Quartz Crystal Clovis Point – June Artifact of the Month
Ann M. Early
Paleoindian people inhabited Arkansas in the last centuries of the most recent Ice Age, between about 14,000 and 10,500 years ago. Artifacts made by these nomadic hunters and gatherers are among the rarest of discoveries today for several reasons. Small numbers of Paleoindian people were thinly scattered across the Arkansas landscape. Their lifestyle dictated that these small communities moved frequently in order to acquire food and other necessities from wild plant and animal communities. A mobile lifestyle requires few possessions to be carried from place to place, and an emphasis on hunting means that many of those possessions relate to the capture and use of wild animals. Hunting and gathering people don’t leave much debris behind when they move from one camp to another, so there are few traces of these ancient residences left to find.
Despite decades of searching, archeologists in Arkansas have yet to find Paleoindian hunting sites and camping locations suitable for modern study. Evidence indicates that they have been buried by more recent natural sediments and human debris in river valleys or have been destroyed by natural erosion and human development in other locations. Nevertheless, the occasional discovery of Ice Age animal bones or Paleoindian tools indicates that settlements of these very first Arkansas residents may yet be discovered.
This artifact is an outstanding example of a Paleoindian spear point. The story of its discovery provides clues to potential future search locations, and the circumstances of its manufacture suggest that Paleoindian people were intimately familiar with the Arkansas landscape. It is a Clovis type spear point made of crystal quartz. Named for a town in New Mexico where these artifacts were first found in association with bones of now extinct Ice Age animals, Clovis points have been found across most of eastern North America, including Arkansas. They are easily recognizable by their distinctive shape, and by the appearance of concave flake scars on the base that presumably facilitated hafting the points to short foreshafts that were in turn fixed into wooden spears.
This Clovis point was found over fifty years ago by Mr. Forest Sargent and his family who were surface hunting for artifacts in a borrow pit near a construction site. At the time, construction crews had removed over 20 feet of soil from the borrow pit, exposing this once deeply buried artifact along with a series of other types that marked the gradual deposition of soil layers over thousands of years in the river valley. This discovery affirms that it is possible that additional Clovis artifacts and campsites remain buried in alluvial settings elsewhere in Arkansas. In 2015 the Sargent family donated their carefully curated artifact collection to the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the State of Arkansas, ensuring that this rare object and thousands more are available for study and display into the future.
Another remarkable characteristic of this artifact is the material chosen for its manufacture. Crystal clear quartz occurs in quantity in parts of Arkansas, especially in the Ouachita Mountains where this object was found. The structure of crystals, however, makes them resistant to the kind of flake technology that Native people used to manufacture chipped stone spear and arrow points and other tools. As a result, spear and arrow points and sharp-edged cutting and scraping tools made of crystal are rare discoveries. Only a half dozen examples of crystal quartz Clovis points are known from archeological sites scattered from northern Mexico to Maine. The Arkansas specimen is finely made with all the attention to details of shape and edge preparation that are emblematic of the Clovis type. There is little doubt that this artifact was made here in Arkansas from an Arkansas crystal by a highly skilled Clovis flintknapper. It is one of the oldest Arkansas made implements still in existence today.
A first principle of archeology is that the significance of artifacts depends upon documented information about the context of their discovery. At what site was the artifact found? Can we figure out the age of the artifact? Where was it found in relation to site features (houses, trash deposits, activity areas, etc.) and the distribution of other artifacts? Only with knowledge of those facts can we assess further information about the manufacture and use of artifacts, and their role in other spheres of activity such as social organization, trade and exchange, and religious practice.
In this series, we feature select artifacts that are extraordinary both for the context of their discovery and for their unique qualities that contribute exceptionally important information about Arkansas culture and history. New artifacts will be added monthly. Find the list of artifacts here.