This painting depicts an Indian using the atlats, or spear-thrower. A copy of a Pecos River pictograph, left, showa a horned shaman, or power fiture, with the atlatl in his right hand and several compound arrows in his left. To the immediate right of the central figure is, from top to bottom, a top fiew of a straight-style atlatl with leather finger loops, the fore-shaft inserted into the main shaft, and the foreshaft. At the far right two of the oldest projectile points in the Americas, the Clovas and Folsom points.
he human history of the Americas has its roots deep in the soil of Texas. Lacking a written record it is not a history in the traditional sense of the word, but it is a cronological record none-the-less. This documentation exists in the form of inobtrusive stone artifacts lost, buried, or abandoned by their creators. Although the most abundant of these flint tools are scrapers, handaxes and other utilitarian artifacts, the "arrowheads" and "bird points" are the most commonly understood and sought after. Actually, the arrowheads are atlatl points, a type of spear or dart-thrower. The bird points are, in reality, arrowheads. The bow and arrow was a comparatively recent invention in the Americas and dabes back less than 1,000 years.
The atlatl (rhymes with rattle-rattle) is an Aztec word for the spear-thrower, and ingenious invention which, by effectively lengthening the arm and employing centrifugal force, allowed prehistoric hunters to throw a point-tipped shaft further, and with greater power and accuracy than mere spear-throwing could achieve.
The weapon consists of three parts: the atlatl or spearthrower, the mainshaft and the foreshaft. The atlatl was unuslly two to three feet in length, notched at one end to hold the butt of the main shaft. The main shaft, made of a pithy-centered lightweight wood such as yucca or willow was usually four to five feet long. Three feathers were tied to the base of the mainshaft and the foreshaft was secured to the other. The foreshaft was made of hardwood approximately six inches long, tapered at one end and nothced on the other. The tapered end was secured to the mainshaft while a projectile point was tied with sinew to the notched end. When assembled the two shafts, or the compound dart, was frequently painted with bands of natural pigments.
Serviceable projectile points need very little craftsmanship; however, most point types in Texas and elsewhere transcent function and enter the realm of art. If one considers the native genius required to invent, without precedent, the atlats, and to fashion from hard stone the aerodynamic projectile point, the assessment of Indians as primitive, barbaric and crude becomes a gross misjudgement.
Texas shares with New Mexico the distinction of being the cradle of this art form. Ours in a heritage as rich as it is unique. And the Hill Country, due to the longstand abundance of water and game, has unusually large concentrations of prehistoric artifacts. Over 60 distinctive types of projectile points can be found here, usually on high groun adjacent to the confluence of creeks or rivers.
Eventually, thousands upon thousands of these points found their way into private collections across the state. A proper study of these artifacts and the people who created them lend meaning and insight to the remarkable treasure that has been laid at our feet.
WHERE TO LOOK
Persons collecting artifacts should learn how to classify and catalogue their findsl. They should familiarize themselves with the wide variety of tools as well. Such items as painted pebbles, engraved stones and petroghlyphs (sesigns chipped in stone) are extremely significant but often overlooked.
Walking along dry washes, creekbeds, or roadsides are the best ways to find projectile points without destroying the valuable legacy inherent in archaeological sites.
Check along the confluence of creeks and rivers, and the terraces along the banks. Frequently, campsites were located on the cut-bank side of a creek -- check out the embankment being carefull not do any serious digging and this can cause more serious erosion.
Remember to look for evidence of "lithic scatter". This referrs to small pieces of flint that result from the creation, reshaping and use of artifacts. Where you find such concentrations you can bet this was a campsite or worksite, or both. As the density of the scatter decreases you are at the edge of the site, and through careful examination you can locate the center. You won't necessarily find more stuff there, but it is an interesting and educational process.
When a procectile point is found, one of the first questions one is tempted to ask is, "How old is it?" And, if a knowledgeable person is around to answer the question, the next one invaribly is, "How do you know?"
Over the last several decades innumerable sites in Texas and elsewhere have been dated. Texas archaeologists found that points fall into several specific stylistic designs which were adhered to for hundereds, or even thousands of years. By excavating undisturbed sites and correlating the information between sites, type styles, their distribution and their dates have been ascertained. Dating sites has been done by carbondating associated materials or examining the tree-ring data from larger pieces of charcoal remaining.
There are numerous book available on dating Texas artifacts. The most accessable and authorative is A Field Guide to Stone Artifacts of Texas Indians by Ellen Sue Turner and Thomas R. Hester.
The earliest cultural artifacts in the Americas, the Clovis points, belong to the Llano Complex, a name derived from the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, of Texas and New Mexico. The Llano Man, a resident of the southern Great Plains specialized in hunting the mastadon and mammoth. With the aprupt disappearance of the mammoths, Llano man disappeared as well.
Following the Clovis points, bison-hunting culture hearalded a new type of projectile point. The fluted Folsom points (10,000 years before the present) were used to hunt the straight horned bison. Bison antiqus was half again larger than the buffalo that populated the Great Plains until the 19th Century when they and the nomadic plains cultures that centered on them receeded into history.
These earliest Paleo-Indian points are very rare and if anyone offers to sell you one -- at any price -- be very cautious.
DETERMINING THE VALUE
Most collectors have little or no interest in selling their artifacts. However, collectors who aspire for complete collections from a given area purchase points or entire collections when they become available.
The value is generally determined by four criteria: 1. The antiquity 2. The size 3. Thinness 4. Absence of flaws or breakage.
The value of points are greatly enchanced if they are well documented and classified. Another detail to remember is that a specific type of point may vary in style. For example, there are three distinctive types of Pedernales points and a collection containing all three would have greater value than three points of the same type.
Be warned, there are many fake artifacts on the market. Many are easily spotted, but a few possess virtually flawless craftsmanship. Several large, perfect points of the same color and craftsmanship should be suspect. The earliest Paleo-Indian points are very rare and if anyone offers to sell you one -- at any price -- be very cautious. They command the most money and are most frequently created to pass off as authentic.
Sometimes a broken or chipped point is reshaped to increase its value. Using a black-light you can spot these alteratiions immediately as there will be a remarkable color shift under the light.
Before buying or selling any arrowhead The Official Overstreet Price Guide by Robert M. Overstreet and Howard Peake should be cousulted. Be sure you're looking at the latest edition.
value of the Paleo points above are: Clovis-$400-$600 , Angostura-$300-$400 ,
PROTECTING THE LEGACY
Many archaeologists and anthropologists often look upon artifact collectors with disapproval; and not without some justification. A few of the best sites in Texas have been trashed out by overzealous collectors.
However, in fefense of amateur archaeologists, it must be noted that some of the most significant finds in the Unites States were discovered by such people who, realizing the importance of their discovery, contacted professionals who subsequently excavated the area and enhanced the field of knowledge.
Due to the extreme erosion prevalent in the Hill Country, collecting surface finds does little, if any, harm. And, more often than not, professionals are so overburdened with work they have no interest in isolated finds. Digging for artifacts is another story, and exhuming burial mounds, or collecting artifacts from state and national parks is strictly prohibited by law.
| CONTENTS | ENCHANTED ROCK ARCHIVES | FEATURES | TEXAS HISTORY | LATER BILLY