Alabama Archaeology: Prehistoric Alabama


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Paleoindian | Archaic | Woodland | Mississippian
Lithics | Rock Art | Pottery | Southeastern Ceremonial Complex

Perhaps one of the most common denominators of all Native American cultures is their knowledge and application of lithic (stone) technology. An understanding of lithic technology is especially important when studying Paleoindians because oftentimes it is one of the few, if not the sole means, for identifing Paleo contexts.

The first step involved in lithic tool production is to acquire the raw material. There are many different types of stone, and some are easier to work with than others. Chert is perhaps one of the best types of stone and was perhaps preferred for making projectile points. Other types of stone that were used to make tools are quartz/quartzite, jasper, fkint, shale/greenstone, sandstone, and steatite. Native Americans as early as the Paleoindian Stage would visit stone outcrops to quarry the desired material.

Native Americans quarrying stone
Native Americans quarrying stone for producing tools. Illustration provided courtesy of the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

The Steps for Knapping a Clovis Projectile Point

Flintknapping is the term used to desribe the process of making stone tools. One of the crucial elements in flintknapping is the ability to control the way rocks break when they are struck. Native Americans would first find a rock that was somewhat brittle and uniform in texture, and lacking any inclusions, or additional minerals.

1. Once the desired material was found, large flakes were then broken off with a hammerstone.

Illustration to the right by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. Reproduced from Frontiers in the Soil: The Archaeology of Georgia.

Large flakes are first broken off with a hammerstone
Small hammerstones were used to chip the flake into a desirable shape

2. Then, a small hammerstone was used to chip the flake into a desirable shape. A tip was also formed on what would become the base.

Illustration to the left by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. Reproduced from Frontiers in the Soil: The Archaeology of Georgia.

How to make a flute

3. Using a tool made from an antler, the flintknapper would make a quick, downward blow to the tip of the flake. This would produce a flute. A second flute was made on the other side of the point. Flutes are commonly found on Paleoindian points. Perhaps the most identifiable fluted point is the Clovis, which is a Paleoindian point.

Illustration by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. Reproduced from Frontiers in the Soil: The Archaeology of Georgia.
Pressure flaking

4. Next, a small antler tool was used to apply pressure and cause smaller flakes to fall off. This process is known as pressure flaking. This is when the final form of the projectile point is made. Finally, the base of the point was ground with sandstone to prevent the base of the point from cutting the material used to haft the point.

Illustration to the left by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. Reproduced from Frontiers in the Soil: The Archaeology of Georgia.

One way a projectile point was attached to a spear
Illustration by Roy S. Dickens, Jr. Reproduced from Frontiers in the Soil: The Archaeology of Georgia.
After the projectile point was finished it was then hafted, or attached, to the shaft of an arrow, or in this case, to the bone foreshaft that would fit into a spear. Foreshafts were fitted onto spears in case an animal was wounded, but not killed. Once the projectile point, attached to the foreshaft, entered an animal the wooden shaft of the spear would fall from the animal. The foreshaft would remain lodged in the animal. This prevented the hunter from losing his entire spear, should the animal merely be wounded.


Paleoindian | Archaic | Woodland | Mississippian
Lithics | Rock Art | Pottery | Southeastern Ceremonial Complex


Home | What is Archaeology | Archaeological Methods | Prehistoric Alabama
Historic Alabama | Glossary

| Prehistoric Alabama
Historic Alabama | Glossary