As opposed to some archaeologists, who argue that the fluting on Folsom points served as decoration or could be explained by socio-religious arguments, Ahler and Geib believe that the fluting was a purely techno functional innovation. They argue that the design elements reveal efficient adaptation of the tool by groups of hunters, in relation to their high mobility lifestyle, a requirement to be specialized in bison hunting in order to survive and unpredictable access to raw materials with which to make tools.
The folsom point is unique in that it is characterized by “extreme tip thinness” and “leading edge sharpness’ (Ahler and Geib 808). This thinness seems to have been achieved only with an extremely high level of skill required for the knapping process. Archaeologists have posed many questions about the folsom point, namely, how is it made and why is it fluted? They have been stymied by the fluting, because they state the process would have been time-consuming, costly in materials, difficult, it would involve a high level of skill and based on experimental fluting replications, they argue that there would have been a high failure rate during the production of the point. So why would hunters have spent so long making this tool?
The points would have created by bifacially working stone using invasive pressure flaking to produce full length fluting, so as to ensure an extreme and uniform thinness from tip to base, razor sharpness at the edges, and the central part of the Folsom point would be even thinner. The point angles would always be greater than 30° to 40°, sometimes even approaching 110°. The forwardly adjustable, split haft pieces were fitted to the flute scar using sinew and possibly mastic. Almost the entire tip, except the outermost leading edge of the point, would have been covered and protected by the haft.
Ahler and Geib, following on from Crabtree postulate that the design had functional attributes, as well as elements that related to maintainability criteria. Thinness directly correlated to improved penetration of bison. Penetration was important as it concerned the initial piercing into the flesh of the animal but also the depth that the tool goes into the animal which of course would make for a successful kill.
With projectile points it is inevitable that they will break. One way to limit breakage is to make them thicker but in making them thicker you reduce penetration. Hunters cleverly designed the folsom point with the aims of balancing facility of and depth of penetration with resistance to or ability to overcome breakage. These hunters designed a very long point form inserted within a forward adjusting haft that protected all but the distal leading edge tip. This meant that once the tip broke, they had plenty of material to move up, to rework and sharpen to form a new tip. This extended the life of the tool and allowed for the conservation of raw materials whilst also ensuring that the projectile had the attributes required, i.e. thinness and sharpness, to ensure it would kill bison. Due to this the hunters did not need to have access to new stone, they could rework the existing projectile and not have to find fresh resources should these be scarce.
Ahler and Geib state that of all the “Palaeoindian point forms, Folsom is the one design that most allowed small fragments to be recycled as killing projectile tips” (811). To conclude the tool combined effective killing with the capacity for repeated reuse. The design features of the Folsom point suggest that our ancestors were highly adept at adapting their technology so as to fit their lifestyles which were predicated upon high mobility, featured concerns for material conservation due to possible limited availability of stone, and obviously the need for successful kills.
This changes archaeological perception because it gives us a clear perspective into the precise use of tools and how they were improved upon in light of access to resources, mobility of populations and relationship to the landscape. As spear head technology improved we note tools became increasingly specialized for the prey they were meant to kill, they had a more precise shape and cut, allowing for deeper penetration, and improved design, plus longevity of use. We also note that the tool designs were constructed through trial and error, demonstrating the maker’s ability to figure out different designs that made tasks easier. The design and shape allow us to extrapolate that our ancestors were capable of ergonomic and sophisticated design plus considered factors beyond the short-term capacity to kill, such as possibility for re-use.
Ahler, Stanley A., and Phil R. Geib. “Why Flute? Folsom Point Design and Adaptation.” Journal of Archaeological Science 27.9 (2000): 799-820.
Curry, Andrew. “Ancient DNA’s Intrepid Explorer.” American Association for the Advancement of Science (2007). Electronic.