoubtedly other features beyond flint extraction including its location and aquatic resources that made this particular location attractive as a favored spot. Conversely, small fluted point sites with immediately available flint outcrops and reliable riverine and game resources are scattered along the floodplains and throughout the uplands in the Nellie/Warsaw area of the Walhonding Valley of Coshocton County, Ohio. The close proximity to each other of some of these sites, like Welling and Nellie Heights, makes it hard sometimes to tell just where one site stops and the other begins. Perhaps at one time Nellie Heights and Welling were just the opposite ends of the same large site or it may be that they were both components of a larger aggregation of quarry based activity areas.

Throughout the Ohio Valley large fluted point sites are not confined to just one particular region and given the correct circumstances might be located just about anywhere. The Sandy Springs Site in Ohio is located in along the Ohio River in southern Adams County and is notable for its location removed from the lithic rich northeast quarter of Ohio. In its structure it is akin to Nobles Pond as an assemblage of individual camp or habitation sites and their associated midden areas containing points, scrapers and other residue of continued reoccupations rather than a single contiguous site although there are no significant flint sources in the general neighborhood as there were at Nobles Pond. But like Nobles Pond the Sandy Springs area has advantages to offer other than tool stone. These include its location along a major river corridor, its situation on a high sandy terrace above a big bend in the Ohio River providing a panoramic view of the surrounding valley and perhaps most importantly an active salt springs to attract local animal populations. Sandy Springs is presently the center piece of a nationally recognized 175 acre archaeological reserve designated as a National Historic Landmark and referred to as the Adams County Paleoindian District.

The model of Paleoindians arranging themselves on the landscape in terms of a favored location/ quarry centered social structure not withstanding, it appears there was also at the same time a long distance cross country movement of select raw material. This phenomenon is frequently but not always observed in the form of finished projectile points and/or preforms. Whether this represents a direct, long distance quest by one person or a small group of individuals to obtain a particular type of tool stone, an embedded procurement strategy where preferred flint is collected along with other resources during regular journeys within a given territory, down the line trading among groups or even the gifting of prized stone to cement an alliance is not known or well understood but it certainly isnt out of the question to find Paleoindian artifacts made from a tool stone whose geologic source is sometimes hundreds of miles from where the objects were recovered.

At the Lamb Site in Genesee County of western New York State, finished points and preforms made of Ohio Flint Ridge and Upper Mercer Flints and Hornstone from southwestern Indiana/western Kentucky were recovered from what was probably a short term camp or possible burial site situated on a low glacial knoll on otherwise level landscape. It is note worthy in particular that among the recovered flaked stone assemblage was a single point made from Knife River Flint, a type of tool stone only found in North Dakota, over 1500 miles distant from the Lamb Site. All this seemed to be brought into a region where an extensive source of Onondaga Chert was available only a few miles away along the Niagara Escarpment. The fact that they appeared to have sacrificed valuable projectile points to create minor tool forms hints at the groups incomplete understanding of the local environment. It may also be that it just represents a preference for the higher quality flint imported from Ohio and elsewhere. Onondaga Chert is a grainy, drab material that is not the easiest stone to manipulate and when flaked reeks with the sulpherous odor of petroleum. There is a saying among present day flint knappers that friends dont let friends knap Onondaga Chert and it certainly isnt repeated without just cause.

At Duchess Quarry Cave along the Hudson River in New York, points made from Ohio Upper Mercer Flint were recovered among flint artifacts made of Normanskill Chert and other flints of a more local origin. This was also the case at the Gainey Site near Flint, Michigan where Upper Mercer Flint from eastern Ohio and Ten Mile Creek Chert from northwest Ohio made up a majority of the lithic assemblage and was apparently much favored over the more local Bayport Chert from the Saginaw Bay region. This is also true at the Paleo Crossing Site in Medina County southwest of Cleveland where Hornstone/ Harrison County Chert from southern Indiana was the favored lithic material. Its also an odd statistical fact of archaeology that a significant percentage of all recorded fluted points were simply isolated finds and not associated with other tools, camp sites or habitation locations.

It is probable that they were lost, dropped or misplaced and for whatever reason never retrieved. Its also not unheard of that such points are sometimes a single representative in that region of an exotic raw material for which there is no rhyme or reason for it to be found where it was found. At an artifact identification event a few years back an individual came by with a small fluted point made from rock crystal quartz. It was found by her grandfather on his farm south of Cleveland.

There are several places in North America where quartz crystals can be found that are large enough from which to fashion a point but none of them are within 500 miles of Cleveland. Where it came from or how it got there is anyones guess. In a similar vein, such is the case for OHS archaeology item A1021/1. Object A1021/1 was donated to the Society in 1929 by a Mr. Guy Wallace. It was part of a small collection of items he collected in Bratton Twp., located in northern Adams County Ohio. As stated earlier, it is classic in form to many other fluted points that have been found throughout the Ohio Valley. What is not typical of Mr. Wallaces discovery is the material it is made from.

The Ohio Valley has several outstanding high quality flint resources. Upper Mercer and Flint Ridge Flints come from easily accessible Pennsylvanian bedrock outcrops in eastern Ohio and there are several varieties of lesser cherts in the Devonian and Silurian bedrock exposures just to the west. There are also the nodular Hornstone sources in Indiana and a well utilized source of Paoli or Carter Cave Flint in northern Kentucky. Object A1021/1 is made from none of these. Rather, its made from a semi-translucent, slightly grainy, honey colored material that in fact isnt a flint at all but a material known as orthoquartzite, sometimes called sugar quartz. Orthoquartzite refers to a type of sandstone whose individual grains have been bonded or cemented together by chalcedony formed through the transportation of silicates in aqueous solution into sandstone bedrock. While there are a few locations where knapable sugar quartz might be obtained in the eastern United States, the grand daddy of them all is the Hixton Silicified Sandstone deposits in Wisconsin, nearly 600 miles to the northwest of where Mr. Wallace made his find. Its a country now inhabited by a hardy folk who see fit to attend major sporting events adorned with headgear resembling great blocks of cheese and who lightheartedly but proudly refer to themselves as Cheeseheads. Was this the source of Mr. Wallaces point? Perhaps, but read on.

Hixton Silicified Sandstone outcrops at Silver Mound (47JA21) near the headwaters of the Trempealeau River in Jackson County of west central Wisconsin. Silver Mound is neither a mound in the sense of a prehistoric earthwork nor is there any silver involved. Early settlers to the region who saw the profusion of quarry pits about the Mound mistakenly came to believe in the legend of a lost silver mine within the Mound, although no silver had ever been recovered there.

Even though ample geologic evidence had been produced by the 1860s to prove otherwise, silver prospecting continued there without results into the 1890s and for whatever reason the name stuck. Silver Mound is actually a half-mile long, L-shaped hill capped by resistant strata of Cambrian Sandstone that stands about 65 meters above the surrounding rolling terrain. At about 30 meters below the crest is a core stratum of very resilient orthoquartzite referred to geologically as Hixton Silicified Sandstone (HSS). The result is that the combined strata of Cambrian Sandstone and orthoquartzite of Silver Mound has continued to resist weathering while the surrounding areas of un-silicified sandstone have eroded away into a rolling, sand hill landscape.

There are other sources of orthoquartzite in the region but none match the quality of HSS for flaked stone tool making. James Porter of the Wisconsin Historical Society argued as early as 1961 that since HSS is such a unique, high quality material Silver Mound is likely the ultimate source for nearly all silicified sandstone artifacts recovered from archaeological contexts. He didnt say how far afield this might extend but its an argument that even today might retain a certain amount of validity.

HSS is composed of well sorted (uniform sized) round to sub-round sand grains cemented together by an opal-chalcedony matrix of silicates likely introduced into the formation by the actions of ground water. HSS is typically white to honey colored with variants ranging from yellow to orange to red due to microscopic inclusions tourmaline, rutile, hematite, apatite and other minerals. A deep red coloration of finished artifacts can also result from the absorption of water born minerals such as hematite and other oxides of iron in the depositional environment and continued exposure to sunlight may produce a white patina indicating a susceptibility to ultraviolet light. For making flaked stone tools HSS is said to be harder than flint. When struck it breaks with a well definedconchoidal fracture that produces a sharp, durable edge. In the tool making process the fracture plain actually travels through both the matrix and the granular structure and not around the individual grains. This imparts a somewhat lustrous sheen to the object and a smoother than expected texture. Light refracting from the faces of the individual grains gives the finished object a subdued sparkling or satin-like appearance.


It is thought that the quarries at Silver Mound were used for at least 12,000 years, from the Paleoindian through Late Prehistoric/Early Historic periods. Studies of the distribution of objects produced in prehistoric quarry areas in general can often offer insights on precisely how the HSS quarry areas themselves may have functioned over time. According to such a study, artifacts made of orthoquartzite from the HSS quarries and representing all time periods would be relatively common at sites located within a certain radius of this lithic source, but less common at more distant sites.

The fact that this distribution pattern would tend to change dramatically over space relative to time is due to a mechanism referred to as distance decay. That is, the further afield a commodity like flint (or even an idea) is from its source, the rarer it becomes and the less its influence tends to be in the larger scheme of things. Therefore as distance from the Silver Mound lithic source increases, the artifacts made of HSS would become rarer and rarer. It is also the case concerning Silver Mound and HSS that distance decay could also seem to apply to the estimated age of the artifacts made of this raw material. In other words the closer to the present an artifact is temporally, the smaller the geographic range covered by its maker would be in the overall sphere of HSS distribution.

People who utilized HSS for making arrow points a few hundred years ago likely viewed it as a local resource and probably didn’t travel that far to get to the Silver Mound quarries. Additionally, all the arrow points produced were likely used within that specific region or catchment area and not traded out. A catchment can be described as that geographic comfort zone of sorts a river valley or region of small lakes – containing those resources most necessary for the group to successfully function. There were probably other lithic sources near the periphery of the Silver Mound catchment considered as good as HSS for arrow points and in a quantity possibly sufficient to satisfy the needs of most of those peripheral groups. This would make these alternate sources even more attractive to outlying groups in a cost-benefit relationship, lessening the importance of HSS and limiting even further the HSS distribution within the catchment. Going back to the Archaic period (about 3,000 to 10,000 years ago) the distribution range of a relatively smaller number of lithic artifacts would be significantly larger as would be the catchment area of the people who used them. What might have been a hunting groups catchment of perhaps a few dozen to a few hundred square miles in the late Prehistoric/ Early Historic Period could have been as large as several hundred to a few thousand square miles in the Archaic Period.

In Paleoindian times(12,000 years ago) a catchment area might have included an entire geographic region covering tens of thousands of square miles and through distribution mechanisms described above it would be expected that a very limited number of objects might be found as much as several hundreds of miles distant from its source. If in fact OHS archaeology object A1021 /1 is made from HSS this concept might hint at, but certainly not fully explain how it got to be where Guy Wallace eventually found it and picked it up. Other factors involved may never be known, recognized or explained. Silver Mound is now included in the Silver Mound Archaeological District, a 20 square kilometer area surrounding the HSS source itself. Archaeological resources within the district are organized around the extraction of HSS from Silver Mound and reflect a wide range of human activity including quarry sites, lithic workshops and habitiation sites. There are also at least two rock shelters that contain some form of rock art. In 2006 Silver Mound was declared a National Historic Landmark as an important source of high quality lithic material critical to the peopling of eastern North America.

Is A1021/1 made from HSS? It certainly has the correct qualities of color and texture. There are sophisticated tests that can determine if it actually is HSS as there are minor sources of look-alike material. But given its find location in the same county as the Sandy Springs Site and considering all the traffic in and out of there in Paleoindian times, it doesnt take a huge leap of faith to see such a point making its way through the upper Mississippi region and into the Ohio Valley to Sandy Springs and from there a relatively short jaunt up country to present day Bratton Twp., laying dormant for perhaps a dozen millennia until Mr. Wallace came along. Take a moment to consider all that has happened in the world in the time in between.

A1021/1 is on display in the Windows to Our Collections exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center. Drop by and take a look.

Bill Pickard

For further reading see: Dillon H. Carr and Robert F. Boszhardt:

Silver Mound, Wisconsin: Source of Hixton Silicified Sandstone Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, Spring 201

Check out Dr. R.M. Gramlys recent article on the Vail Site complex in Maine on the American Society for Amateur Archaeology web site: http://asaa-persimmonpress.com

Also see The Lithic Casting Lab web site: http://www.lithiccastinglab.com/ For cutting edge research on Paleoindian sites in the Southwest especially at the Blackwater Draw site see: http://theclovissite.wordpress.com/

Posted February 22, 2011
Topics: Archaeology

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