PhD Dissertations: Wallace Karl Hutchings, 1997

The Paleoindian Fluted Point: Dart or Spear Armature? The Identification of Paleoindian Delivery Technology Through the Analysis of Lithic Fracture Velocity

One of the highest-profile, yet least known groups in New World archaeology, are the Paleoindians. For decades, archaeologists have assumed that they employed the spearthrower along with heavy, fluted-point-tipped darts, to hunt now extinct species of late Pleistocene mammoth and bison, despite a distinct lack of empirical data to support such a hypothesis. This assumption is critical to our understanding of Paleoindian lifeways since the identification of exploitative technology, such as weapons systems, is often the first crucial step towards the interpretation of higher order information that contributes to our knowledge of prehistoric peoples. Without an accurate assessment of the basic tools with which people interacted with their environment, we cannot begin to explore more complex issues such as technological and social organization, settlement and subsistence strategies, or the cognitive processes related to the design and implementation of these systems, with any degree of confidence.

Traditional analyses of weapon technologies generally rely on classification schemes to identify projectile points as spear, dart, javelin, or arrow armatures. The logical fallacy of such schemes is the assumption that the investigator knows, a prior, that the artifact in question served as a projectile armature. By adopting and applying a methodology based on the fracture mechanics of brittle solids, this research avoids such interpretive leaps of faith. A series of controlled experiments were conducted to explore the range of precursory loading rates associated with various types of lithic fracture, including various manufacturing (reduction) techniques, projectile impacts, and accidental breakage.

These experiments determined that high-speed projectile impacts can be reliably distinguished from other sources of lithic fracture, thus providing a quantitative means for identifying a projectile armature. Data derived from Paleoindian artifacts revealed dynamic loading rates associated with high-velocity impacts, indicating the use of the spearthrower.