Findings at Skare, WI
- Fluted Points: the First American Innovation
- Sample of Paleolithic Points found at Skare
- Debate: How Did Paleoindians Enter Wisconsin?
Thousands of years ago, ancient North American Clovis people began removing long flakes from their projectile points, leaving a groove, or flute, in the center of the points which aided in hafting the points onto handles. It has taken archaeologists hundreds of years to accurately replicate this surprisingly difficult and intricate technique, which involves maneuvering a fault on a flintknapping material so that a single, long flake is removed without rupturing the length or chipping off excess. The innovation of the flute did not appear in archaeological records until about 13,500-12,800 years ago, and its occurrence since then has been limited strictly to the Americas. This makes the fluted point a distinct invention of the Western Hemisphere.
Why would the removal of material from a projectile point become such a wide-spread phenomenon in the region? Researchers experimenting with fluted points have found that, far from making projectile points more brittle, the flutes actually improve the durability of the tools due to the flutes’ ability to absorb shock from collisions with animal bone or other hard materials. By extending the life performance of their projectile points, humans became better equipped to travel across long distances without needing to stay close to local quarries, pursuing game or other desirable chert sources instead. Paleoindians could cross up to 300 miles in order to obtain exceptionally high-quality stone to produce their fluted points.
These tools have thus become associated with lifestyles which embraced extensive traveling, either to reach desirable chert quarries or to track big game herds. Found in western and central North America, including at the Skare site, “Folsom” flutes are attributed to a species-specific Plains subsistence pattern focused on bison hunting. This type of fluted point has parallel sides extending up almost entire length of biface and is typically marked by meticulous craftsmanship.
Another type of fluted Paleoindian projectile point is the “Clovis” point. Found throughout North America, these lanceolate points are older and thicker than Folsom points and usually lack their finely-crafted parallel edges in favor of concave ones. They occur most often in association with mammoth bones, as opposed to the attribution of newer Folsom points to bison remains. This pattern indicates a transition from mammoth to bison hunting after the termination of the last Ice Age.
Note that non-fluted points were in use prior to the advent of fluted points, making non-fluted Late-Paleo or Clovis projectile points older than either Folsom or Clovis fluted bifaces.
- Folsom fluted bifaces:
These points would have been much longer at the tip and hafted onto a shaft at the fluted depressions. As wear occurred over the course of utilization, the tips would have been resharpened until they receded to flutes, at which point the objects would have reached the end of their use-life and been discarded.
- Midland (unfluted Folsom) biface:
Midland style points are similar to and contemporaneous with Folsom points, but they are unfluted. Midland bifaces are often considered to be Clovis tools.
- Agate Basin non-fluted biface (Late Paleo/Clovis):
Agate Basin is an unfluted type of Paleoindian projectile point belonging in the Clovis technology category.
- possible non-fluted rounded-base Agate Basin biface with outrepassé:
Outrepassé is a manner of flake detachment in which a spall (flake) is removed from a core by striking away from the central margin. This method of flaking can produce points and blades with large central bulbs which taper into sharp edges, such as this lanceolate-shaped biface.
The Bering Strait model of the populating of North America involves a trend of migration in which people moved southward from the original locus of Siberia/Alaska. However, this hypothesis runs into a problem when considering the geological barriers which Ice Age glaciation would have implemented for migration into the central part of the continent. While ice corridors provided a method of passage for the first migrants from Siberia, the same glaciation would have made permanent habitation within the ice sheets difficult due to the harsh environmental conditions and a literal freeze of resources. As these glaciers eventually receded northward, they would have left behind vacuums of uninhabited spaces filled with freshwater pockets and rocky outcrops.
Is it possible that Paleoindians entered these spaces by traversing glaciers from the north, or that they even maintained permanent settlements throughout glacial episodes? Would there have been an easier way to enter the glacial basin?
When looking at the distribution patterns of Early and Late Paleoindian sites across Wisconsin, a pattern of habitation emerges. It appears that Paleoindians rapidly moved into the resource-rich basin left by the Laurentide ice sheet through the south, not the north.
Initially entering southern Wisconsin through river drainages and post-glacial lake margins, people would have begun exploration of the area along water routes containing preexisting resources. As the people moved northward into the de-glaciated parts of the state, settlement patterns of concentrated artifacts indicated that Paleoindians preferred to establish communities near outcrops of chert and water sources, with these habitations occurring more frequently and across a wider range of time in the southern parts of Wisconsin rather than in the north. For instance, the clusters of sites in the west near Trempealeau and Jackson counties are located near outcrops of high-quality Hixton silicified sandstone and Cochrane chert, with both materials dominating lithic assemblages from sites located nearby. In Dane county, occurrences of Paleoindian bifaces correlate with the banks of post-glacial wetlands. It is likely that, as people made forays into an unknown land, they were attracted to these types of resources because waterways and chert outcrops tied into the Paleoindian survival model of hunting and gathering, which required the availability of abundant wildlife and the lithic needed to harvest these resources.