Selected Objects from the OHS Archaeological Collections

Selected Objects from the OHS Archaeological Collections

Among the objects in the archaeological collections of the Ohio Historical Society are a number of items notable for their style and craftsmanship as well as the exceptional raw material used in their manufacture. Representative of this group of objects is a fine spear point from the Captain Charles W. Mc Ginnis collection (object A173/29) and a second spear point (A4786/173), the source of which is unknown.

Captain Charles McGinnis was from Frankfort in Ross County and served during the Civil War in Company K of the 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. According to OHS accession files, Captain McGinnis assembled a large and impressive collection from the Ross County area in the years previous to 1895. In 1917, the entire collection was presented by his widow and son to the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society as the Captain Charles W. McGinnis Collection.

Object A173/29, referred to here as the McGinnis point, is a large St Charles or Dovetail point (148mm x 37mm x 12mm) made from Flint Ridge Flint in shades of purple, tan and white. Until recently it was on exhibit in the museum at Moundbuilders State Memorial in Newark. It was also once featured on a brochure for Flint Ridge State Memorial. The spear point is relatively thick (almost diamond shaped) in cross section and it is likely that it has been narrowed slightly from its original form by resharpening. Light grinding is noted along the basal edge and in the notches.

Below is a second St. Charles or Dovetail point (object A4786/173) made of bright yellow and white Flint Ridge Flint with blue and purple highlights. Its dimensions are 107mm x 44mm x 9.5mm and it is currently on exhibit in the Windows to Our Past exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center.


This specimen is wider and thinner than the McGinnis point and the blade corners or barbs are better defined by the well executed corner notches and small button base. Like the McGinnis point, the basal edge and notches of A4786/173 have been ground smooth. Overall there is a marked difference in the flaking technique seen between the two points. The flaking pattern seen on A4786/173 was produced by the removal of larger percussion flakes across the face of the point followed by well executed pressure flaking to trim the blade edges. The McGinnis point was produced by a technique known as collateral flaking or the removal of a series of flakes along both the left and right lateral edges of the blade. This produced a well defined central ridge and the somewhat diamond-shaped cross section. As stated above, both the McGinnis point and A4786/173 are crafted from Flint Ridge Flint, Ohios official gem stone. Their distinctive coloration would seem to indicate that the flint was likely quarried from the vicinity of Flint Ridge State Memorial in eastern Licking County where the most colorful varieties of flint are known to occur. It could be that the eye appeal of the stone was as important to the ancient maker as the quality of the flint itself.

For years these types of points were referred to as Dovetail points by collectors because of the fan-like basal edge that seems to resemble the tail of a dove. In 1955 it was named in the archaeological literature as the St Charles point by Edward Scully for many examples common to St. Charles County, Missouri. Scully initially ascribed these points to the Late Archaic period in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 years before present but because they are often found in association with known earlier forms they are now more correctly placed in the Early Archaic period in the range of 7,000 to 9,000 years before present. Typically these points can be described as triangular to ovate in outline with straight to excurvate blade edges. In some instances blade edges may become beveled and serrated from repeated resharpening. The shoulders and the rounded basal edge are defined by well placed notches that, along with the base, are often ground smooth. Invariably they are well made of higher quality flint and are notable for their symmetry and expert flaking. St. Charles/Dovetail points range between 2 and 8 inches in length although specimens greater than 6 inches in length are rare. Their size and general robust nature indicates that they could have functioned equally well as both a knife and a projectile point. As a type they are found throughout the eastern woodlands of the Ohio and Tennessee River drainages and into the middle Mississippi Valley. They seem to be particularly abundant throughout the upper Ohio Valley where they are frequently made of colorful Flint Ridge Flint. This is so often the case that early collectors had mistakenly ascribed them to the Hopewell culture of about 1,500 to 2,000 years before present, undoubtedly due to that cultures penchant for the most colorful of Flint Ridge material. Its no wonder that in terms of pure aesthetics, for material, style and workmanship, many students of point typology, including modern day flint knappers, consider the St. Charles / Dovetail point as the ultimate form.


Posted May 23, 2007
Topics: Archaeology

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