Paleoindian Artifacts of West Virginia, U.S.A.

In this post we present selected parts of the very informative paper titled “Paleoindian Artifacts of West Virginia”, by Richard L. Rosencrance (2018).

“The Appalachian Highlands refers to the physiographic regions of the Appalachian Plateau and Ridge and Valley provinces that encompass a large portion of inland eastern North America (Cremeens, MacDonald, and Lothrop 2003; Thornbury 1965). The entirety of West Virginia resides within these two provinces. This region is a labyrinth of narrow crested dissecting ridges and valleys with steep slopes and dendritic drainages. The dramatic topographic relief not only restricted low-energy travel but it was also a refugium for boreal forests during the terminal Pleistocene. In terms of resources, such an environment sits in stark contrast to the rich, deciduous hardwood forests of the Holocene (Maxwell and Davis 1972; Miller and Carmody 2016; Neumann 1992).

West Virginia has been considered part of both southeastern and northeastern North America in recent regional overviews of the Paleoindian era, but a lack of site and artifact data from the period has prevented any meaningful cultural connections (Anderson, Smallwood, and Miller 2015; Lothrop et al. 2016). I invoke projectile point chronologies from both the Northeast and Southeast, considering the present ambiguity of West Virginia Paleoindian technology. Through collaboration with the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex and local informants, I recorded 13 new projectile points that represent definite and probable Paleoindian forms. Avocational archaeologists discovered all of these new artifacts in surface contexts.”

“Including the 13 new specimens, 106 Paleoindian projectile points have been reported to date in West Virginia (…) Most artifacts have been found on terraces along the Ohio and Kanawha river systems where there is more modern development and lower elevations (…) The current Paleoindian artifact record for the eastern, more mountainous portion of the state is sparse, but seven new artifacts in this report indicate promise for future survey. Higher artifact densities along the Kanawha River, which is fed by various waterways flowing out of the eastern highlands, may indicate the use of this river system as a travel route into these interior highlands (Anderson and Gillam 2000).”

“There is a great deal of morphological variability in West Virginia Paleoindian projectile points (…) The earliest identifiable Paleoindian points in West Virginia are represented by the Clovis type, described as bifacially flaked points with parallel (or nearly parallel) lateral margins, a slightly concave base, and a single flute scar on both faces extending to or below the midpoint (Anderson, Smallwood, and Miller 2015; Lothrop et al. 2016). Specimens B and C (although incomplete) exhibit these characteristics and represent Clovis points. Post-Clovis fluted points are far less understood spatially and temporally; however, Gainey and Redstone types (Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions, respectively) are identified as distinct fluted point variations potentially coeval with or directly following Clovis technology (Anderson, Smallwood, and Miller 2015; Goodyear 2006; Lothrop et al. 2016). These types are very similar to Clovis points, except they exhibit deeper basal concavities, multiple flutes (occasionally), and overall longer flutes. Specimens A, D, E, F, H, and I vary enough from the typical Clovis definition that they could potentially be identified as Redstone or Gainey. It is also possible that these points represent a local variation of fluting technology not yet fully understood.”

“Specimens C, D, and E are made of Hillsdale chert, a moderate- to high-quality toolstone found ∼100 km (C, E) and ∼25 km (D) south from where the specimens were recovered, suggesting a northward movement of toolstone and/or groups (Brashler and Lesser 1990; Trimmer 2011). Specimens A and B are made of Kanawha chert, a low to moderate quality chert found in central West Virginia (Brashler and Lesser 1990). Specimen A originated in the Kanawha source basin, but B was found ∼125 km north of source locations. Specimens F, H, and I are made of raw materials that do not resemble known West Virginia cherts.

Regional projectile point variation expanded during the Late Paleoindian period (12,850–11,700 cal yr BP) in both the Northeast and Southeast (Anderson, Smallwood, and Miller 2015; Lothrop et al. 2016). Two Quad points (K and L) and one Beaver Lake point (M) were recorded, marking the first reported artifacts of these types in West Virginia (…)

Dalton points show a good deal of variation across the South but are generally described as lanceolate or “trianguloid-bladed” with serrated edges, parallel lateral margins on the hafting element with heavy grinding, a deep basal concavity, and occasional basal thinning removals (Justice 1987, 40). One new Dalton point (Specimen J) was recorded, bringing the state total to six (Applegarth and Davis 1982; Lewis 1958; Wilkins 1978). It is made of an unknown non-local chert.”

“Of important note is the fact that all Late Paleoindian artifacts identified in this study are found in the higher elevations of eastern West Virginia. This fact, juxtaposed against the overall density of early, fluted examples along the Ohio River, suggests a pattern like that demonstrated by Miller and Carmody (2016) in Tennessee. Their study suggests that foragers avoided higher elevations until the warming climate of the early Holocene allowed more biotically rewarding hardwood forests to replace the boreal forest of the terminal Pleistocene.”

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

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