Fluted points in North America

By Dr. Michael K. Faught

Fluted Paleoindian points are found all over North America, but -- as Ronald Mason first noted in 1962 -- their distribution is not uniform. This data has a number of important implications for the study of early human occupation in North America, and it points out that Florida's robust Paleoindian record is important from a continental perspective. Since the 1950s, many publications and manuscripts have been written which tally the numbers of points known for individual counties and whole states. Regional compilations of this data for several Eastern States was begun in 1982 and done recently by David Anderson. These two publications demonstrated that fluted points are plentiful in the Eastern United States. However, it seemed to me that there were far fewer fluted points in the West, but no puclished compilation existed to compare the whole continent systematically. Therefore, I accumulated additional data from the Central and Western states in 1993, as part of my own dissertation research.

Figure 1 represents the distribution of all these points. The map was prepared by using the data compiled by Anderson (over 9,000 points) and Faught (over 1000 points) for a total sample of 10,198 points. The centroids of each of the 3,075 counties in the coterminous United States represent the locations of the data points and the values were standardized to points per 1,000 square miles, by dividing the area of the county by the number of fluted points recorded. Areas outside of the modem coastline and within the glacial boundaries of 11,000 years ago were zeroed out. This data was then contoured with SURFER software and the image was manipulated in AutoCAD for printing. It was fun once the preliminary data had been put together.

The sample shown here is largely restricted to fluted points, including Clovis, Folsom, Debert, Gainey, and other variants in the West. Daltons and Quads, which are sometimes fluted (or basally thinned), were not included in the contouring routine, though they would have made the Northern Alabama cluster quite robust. On the other hand, Suwannee and Simpson points were included in the sample from Florida.

When looking at the map it is immediately evident that there is a higher frequency of fluted points to the East implying that more Paleoindians settled east of the Mississippi over time. Another curiosity is that fluted points are unevenly distributed across the landscape, with pronounced accumulations in some areas rather that others. Some of us think that this means that human populations were also unevenly distributed and that communities of Paleoindians expanded out over the landscape by skipping over less desirable locations and ending up in more desirable spots, probably places with water, chert, and animals or other specific resources. This pattern is associated with the major rivers of the region, particularly around the confluence of the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers, and it counters the notion that these people spread out gradually and evenly over the landscape as population growth increased. This pattern more closely resembles a leapfrog, rather than wave-of-advance pattern.

These concentrations also offer insight into the emergence of subsequent Early Archaic cultural traditions in the East, say between 10,000 and 8,000 radiocarbon years ago. Settlement and continuity of people who made fluted points is not so apparent in the West. Tracing these developments is becoming an exciting and current concern in North American archaeology, and such research focuses important attention on the Southeast for the answers to questions about fluted point origins.

Several concentrations of fluted points are located near modern coastlines and thus near the continental shelves, indicating places where inundated Paleoindian and Early Archaic sites might exist offshore. The field research part of my dissertation focused on finding and excavating sites in the PaleoAucilla channel, located offshore in the Apalachee Bay, just beyond the mouth of the Aucilla.

I also studied a robust sample of North American Paleoindian and Early Archaic sites for the dissertation, not unlike the isolated fluted point study shown here, and found that the earliest examples of Classic Clovis sites, which are the earliest fluted point sites known, are clustered in the Southern Plains (Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico), where isolated fluted projectile point finds are somewhat less dense than in the East. These sites date unequivocally from about 11,550 to 10,900 radiocarbon years ago. The Northeastern-most cluster near Maine wasn't occupied until about 10,600 radiocarbon years ago.

Recent summaries of Paleoindian archaeology have observed the lack of unequivocal radiocarbon control for early Paleoindians from the Central and Southeastern regions of the United States. We need better radiocarbon control from the Mississippi/Tennessee/Ohio river confluences and the Florida Karst. The Page/Ladson site lies in this Karst region. Since the Page/Ladson site has one of the most complete records of late Pleistocene/Early Holocene sediments in the Southeast and an almost continuous Holocene stratigraphic record after that, it is probably the site with the most potential for the discovery of in situ evidence of Paleoindians of any projects I know of in the Southeast. It could be that Page/Ladson, or some other Paleoindian site in the Aucilla, will be the place where the unequivocal chronology for the Southeastern region will begin to accumulate. Certainly, there are several provocative things at Page/Ladson which suggest early human presence.

David Anderson and I have agreed to continue assembling and compiling more data on Paleoindian artifacts and assemblages, and welcome information of this kind from state perspectives. Since there is not room to list all of the references for the map shown here, I suggest reading Faught et. al. (1994).

Again, the fluted point map is a work in progress. Certainly, we wish to thank all of those people who have contributed so far to the construction of this database, and encourage others to join in.

Adapted from North American Paleoindian Databases by M.K. Faught, D. G. Anderson and A. Gisiger, 1994.