How did the Workshop happen?

Folsom points (arrowheads) were first excavated near Folsom, New Mexico in 1926. The people who made these points lived between 10,000 and 10,500 years ago and hunted now-extinct bison on the western great plains. Today, we refer to these people as Folsom.

The Folsom point is one of the most beautiful and unique stone artifacts ever made. Since its discovery, numerous people have attempted to understand how it was made and how to replicate it. One of the earlier replicators, Don Crabtree, wrote in 1966 "... no present-day flintknapper has ever really mastered the Folsom techniques (of point manufacture) but my experiments have helped eliminate for me, some of the methods purportedly used". Crabtree's experiments indicated that "... either the indirect percussion with rest method, or pressure with clamps and anvil technique ..." was the technique most likely employed by the Folsom people. Jeffrey Flenniken followed Crabtree with replication experiments and concluded in 1978 that "...hand-held indirect percussion appears to be the only technique capable of producing flutes with the same attributes as those exhibited on the Lindenmeier Folsoms." Both of these replicators realized the deficiencies in their results and encouraged future knappers to continue the replication experiments. As a result, today, there are numerous knappers attempting to replicate Folsom points with various methods.

Dr. John Clark (archaeologist and mesoamerican blade replicator) realized that the modern knappers do not agree on how a Folsom point was made. He also realized many are working independently of each other and without the benefit of seeing much of the archaeological record that is Folsom. He surmised that the knappers could benefit from seeing the archaeological record (museum and private collections) and therefore he conspired to bring the knappers and collections together. Finally, being an archaeologist himself, he knew that archaeologists specializing in Folsom could contribute immensely to the understanding of how the Folsom point was made. They could also add fabric to how these people lived. So the Folsom Workshop was born and attendees were selected from one of these three groups. Significantly, most participants belonged to two and sometimes all three.

The Workshop Followed the Agenda

The morning paper sessions gave us: 1) a sense of the history of Folsom replications experiments as done in the past, 2) a feel for the success (percentage) in Folsom point manufacture (all agree that it is greater that 50%), 3) an introduction to the ultra-thin biface as a bonafide tool in the Folsom tool kit, and 4) a comprehensive review of the Cattleguard and Rio Rancho Folsom Sites.

In the afternoon knapping session, all the knappers presented their techniques for making a Folsom point. On subsequent afternoons, they experimented with each other's techniques and finally attempts were made to make ultra-thin bifaces. Non-knappers watched with envy, offered advice (kibitzed), and photographed the proceedings.

The evening sessions were probably the most valuable of the three. We viewed numerous collections of Folsom artifacts from sites located in many different states. The artifacts were primarily preforms and finished points which clearly detailed the various stages of Folsom point manufacture. We were able to see the variation in size of preforms and points -- from site to site. However, the most striking realization was the lack of variation in the manufacturing process across the space and time that the Folsom people occupied.

The Friday morning session, titled "Open Discussion of Issues" turned out to be a very productive brain storming session. The atmosphere was positive and noncritical. As a result, all participants contributed freely by divulging many of their assumptions (beliefs) about Folsom. The following is a summary of the assumptions as generated during that very special morning. Do not look for consistency in these assumptions because they represent everyone's opinion.

Saturday was the Field Trip. We visited an outcrop of Edwards chert, right in the middle of downtown Austin. Next we drove to the Wilson Leonard Site and then we had lunch. In the afternoon we visited a site that had yielded artifacts from Pleistocene deposits. It was in the bank of a river which we had to wade. Check out the images of the Field Trip.

Workshop Findings and Follow up

The principal finding of the Workshop was that in 1997, some 70+ years after the discovery of the original Folsom Site, we still do not know how the Folsom people made their points. Modern knappers can more than occasionally produce a Folsom point, but still not with the exactness and success rate of the Folsom people. Direct percussion, which had been ruled out by Crabtree and Flenniken, appears to be as plausible as any of the other methods.

On the positive side, many knappers have now seen the real stuff with the steps of manufacture. These steps belong to a mental template as much as the final product does. No longer are the knappers replicating just a point, they now are replicating a process. Most of them returned home enthusiastic, and ready to embark on new experiments.

The participants were made aware of the significance of the ultra-thin biface in the Folsom assemblage. This artifact was not just a biface that was reduced to a thin condition, but a tool whose life probably began at the quarry. It was constructed to a mental template from the beginning.

Of particular importance to the author was the realization that most all the Folsom people were probably making the points. This understanding came from the Cattleguard Site which represents a one time kill event. There were five (5) hearths at this site and all five had channel flakes in them. This strongly suggests that more than one person was making Folsom points.

Future plans include meeting again in a year or so. By then the knappers may have something new to demonstrate. Additionally, the papers that were presented at the morning sessions may be published and this WEB page was to be created.

Click on any of the following to learn more about the event.

Return to Paleoindian and Other... Homepage