Pointed Weapons of Wood, Bone, and Ivory: Survival Tools of Early Man in North America
|Central States Archaeological Societies 2004
Early Man quite possibly arrived from Asia armed only with spearpoints of bone,
ivory, or fire-hardened wood. The familiar Clovis "fluted points" and other lithic points equally old or even older than Clovis, may have evolved later in time due to
increasing lithic technology or a need or stimulus related to changing killing methods or the type of animals being slaughtered. Bone spear points alone have been
found with some kill-site discoveries, while in others (possibly later in time) both bone and lithic spearpoints were used in making the kill. Bone and ivory weapon tips of several recurring types from many areas of Europe, Asia, and North America are studied in this paper and interpretative suggestions are made as to their use, morphology, and purpose.
Man is one of nature's weaklings; though of a carnivorous or predatorial species, he lacks the physical strength and agility to fight his predatory enemies, even those smaller than himself. He, in his natural state, is a physically defenseless animal, lacking fangs, claws, horns, hooves, or tusks. As a runner he is not fast enough to escape even the slowest of his predators. As a climber he is not agile enough to outclimb his once greatest enemies, the leopard, panther, and the giant tree snakes. Perhaps in his earlier evolving forms, the major asset that saved him from being eaten to extinction by carnivorous animals was the fact that in his natural, unwashed state, he was blessed with a very strong body odor. This terrible odor, unlike that of any other animal, was repugnant to the great carnivorous cats such as tigers and lions. They would kill and eat man only as a last, or starving resort (L. S. B. Leakey, pers. comm. 1967).
Fig 1 The proposed "Ramming Method" of executing mammoth.
Early Man had developed other physical and mental assets, however, that his predatory enemies lacked. Man walked upright, had grasping hands, opposing thumbs,
and an inventive mind. He was able to hurl an object with great accuracy and velocity, to thrust with his body weight, and to strike downward with great force. These assets have made him truly the sovereign of beasts, the "lord of the jungle" as it were. What he lacked in strength, agility, and physical weapons of defense he
more than made up for by utilizing as weapons the objects he found lying underfoot. Few predators can face up to a barrage of rocks, a wooden pole thrust into his mouth or body, or being beaten with heavy bones or clubs of wood. There is usually safety in numbers, and man, a gregarious animal, ganged up on his enemies.
Later in time, Early Man learned not to depend upon chance to furnish him a defensive weapon; there might not always be a rock, bone, wooden club or long pole near at hand when he most needed it. He learned to carry such weapons with him as he foraged for food, and he learned to use his weapons offensively in hunting as well as defensively when he, himself, was being hunted. He learned to select his weapons by weight, length, and balance, and to modify them slightly to fit his purposes or
to make them more effective. He began to sharpen the heavy end of his wooden poles and they became spears; he chose wood or bone clubs with heavy knotted ends or
sharp projections. Thus equipped, Man then set out to conquer the whole earth. And conquer the world, he surely did. From a starting point in either Africa, the Middle East, or southern Asia, and armed only with a club and a spear, he, in time, ccupied every habitable corner of the Earth.
Fig 2 Bone and ivory needle-spear and leister spear components from both the old and new worlds.
At a time period of possibly 40,000 years ago Early Man had arrived in eastern Siberia, the northeasternmost land area of the continent of Asia. This was during the fourth or last great Ice Age, called the "Wurm" in Europe and Asia and the"Wisconsin" in North America. Three times during the "Wisconsin" the sea level was lowered as much as 400 feet by the retention of water in the form of great ice caps or glaciers that covered much of the northern regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. During these three intervals the seas were lowered enough to turn the shallows of what is now Bering Strait into a wide bridge of land connecting the continents of Asia and North America, a land bridge that Early Man with his then limited knowledge and primitive tools and weapons could have crossed.
The dry land thus exposed by the three intervals of lowered sea levels is now called "Beringia," and the three different intervals of exposure have been dated by geologists. The dated intervals are 35,000 to 32,000 years B.P.; 28,000 to 25,000 years B.P. and 20,000 to 13,000 years B.P. Early Man was capable of, and probably did cross Beringia during all three intervals of exposure, but what interests us in this paper are the oldest dates: i.e., 35,000 to 32,000 years B.P.
What we mean by the term "Early Man" in this paper does not necessarily denote that they were "Homo sapiens sapiens" (present-day man), but anyone of the more ancient
types of the genus "Homo" who later evolved into the modern Homo sapien sapien. "The discovery of early complexes in Siberia and the Far East in recent years does
not exclude, but rather proposes, that the first discoverer of the New World was not even Homo sapiens, but a more ancient creature at the paleo-anthropine stage, but already possessing clearly expressed sapien-like features - which passed through Beringia earlier than 35,000 years ago" (Derevianko, 1978). To this statement we must agree, at least in part.
At the time period of possibly 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, Early Man had evolved into the four distinct racial types that exist today. The four principal types recognized at present are Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Australoid, and Negroid, plus
many mixtures, divisions, sub-types and hybrids of the four distinct types. This does not mean, however, that the men who first reached Siberia and crossed Beringia
into North America were one of these newly-developed distinct types, but rather more likely an earlier and still evolving form of Early Man who lived on the far fringes of the gene pools that produced the distinct types.
Fig 3 Mended bone and ivory needle spears and their components
The majority of American Indians (Amerinds) living today in both Americas seem to represent hybrid types produced by the mixing of Mongoloid and Simitic Caucasoid genes far back in the mists of time. This mixing may have taken place in northeastern Asia (Siberia) before the distinct types evolved, but more than likely
after Early Man's arrival in the Americas. Only the late-comers, the Eskimos or Inuits, are truly Mongoloid, a distinct racial type.In any event, Early Man
arrived in North America by way of Siberia and Beringia equipped with all the tools and weapons essential to his survival in a harsh environment, and they were surprisingly few in number. Russian archaeologists have excavated numerous sites in Siberia, and many of these contain stratified occupation levels dating back to the
beginning of the Upper Paleolithic Period of eastern Siberia. The earliest dated cultural level (Ust-Mil' II site) is 35,400 years B.P., with undated cultural zones
even deeper (Mochanov 1978). This means, of course, that if Early Man was in eastern Siberia 35,000 years ago, he could well have been in Beringia and North America at about the same year, for the Beringian land-bridge was open during that period.
A tool inventory recovered from this dated level does not include spearpoints or weapons of wood, bone, ivory or stone, yet these people were hunters of big game and must have used offensive and defensive weapons. The tool inventory does include bifacially worked oval knives, choppers, blade and flake cores, end scrapers and two different types of burins. Knives,end scrapers, and burins are wood and bone working tools and it follows that spearheads were being made of wood, bone, or ivory and hat these weapons have presumably long since decayed to dust.
During the interval of land-bridge exposure between 28,000 years and 25,000 years BP there is little perceptible change in the lithic tool inventory. Still no lithic
projectile points were being made and we must conclude that weapons were being manufactured of wood, bone, or ivory, though none were found. So, we have two periods totalling 6,000 years of exposed land linking the two continents in which Early Man (the Diuktai Culture, Mochanov, 1978) lacking any form of lithic projectile points, could have crossed dry-shod into North America. Early Man (Diuktai Culture) had occupied all of ice-free eastern Siberia during these two periods and there is no logical reason why he could not, in the course of his nomadic existence, have crossed the flat plain of Beringia into North America. Lacking stone projectile points posed no problem to him since there is little
doubt he possessed weapon points of wood, bone, or ivory.
During the last and longest interval of land-bridge exposure, 20,000 years B.P. to 13,000 years B.P., the people inhabiting Diuktai Cave and other Diuktai sites in eastern Siberia had made great progress. By at least 18,000 years B.P. they had begun manufacturing lithic spearpoints. They were making bifacially flaked
spearpoints of an elongated willow-leaf shape, and were not only making them of lithic materials but of flaked ivory as well (Mochanov, 1978). If Early Man walked
into North America bearing lithic spearpoints, it could have been no earlier than 18,000 to 20,000 years B.P. We believe, however, that his predecessors using
spearheads of wood, bone, and ivory had reached North and even South America thousands of years before that time.
We also believe that these leaf-shaped points of the Diuktai people were not ancestral to the Clovis fluted point, but were the direct ancestors of the Great
Basin projectile point types of the Northwestern States and the Lerma types of Mexico and the Southwest. The later Clovis fluted points, we believe, were an American invention, and had their beginnings in what is now the Southeastern United States (Painter, 1983).
We also feel certain (but still lack proof) that Early Man had long been adapted to a coastal environment in Siberia before making his way slowly eastward along the
southern coast of Beringia and Alaska, then southward along the exposed Pacific continental shelf. This has long been the theory of Knut R. Fladmark of Simon Fraser
University (Fladmark, 1983) and is slowly gaining acceptance among Early Man scholars. The warming effect of the Japanese Current and the constant availability of food make this route much more logical for this early time period than the much touted IceFree Corridor migration route long accepted by many. This cold, narrow,
inhospitable, inland path between two great ice sheets stretched for 1000 miles between the Arctic and the northern Great Plains. This low, narrow gap between the
ice-covered Rocky Mountains on the west and the mile-or-more-high Laurentide ice cap on the east may have funneled cold Arctic air southward during all seasons. "The
implication that the Ice-Free Corridor was little more than a frigid windtunnel does not improve its prospects for Early Man" (Fladmark, 1983).
A coastal migration route would have led Early Man into what is now Washington, Oregon, California, Mexico and Central America, then onward to South America in due course. A coastal route would also explain why we have earlier dates for Early Man in South America than anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and why the earliest sites in South America do not contain lithic projectile points.
What proof have we that Early Man possessed spearpoints of wood, bone or ivory and that he entered the New World before lithic spearpoints evolved? Pointed shafts or
spears of hard wood were logically Early Man's first and only option far, far, back in time, and long before he learned to shape bone and chip stone tools. Wooden
objects decay very rapidly and the chances of a wooden spear being preserved for many thousands of years are very slim indeed; however, at least two examples have
been found in Europe. "The only weapons certainly attributable to Lower Paleolithic man are wooden spears with tips pointed and hardened in the fire like those found
in interglacial deposits at Clacton, Essex, and Lohringen, Lower Saxony (Clark, 1967.)" These two spears found in England and Germany date to about 300,000 years
B.P. during the early part of the Riis Glaciation. Lacking positive proof, we can only surmise, and logically so, that Early Man did indeed possess wooden spears
when he arrived in the Americas, that he had possessed them for untold thousands of years and would continue to use them for many thousands more. Wooden spears and
arrowheads were used until very recently (and may in fact still be in use) by various primitive groups in tropical regions of the earth. The museums of the world
contain thousands of examples.
Since bone and ivory spearpoints are much more durable, we have many hundreds
of examples left by Early Man in Europe, Central Asia, Northeast Asia (Siberia), Alaska, and various other places in North America. They have been found at sites
in the Pacific Coastal states, the Great Plains, the Gulf Coast, and last but not least, Florida, where they abound. "They are the most common tool in Florida
Paleo-Indian sites (Waller, 1983)."
Bone and ivory spearheads have been found singly and in both small and large
concentrations in North America, in killsites, campsites, and gravesites, unassociated with lithic projectile points in some cases and in unmistaken association in many others. Curiously, but not too surprisingly, most bone and ivory spearpoints found in North America are identical in design to several types found in
Europe and Asia. Whether this sameness is the result of diffusion or independent invention is at present impossible to determine.
These long, tapered, cylindrical bone and ivory spearpoints, some pointed on both ends, others pointed on one end and beveled on the other end (sometimes with cross-striations on the beveled surface), and the types sometimes called "foreshafts" that are beveled and striated on both ends, all have their counterparts in Europe, Asia, and North America (Figure 1). The oldest C-14 dated points of these types were found
in the Lower Perigordian and Aurignacian "0" cultural epochs in Europe and date back to at least 32,000 years B.P. (Bordes, 1968). These bone and ivory spearpoint
types were all well developed at that time period and must have evolved long before 32,000 B.P. Since these types are as widely spread as Alaska, Florida, the Southwest, and the Great Plains, it is possible that they were already in North America before the Perigordian and Aurignacian cultural periods in Europe. A search of the available literature reveals that bone and ivory spearheads were found in the following sites and locations in North America:
Alaska - A placer mining site near Goldstream, Tanana Valley, Central Alaska, has
yielded two bone projectile points that were pointed on one end and beveled and cross-striated on the other end. These points were found in Pleistocene muck and
associated with a "Yuma" type lithic projectile point (Rainey, 1939).
Washington - The point of a bone spearhead was found imbedded and broken off in a mastodon's rib at the Manis Site, Olympic Penninsula, Washington state. The rib showed partial healing, proving it to be an old wound. The skeleton of the mastodon was found in a pond or bog and dated to almost 12,000 years B.P. The bones showed signs of butchering, however, proving that man had attacked again and had slain the mastodon at last (Gustafson and Daugherty, 1978).
Fig 4 Two types of bone and ivory leisters and their components.
Washington - Four fragments of a bone spearhead or foreshaft were found at the Marmes Site in southeastern Washington state. Indications are that the original length of the implement was perhaps 220 mm. before breakage occurred. The fragments were found associated with portions of a human skeleton and dated between 10,000 and 11,000 years BP (Fryxell, et. aI., 1968) Evidence suggests that the human remains found with the bone implement represent a person that had been eaten by his fellows.
Washington - The Lind Coulee Site in southeastern Washington has yielded three long, bone projectile points. One of these was serrated or barbed along one side; another,
with a sharp point, was wedge-shaped on the opposite end. The last had a blunt point and was broken on the other end. This site has been dated between 9,000 and 10,000 years B.P (Daugherty, 1956).
Washington - Long, smooth bone points were found at a 9,000 B.P salmon fishing site at The Dalles on the Columbia River in southern Washington state. These are thought to be portions ofleister fishing spears (Kirk and Daugherty, 1978.) This opinion agrees with the theories of the writer of this report (Painter, 1983).
California - Three broken bone weapon tips were found with bone scraps and ivory
shims at what was perhaps a mammoth kill site on the ancient shore of China Lake, a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert of Southern California. These bone tips were
found with the remains of Mammoth #9, in the middle of the CRBR embayment of China Lake (Davis, 1978).
California - A long, fossilized bone point was found on a site on Lower Klamath Lake in northern California. This point was stained by the blue silts of the lake;
mammoth bones from the same locality were also stained blue. The bone point was sharp at one end and beveled at the other (Cressman, 1942). These bone objects are
sometimes referred to as bone foreshafts in many reports.
Saskatchewan - A fossilized bone projectile point was found in the early 1900s near Grenfel, Saskatchewan. The point was found during an excavation of a waterhole
in an ancient slough, and was discovered at a depth of 8 feet. No associations with man, animal, or other artifacts were noted. The projectile point is 207 mm in
length and has a diameter of 12.5 to 15 mm and is thought to be mammoth or mastodon bone judging by its thickness (Wilmeth, 1968). The object tapers to a blunt
point on one end and is broken on the other. At the time when it was found, no others of this type had been reported and the discovery was long before Folsom and
Clovis points were known.
Montana - The Anzick site, a collapsed rock-shelter near Wilsal, northwestern
Montana, has yielded the first known Clovis burial, plus over 100 stone and bone artifacts. The burial assemblage contained the remains of two sub-adults plus the
artifacts and all were covered with red ochre (Lahren and Bonnichsen, 1974). Among the artifacts recovered after the rock-shelter had been destroyed by a front-end
loader were seven Clovis fluted points and eleven fragments of bone spearheads. These bone fragments were fitted back together to reconstruct one section that has a
blunt pointed end and a beveled and cross-striated opposite end, and one long section that is beveled and cross-striated on both ends. The remaining fragments
consist of five broken midsections and four beveled and cross-striated ends (Lahren and Bonnichsen, 1974). These authors have attempted to reconstruct these fragments
as fore shafts for Clovis fluted points, with a rather flimsy manner of hafting the Clovis point to the socalled foreshaft. The writer of this report disagrees
with their proposed reconstructions and will propose other, more logical uses for these bone shafts.
Wyoming - The Agate Basin site in eastern Wyoming has yielded bone projectile points in the bison bone beds of the Folsom Period level and an ivory projectile point in the Clovis level of this ancient bison kill site (Frison and Zeimens, 1980). The Folsom level points, three in number, are tapered to a point on one end and cut off
at a slight angle on the opposite end; all are broken but can be reconstructed. They average about 250 mm in length and 8.5 to 9.7 mm in diameter. The ivory
projectile point from the Clovis level is both longer and larger in diameter than the bone Folsom points. The Clovis specimen is 200 mm in length with an undetermined
amount broken off and it measures about 18 mm in diameter. It is beveled and cross-striated on one end and broken off on the opposite, but appears to be tapering
toward a point. Frison and Zeimens state that "It seems very unlikely that either the Clovis or Folsom specimens can be regarded as any kind of foreshaft." With
this viewpoint the author of this report fully agrees.
New Mexico - Blackwater Draw, the original Clovis type site, produced the first two bone spearhead elements associated with mammoth remains. One bone spearhead
portion was found in the sand at the distal end of a mammoth ulna. This bone spearhead portion is beveled and cross-striated on both ends, while the other example is pointed at one end and beveled and cross-striated at the opposite end (Cotter, 1937). These bone points found at Clovis in eastern New Mexico are dentical to points found in Europe, Alaska, and Florida. Cotter, (1937) recognized them as bone projectile point elements.
Texas - McFaddin Beach, in the extreme southeast corner of Texas, is a Gulf of Mexico sand beach extending thirteen miles from the Sea Rim Marsh to High Island,
Texas. This stretch of beach is one continuous archaeological site where at least fourteen Clovis fluted points have been found, plus more than 160 other Indian artifacts of later time periods, principally Early Archaic. It is also a source of fossil bone material representing many extinct types of fauna, all washed up from
offshore beds of Pleistocene age. Among this array of material is one bone projectile point, a tapered, pointed cylinder of fossilized bone 130 mm in length with a large diameter of 14 mm. Broken at one end, pointed at the other, it was definitely shaped by the hand of man (Long, 1977).
The Paleo-Indian sites of Florida that contain bone and ivory weapon points are without exception underwater sites, and the projectile points were recovered by scuba divers. These weapon tips of bone and ivory were recovered from offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, sinkhole springs, and inland rivers of central, northern and northwestern Florida. These bone and ivory spearheads are called by the divers "bone pins" and they usually make no distinction between double-pointed, double-beveled, pointed and beveled, bone or ivory. In their reports and publications, all are called by the generic term "bone pins." Unknown hundreds ofthese "bone pins" are in the private collections of skin and scuba divers in Florida and southern Georgia. A
great collection of these bone and ivory spearpoints and leister fishspear points are in the Florida State Museum at Gainesville, however, and this writer has
examined a great number of specimens in company with Ripley and Adelaide Bullen in the museum storeroom. This writer has talked with Ben Waller and other divers about
the subject and viewed their collections. An unbelievable mass of Paleo-Indian lithic and bone material lies unreported and unstudied in these private collections
and museums of Florida. In an interview with Ben I.
Waller recently published in the Florida Anthropologist (Volume 36, Numbers 1-2, March-June 1983), the interviewer asks "Do you think bone pins are an important
Paleo tool?" Ben answered, "Yes. Of course, I've been pushing that idea for years. I totally believe that they are the most common Paleo tool found in Florida. When
I say pins, I am generally speaking of a double-pointed variety" (Dunbar, 1983). Ben Waller once told this writer that he and others had recovered over eighty bone pins among the bones of a mammoth in a northern Florida river. What a battle it took to bring this behemoth down.
Florida - A Clovis-like fluted point flaked and shaped from bone was found embedded in a bone of a giant ground sloth. This unusual artifact was discovered near Moore Haven, central Florida, during the excavation of a drainage canal through a marsh. A number of sloth bones were brought up from deep in the marsh by a dragline operator who saved them and turned them over to a local collector. This one-of-a-kind find was authenticated by Dr. William H. Sears of Florida Atlantic University and Dr. Walter Auffenburg of Florida State Museum, Gainesville (Mortine, 1965). There can be
little doubt that chipped or flaked bone or ivory projectile points preceded or accompanied lithic projectile points in Europe, Asia, and North America. A flaked
willow-leaf-shaped ivory projectile was recovered from the Berelekh site in Siberia (Mochanov, 1978), and bone and antler points of various types are found with
lithic points in later cultures, but a "fluted" bone point is indeed unique.
Florida - One of the earliest, if not the first, published report on bone and ivory
projectile points in Florida concerns beveled bone and/or ivory points found on an underwater site on the Ichetucknee River in northern Florida (Jenks and Simpson,
1941). The Ichetucknee is a branch of the Santa Fe River, the richest river in Florida for underwater Paleo-Indian sites. Jenks and Simpson point out the similarity
between their finds and the points found by Cotter at the Clovis or Blackwater Draw site in New Mexico.
Florida - The Gold Wreck, a 1715 Plate Fleet shipwreck off Fort Pierce on the Atlantic coast of south-central Florida, has yielded an array of objects besides Spanish gold. Beneath the shipwreck is an undisturbed Pleistocene strata containing among other things a mineralized human cranium, a lithic projectile joint, bone pins, and fossil remains of horse, camel, and mammoth. This proves that sites do exist on the Continental Shelf offshore, and such sites as this have great potential for solving the mysteries of migration and evolving lithic and bone industries of Early Man. Work continues on this wreck site (Cockrell and Murphy, 1978a and 1978b).
Florida - The Guest Mammoth Kill Site Silver Springs, north-central Florida, has yielded three bone pins, a small, nondiagnostic lithic projectile point, a broken
bannerstone, plus mammoth skeletons (Dunbar and Waller, 1983: Hoffman, 1983). Here again, the bone pins are not described.
Florida - The Santa Fe River in northern Florida has yielded great quantities of Paleo-Indian tools and weapons in conjunction with Pleistocene animal bones, principally mammoth. Speaking of an unspecified site on the Santa Fe, where mammoth bones were eroding out of the bank, Ben Waller said, "We found one whole and one broken Paleo point and these were the only two pieces of flint in the area. We also found a number of bone pins at this site." (Dunbar and Waller, 1983.) The largest Paleo-Indian river site in Florida is the Santa Fe 1 Site, a classic kill site at a shallow rapid. Over one hundred lithic Paleo-Indian projectile points have been recovered in an area of 100 by 200 feet.
Florida - Sites on northern Florida rivers have produced great quantities of archaeological and paleontological specimens from the Pleistocene epoch, but
oddly enough, two of these rivers have produced more bone pins than the others. Again we must quote Ben Waller: "There was a site on the Steinhatchee River that had
one elephant with one lithic point. But perhaps more significant were the other sites with tremendous quantities of bone pins associated with elephant remains.
These sites were in the Steinhatchee and Auchilla Rivers. I have seen two of the elephant sites and have heard of a third one. The people who found the sites
recovered tremendous quantities of these pins." (Dunbar and Waller, 1983). Waller goes on to state that "people who have seen the Steinhatchee elephant sites agree that bone pins were common in early tool kits."
This writer agrees with Ben Waller, but must add that they must have been common in Early Man tool kits in other areas of North America as well, though conditions for good bone preservation were lacking in most other regions. The rivers, sinkholes, and offshore sites of Florida may well hold the key to the enigma that is Early Man in North America, at least Southeastern North America.
These bone and ivory shafts and their associated beveled, cross-striated, and pointed sections have been termed hide fleshers, bone foreshafts for lithic fluted
points, bone objects, bone rods, bone shafts, bone pins, bone leisters, and elements or components of both spears and leisters. This writer considers or proposes that
they are indeed "spearheads" and their "mending" or "splicing" parts (Figure 2 and 3) and sometimes "leisters" and their component parts (Figure 4) (Painter, 1983). The writer proposes also that these spearheads and their splicing sections be termed "needle-spears" (Painter, 1983) to describe their proposed function as weapons intended for the deep penetration of the bodies of large animals and as a term to simplify the many lengthy descriptive names now being used. Those bone specimens that qualify as leisters (fishspears) may be termed "bone leisters" and "leister components" (Painter, 1983). The above described bone spearheads and their
repair or splicing sections shall be referred to henceforth in this paper as "needlespears" and "needle-spear components."
When we speak of "mending components," "repair elements" or "splicing parts," we are referring to those segments of needle-spears that exhibit long, unifacial bevelling on one or both ends (Figures 2 and 3). We propose that these represent broken needle-spears that have been bevelled and sometimes cross striated in order to splice, mend, repair, or reunite the broken sections together again. The overlapping joint was perhaps filled with some type of glue or adhesive (Lahren and Bonnichsen, 1984) and tightly wrapped with sinew or fine twisted cord. Horizontal striations were often cut on the convex side opposite the bevel in order to keep the sinew binding from slipping (Figures 2, 3, and 4). Since the whole purpose of the needle-spear was deep penetration, and the longer the needle-spear the deeper the wound, it follows that one would not simply resharpen a broken needle-spear since that would
often shorten it by more than half. By bevelling each broken half, overlapping the bevelled faces in a splice joint, the mended needle-spear would only be about one-and-one-half inches (37 mm) shorter than before (Figure 3) and only slightly larger in diameter at the mended joint. Since needle-spears required much time and effort in their manufacture, it seems logical that such repairing would be very economical. Repairing a broken needle-spear in the manner described would require only a very small fraction of the time needed to manufacture a new weapon. Repairs such as this could be made while on a hunting foray when needle-spears were badly needed.
The splicing or joining of bone and ivory needle-spear sections may well have served a purpose other than the repair of broken spearpoints, however, since the splicing of unbroken sections together to obtain greater length may have been practiced also. The average length of reported needle-spears seems to be about 250 mm (10 inches), although lengths up to 321 mm (13 inches) have been noted. The writer proposes that the maximum length required by Early Man may well have been as much as 393 mm to 443 mm (16 to 18 inches) in some cases such as the hunting of mammoths. In order to obtain needle-spears of such great lengths when mammoth femurs were not available, the splicing of two or more shorter bone sections may have sufficed. It is also quite possible that most needle-spears were initially made as long as 16 to 18 inches before breakage, splicing, and resharpening took place in the course of their
The writer came to the foregoing conclusions concerning the form, function, construction and uniting of bone and ivory needle-spear and leister components after two visits to the Florida State Museum study collections in the late 1970s. After comparing the Florida specimens to others illustrated in reports from Asia, Europe, and other areas of North America the component parts of the puzzle all seemed to fall into place. This is the logical (though still unproven) answer to the utilization of the oft-recurring groups of bone and ivory components being found in the three continents. As viewed from the standpoint of Early Man, the problem of meat procurement and the length of time involved in weapon manufacturing makes the
quick-killing potential of the long needle-spear and the short time needed in its repair and alteration very economical and practical indeed.
It is logical also, that needle-spears were socketed into a long wooden spearshaft
(Figures 3 and 4) and were easily detached or withdrawn from the socket. This made it practical to carry only one or two wooden spearshafts but a great number of
needle-spears contained in a sheath or quiver. After a spear was forced deep into the body of an animal, the skin and flesh would often form a vacuum on the needle-spear and hold the weapon fast when the spearshaft was withdrawn. It was at this stage also that many needle-spears were broken off deep in the body of the prey,
leaving a portion of the spear still in the socket. In either case a spare needle-spear could be quickly socketed into the shaft and another strike could be made.
The broken spear segment would be retained and those portions still in the animal would be recovered if possible and mended for reuse. The Florida mammoth containing eighty "bone pins" either got away or was never butchered.
One of the many unanswered questions confronting archaeologists is the problem of penetrating the skin of a mammoth. Experiments have been conducted on the bodies of modern elephants (African or Indian) both living and dead. These experiments were made using hand-thrown and hand-thrust spears tipped with both bone and lithic projectile points, and the results were negative. A hand-thrown or hand-thrust spear could not penetrate far enough to reach the vitals through the thick, tough, leathery skin of a modern elephant (Stanford, 1983; Haynes, 1984).
The following is quoted from a personal communication from Dr. C. Vance Haynes:"Using an elephant carcass we have found it to be nigh unto impossible to make effective penetration with either very sharp Clovis points or needle-sharp bone points by thrusting. It was like trying to penetrate a piece of 8-play truck tire on a slippery sphere of jelly. We have to re-examine the ways in which these weapons may have been used. Back to spear-throwers (atlatls) are the answer, but no conclusive experiments have yet been made. We are afraid, however, that the atlatl dart, like the hand-thrown spear, may just bounce off the thick 'truck tirelike' elephant hide."
Another untried method of body penetration has been proposed (Painter, 1983), and that is the pole-arm or long, speartipped pole. This pole-arm or pole-spear requires the combined effort of two or more men and is rammed into the vitals of large, thick-skinned animals (Figure 1.) In the illustration two hunters are keeping the beast's attention diverted by distracting him with spear thrusts and much yelling and dancing about. Meanwhile two other hunters have approached his right side and have succeeded in ramming a long needle-spear deep into his rib cage. This performance could have been repeated several times by withdrawing the pole and resocketing a new spearpoint. This method will no doubt succeed in an experimental effort, and logically was one of the methods used by Early Man.
It has long occurred to this writer that the debate surrounding the problem of mammoth hide penetration and choice of weaponry among American archaeologists was based on the assumption that the skins of the different types of American mammoths were similar to and just as hard and leathery as the hides of African and Indian elephants. It occurs that we should stop jabbing and hacking away at the bodies of recently deceased circus and zoo elephants and journey to Siberia or Alaska and start jabbing and hacking away at the carcasses of ancient, but recently thawed woolly mammoths. The writer can find no literature on the subject of the texture of mammoth hides versus elephant hides, so must fall back on logic and the little knowledge available to him.
The African and Indian elephants evolved in their present environments and are perfectly adapted to the hot, insect infested jungle and thorn-scrub semi-desert grassland habitats of Africa and India. Their thick, leathery, and almost hairless skins are nature's response to and protection from the environment in which they evolved. The American mammoths, on the other hand, are many millions of years removed from such an environment, and during those millions of years had adapted to a habitat of long, frigid winters and short, cool summers. They had developed dense, woolly underfur, and long, coarse, outer coverings of hair, plus a thick insulating layer of fat or blubber beneath their skin. This, of course, was nature's response to and protection from a bitter cold, polar environment. Their skin surface contained hundreds of hair follicles per square inch and was never exposed to hot sunlight, thorn punctures, or biting insects. Since the many types of American mammoths had at one time passed through the polar regions of Asia, Beringia, and Alaska to reach the central and southern areas of North America, they all must have retained a covering of hair and some if not all the other protections from their former polar habitat.
It is logical to assume that the skin of the woolly mammoth, and perhaps that of his cousins, the Jeffersonian, Columbian, and Imperial mammoths were of a different texture than that of the zoo elephants we have been hacking and stabbing so diligently. It is quite possible that mammoth skins were little thicker and tougher than those of the bison, horse, and giant ground sloth, also slaughtered by Early Man. Perhaps our Russian colleagues, having more mammoth carcasses to study, could shed further light on the subject.
With this interesting possibility in view I have sent copies of this paper to several eminent Russian archaeologists whose specialty is the field of Early Man, in the hope that they will become interested in the comparison of mammoth hides versus the hides of African and Asian elephants. Such a comparison would aid very greatly in the study of slaughtering techniques used by Early Man in Europe, Asia, and North America, and perhaps give us an inkling whether Early Man had a significant hand
in the extinction of these great beasts.
The writer wishes to point out that regardless of one's nationality or racial origin, we can all take a bit of pride in the accomplishments of our remote ancestors who were armed only with a club and a spear.
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