Friday, May 21, 2021

Projectile Point Types in Pennsylvania: Middle Paleoindian Fluted Points, 10,800-10,100 years ago

This week we return to our series on Native American projectile point types in Pennsylvania with a description of the post-Clovis fluted points from the Middle Paleoindian period dating from approximately 10,800 BP to 10,100 years ago. The fluted point types from this time are not as well defined and not well dated compared to the Clovis projectile point type. They are found during an abrupt return to very cold temperatures known as the Younger Dryas climatic episode and they are important because they reflect the cultural adaptation to these harsh environmental conditions.

Precontact projectile points, stone spear and arrow points, are made in a variety of shapes for functional and cultural reasons. In addition, in some cases, Native Americans preferred specific types of stone to make a spear point. A projectile point type can be defined as an assemblage of artifacts that share a group of traits that distinguish them from all other groups of projectile points. Some of these shapes were only used during specific time periods and once dated by carbon-14 methods, the shape or type can be used by archaeologists to date other sites where carbon-14 dates are not available. The use of diagnostic projectile point types is probably one of the most important and commonly used methods of dating Precontact sites in the absence of carbon-14 dating. Although, we have learned that some projectile point types were being made over long periods of time and are not very useful in dating sites, but others are “diagnostic” for relatively short time periods.


Clovis point from the Shawnee Minisink site (36Mr43). (Smithsonian Collection; Photograph by Kurt W. Carr, curated in the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania) 

Our first blog post in the projectile point series was the Clovis fluted point type (November 2020) which is the earliest fluted point type found in Pennsylvania dating to 11,000 years ago. This point type is well dated, well defined, and generally correlates with a period of warming temperatures near the end of the Ice Age. The Clovis type is characterized as a lanceolate, parallel sided, medium to large projectile point with a slightly concave base, grinding along the lower third of the lateral edges and a flute on both sides that extends no more than half of the length of the point. The type covers a relatively short period of time between 11,200 and 10,800 years ago. Clovis is the only continental wide projectile point type. Points from this time period are very similar in shape and occur throughout North America. This is interpreted as an idea that spread across North America very quickly. Once people in the various river valleys had adopted the concept of fluting a spear point, they began to experiment with slight changes that led to the development of new styles and types. Due to the harsh conditions of the Younger Dryas climatic episode, there was likely less communication between the hunting bands in river valleys and new regional fluted point types emerged. These types are the topic of our discussion below.

A variety of type names have been used to identify fluted point styles/types from this period. Bradley et al. (2008) in New England, Gingerich (2013) in the Upper Delaware River Valley and the comprehensive survey for Pennsylvania by Fogelman and Lantz (2006) have identified five to eight of the most common fluted point types from this period. Unfortunately, these studies do not share the same type names or definitions of these types. This reflects the somewhat confusing array of fluted points from this period. In the presentation below, the New England sequence will be used, as it very comprehensive, it is partially based on carbon-14 dates and reflects most fluted points from Pennsylvania. 

The Fluted projectile point sequence for New England (Bradley et al. 2008:120 Fig 1)

The first type following Clovis migration into the Middle Atlantic and New England regions is the Kings Road-Whipple fluted point type. Projectile point type names are usually designated after the site where they were first discovered. The hyphenated name of this type reflects the fact that two sites produced points of this type. The Kings Road-Whipple type is a medium to large, lanceolate projectile point, robust in appearance, parallel sided but sometimes with slightly divergent sides. Another hallmark is the moderately deep arc-shaped base, occasionally with slightly flaring ears. This type illustrates a more careful technique for fluting, resulting in longer and more robust flutes. According to Bradley et al. (2008:127) it dates to approximately 10,800 years ago. Further afield, the type is known as Gainey in the Great Lakes region and it is identified in western Pennsylvania as such. 

Kings Road-Whipple fluted projectile points from New England.  (Bradley et al. 2008:128 Fig 6)

Vail-Debert fluted point type from Snyder, Lycoming, Berks, and Lancaster Counties. (Fogelman and Lantz 2006:29, Fig 58)

The Vail-Debert type is a large to very large, robust, lanceolate fluted point related to the Kings Road-Whipple type. The most distinctive trait is a deep U-shaped basal concavity with careful retouching on the interior of the concavity. Flutes extend a third of the length of the point. The Vail-Debert type is frequently made from locally derived chert rather than exotic cherts characteristic of most fluted point types. Edges are frequently reworked to be used as a knife or scraper, indicating a multi-purpose tool function. The deep notching of the base is thought to be part of the hafting mechanism and unrelated to the fluting process. Although there are many carbon-14 dates associated with this type, they cover a broad time period and as such are considered problematic by most archaeologists. According to Bradley et al. (2008:132-135) this type dates to approximately 10,500 years ago. 

 The Bull Brook-West Athens Hill type is lanceolate in shape with slightly divergent lateral edges, medium to large in size, with a moderately deep arc-shaped base that frequently exhibit basal ears. The flute extends half the length of the point and sometimes guide flakes are used in the fluting process to control the shape of the flute. According to Bradley et al. (2008:136-141), the ears suggest the point was designed to stay embedded in the animal to increase damage and eventually cause death. Bradley et al. (2008:141), date this type to approximately to 10,500 years ago. Further afield in the Great Lakes region, this type is known as Butler. 

Michaud-Neponset (Barnes) fluted point type from York, Lancaster, and Lycoming Counties. (Fogelman and Lantz 2006:26-27, Fig 56)

The Michaud-Neponset fluted point type is a lanceolate point that is thinner and more gracile than previously described types with lateral edges that are divergent rather than parallel creating the widest spot at the mid-section of the point. The basal arc-shaped concavity is moderately deep with prominent ears creating a “fishtail” shape. The flutes extend from half the length of the point to the tip; a very diagnostic trait for this type (Bradley et al. 2008:141-149). According to Bradley et al. (2008:142), this relatively thin and “delicate” point is the most technologically sophisticated of the fluted point types. The fluting process also used guide flakes to control the shape of the flute. The tip was ground and blunted suggesting some type of jig or device was used to hold the point as it was being fluted. This is known as the “Barnes finishing technique.” Bradley et al. (2008:143) argue that the delicate proportions and distinct basal ears suggest “a specialized hunting (piercing) tool similar to the Cumberland point.”

According to Bradley et al. (2008:146) this type dates to approximately 10,300 years ago. In the Great Lakes region, it is known as the Barnes type.

Crowfield fluted point type. Lancaster and Dauphin Counties. Bottom left – cast of point from western New York. Bottom right – cast of point from Crowfield site. (Fogelman and Lantz 2006:30, Fig 59)

The Crowfield fluted point type is a thin, flat, delicate, pentagon shaped, medium sized point. The lateral edges are strongly divergent. Multiple flutes frequently extend the length of the point. It is rarely found in New England or the Middle Atlantic region. They are, however, found at two stratified sites in Pennsylvania. This type represents the last of the fully fluted points. The best dated site for the Crowfield type is the Nesquehoning site in Carbon County where the point was associated with a date of approximately 10,300 years ago (Koch 2017 and Stewart et al. 2018). 

Cormier-Nicholas fluted point type from Union, Crawford, Columbia, Chester, Dauphin, and Lycoming Counties. (Fogelman and Lantz 2006:32, Fig 60)

The final fluted point herein described is the Cormier-Nicholas point type, which is a thin, irregularly shaped lanceolate point of small to medium size, with a shallow crescent shape base. Flutes can occur on both faces, one face, and in some cases, the point is unfluted. Locally derived cherts are the preferred lithic material and occasionally, these points were made on flakes rather than bifacial blanks, an additional radical change in fluted point technology not observed on earlier fluted points. According to Bradley et al. (2008:148-155) these represent an abrupt change in technology that correlates with the end of the Younger Dryas at approximately 10,300 years ago and a change in vegetation from a cold open forest to a warmer coniferous forest. 

In conclusion, there are at least six generally recognized fluted point types attributed to post-Clovis fluted points and not all archaeologists agree on these names. Alternatively, it may be more useful to interpret these types as part of a continuum beginning with Clovis fluted points and ending with unfluted lanceolate types. Following the Clovis type, the lateral edges of the Kings Road-Whipple type are sometimes less parallel, the basal concavity is generally deeper, sometimes with ears and there is a greater emphasis on controlling the fluting process. The Vail-Debert type is a subtype of this with a very deep basal concavity. The trends in more divergent lateral edges, deeper basal concavities with ears and an emphasis on more precise fluting continue with the Bull Brook-West Athens Hill type. These trends culminate in the Michaud-Neponset type with a moderately deep basil concavity with prominent ears creating a fishtail shape. In addition, the flutes frequently extend the length of the point. This is the last of the true lanceolate shaped fluted points. The Crowfield type is the last of the fluted point types but its overall shape is very different than all other fluted points. It corresponds to the end of the Younger Dryas climatic episode and the emergence of a radically new environmental system. 

The study of projectile point types and developing chronological sequences has been an important research topic in archaeology and specifically in Pennsylvania. Many studies have been able to correlate changes in projectile points with environmental change. It is reasonable to assume that projectile points are tied to these changes, however we know that the fluting of points was an incredible technological feat and was tied to social organization and religion. These are research topics that we need to examine and with more carbon-14 dates and better controlled excavations, archaeologists may be able to elucidate these issues. 

We hope you have enjoyed our description of the post-Clovis fluted points and will visit us again for more on the projectile point types of Pennsylvania. We invite you to view additional examples of Precontact projectile points via Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s on-line collections database

All the images in this picture depict points in the collections of the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania except the Shawnee Minisink point that is curated in the Smithsonian Museum. 


Bradley, James W., Arthur E. Spiess, Richard A. Boisvert, and Jeff Boudreau 
2008      What’s the Point?: Modal Forms and Attributes of Paleoindian Bifaces in the New England-Maritimes Region. Archaeology of Eastern North America 30:119–172. 

Fogelman, Gary L., and Stanley W. Lantz 
2006    The Pennsylvania Fluted Point Survey. Fogelman Publishing, Turbotville, Pennsylvania. 

Gingerich, Joseph, A. M. 
2013      Revisiting Shawnee-Minisink. In The Eastern Fluted Point Tradition, edited by Joseph A. M. Gingerich, pp. 218–256. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City. 

Koch, Jeremy W. 
2017      Paleoindian Chronology, Technology, and Lithic Resource Procurement at Nesquehoning Creek. Ph.D. dissertation, Temple University. 

Stewart, R. Michael, Jeremy Koch, Kurt Carr, Del Beck, Gary Stichcombe, Steven G. Driese and Frank
2018      The Paleoindian Occupation at Nesquehoning Creek (36CR0142) Carbon County Pennsylvania. In the Eastern fluted Point Tradition, Vol. II, edited by Joseph A. M. Gingerich, pp. 68-92. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City 

 For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

No comments:

Post a Comment