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ALAMANCE: PALEO OR ARCHAIC ?

Many, if not most, contemporary archaeologists agree that the people called Paleo-Indians began migrating into the Western Hemisphere between 14,000 and 45,000 years ago.  Groups of these Euro-Asians would have likely traveled across the hazardous frozen Bering Strait during the ice age glacial episodes while following the various herds of animals that they chased for food. This probably took place over multiples of hundreds or thousands of years in the frigid wasteland.  During that ancient time period, there is believed to have been a narrow ice-free zone along the Pacific Ocean in the regions now known as Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.   The nomads possibly traveled south by walking through this temperate marine border, or by skirting along the coastline in little boats, before spreading eastward throughout the continent.  These ancient small clans or extended families, each theorized to have contained twenty to sixty members, would have gathered wild edible plants as well as hunting the now-extinct megafauna such as giant bison, mammoths and mastodons.  They initially would have used long thrusting spears and later throwing lances, both tipped with sharp flaked stone points, in order to pierce the tough hides of these large mammals along with other encountered game, such as deer.  Today these spear tips go by modern names such as Clovis, Folsom, Hardaway and the rare and beautiful tool called Alamance.

There are as many theories about the ancient colonization of the New World as there are scientists and historians to theorize.  These various suppositions include the entrance into the continents via the Bering Strait, as stated above.  Some archaeologists, though, are decidedly convinced that the settlement came from compact boats traveling, from Europe, along various North Atlantic shores until reaching the ice free land in the American southeast.   Others imagine that the ancient Japanese sailed across the wide Pacific Ocean in order to reach western South America.  Still some believe that natives voyaged across the more southern Atlantic, from Africa to eastern South America.  And there are other opinions as to just when and how the Old World citizens actually immigrated to this unconquered land called the Western Hemisphere.  It does seem, however, that most academics suppose that much of the settling of the continents came from the frozen regions of Siberia across the equally frozen Bering Sea or Beringia.  The natives then moved through the two Americas, west to east and north to south, while hunting the ancient large animals which would have still existed in some sections of the hemisphere.   These native people probably began settling in the southeastern segment of the land, which would later become the United States, by about eleven to thirteen thousand years ago.  The megafauna in the region would possibly have already become extinct or at least partially so and the boreal woods, of the then melting ice sheets, would have begun altering into deciduous timberlands of oak, hickory, gum and chestnut trees that, today, are called Carolinian forests.  This new environmental age is called the Holocene Epoch and is quite often described as the “modern era”.  As the new immigrants arrived in the southeast, they were still nomadic people, known as hunter-gatherers, and were almost constantly on the move searching for food in the form of game animals as well as wild plants.  They used tools made of stone and bone, and probably wood, since iron and steel implements had not yet been invented.  Their homes were likely temporary shelters made of brush and sticks and maybe with animal skin coverings.  They did not have pottery vessels but, no doubt, did weave baskets of wild vines and bark from trees so as to store and transport life supporting necessities.  The climate, even though much warmer than during the ice ages, was a little cooler and wetter than we are now experiencing.  That would probably have guaranteed sufficient edible roots and plants along with nuts from the forests and small prey such as rabbits, squirrels and opossums and fish from the streams.  These new natives in the southeast, in all likelihood, did not have an easy lifestyle, but they also would have had enough to eat and certainly did not have to contend with the Pleistocene era glacier ice.

The Amerinds, who existed in that cultural time period, would have needed tools and weapons for normal daily life and to use in defense from other humans as well as for dispatching wildlife.  They, very likely, continued to use the Paleo Period lance points, such as the pre-Clovis Western Stemmed and Solutrean types as well as the fluted Clovis, on their lengthy stabbing weapons.  They also, though, began developing different stone tips attached to radical new shorter throwing spears.  During this ancient Holocene time, in the region that would later be called the Piedmont and Coastal Plains of the Carolinas and Virginia, the aborigines ceased knapping the difficult to make fluted Clovis type points.  They, instead, began the process of manufacturing the recently developed lithic spear attached blades – the blade types with deeply concave bases and some with side and corner notches alongside these basal indentions.

Beginning in the 1930’s, throughout the southeast region of the country, archaeologists began serious studies of these Paleo-Indians in attempts to determine just when they arrived and how they lived.  The most logical way to answer these questions was to make controlled scientific excavations on stratified locales - which some of them did.  Commencing in the 1960’s, these academics began publishing the findings from these archaeological investigations as well as from their educated guesswork.  The scholar Floyd Painter published, in 1963, an article designated as “The Alamance Point”.  That was followed a year later by the book entitled “The Formative Cultures of the Carolina Piedmont”, by the archaeologist Joffre L. Coe.  Both authors attempted, with considerable success, to describe and quantify the very ancient stone spear points found in the Virginia and Carolinas region.  Dr. Coe coined the names Hardaway-Dalton and Hardaway Side Notched, for the earliest types he discovered. These titles came from the fact that many were excavated on the Hardaway Construction Company Site that overlooked the dam which was being built to create Badin Lake on the Yadkin River in North Carolina.  The self-taught archaeologist Floyd Painter identified the Alamance point from examples found mostly by Loy Carter who lived, at that time, in Alamance County, NC.

There have been very few scientific archaeological excavations on stratified sites in order to exactly determine the age of the Alamance points.  But some of these blades have been discovered in the same relationship with other stone tools that were meticulously excavated at the Hardaway Site as well as a few additional locations.  They have been found slightly above the Paleo Period Clovis level stratigraphy and below the Archaic Period Kirk/Palmer Complex. That means the Alamance points may be about the same age or a little younger than the fluted Clovis points and, most likely, older than the Palmer and Kirk types.  Many of the Alamance points, that have been found, came from the eastern half of the Piedmont on towards the Atlantic Ocean.  The lithic material is the same as was used for the Hardaway types, namely rhyolite, silicified shale, chert, quartz, quartzite and more rarely chalcedony and jasper with the preponderance being made of the volcanic rhyolite. Much of this rhyolitic mineral probably came from the approximately five hundred million years old volcanoes located in the central North Carolina and now known as the Uwharrie Mountains.  The Alamance tools are medium to large triangular shaped implements with broad mid and lower sections and incurved bases. The lengths normally vary from about one and one-half inches up to three inches but there have been examples found on either side of these measurements.  These sizes coincide with the proportions of the average Paleo Clovis points that have been found in the same geographical zone.  The Alamance types are usually somewhat thin and have ground bases as well as frequently abraded lower lateral edges.  The basal concavities often exhibit thinning flakes and, on occasional examples, they are fluted on one or both faces.  They have only been rarely found with serrated edges or with re-sharpening side bevels which means they were possibly made and used mostly as spear points – not as knives.  There are people who believe that the Alamance and the Hardaway-Dalton are the same point type - only with different names.  Both artifacts are of the same basic early ages but there are enough differences in the two so as to logically state they are probably not the same tools.  Dr. Coe theorized, in the 1960’s, that the Hardaway-Dalton points were in the ten thousand to eleven-plus thousand years old range and this was done without having any radiocarbon 14 dates.  Floyd Painter predicted that the Alamance blades are in the ten to twelve thousand years old time periods, also without the scientific carbon 14 dating information.  Both these age suppositions would place the Hardaway and the Alamance spear points in the Late Paleo or very Early Archaic times.  The fluted Clovis stone tips are now considered to have been used in the eleven to thirteen thousands of years ago Paleo interval in the region.  Many collectors, known by this writer, choose to call both types Paleo Period blades because of type similarities to the acknowledged Paleo Clovis category. The writer agrees with this Paleo assessment but there are no absolute guarantees that any of us are correct.  Until the stone Alamance projectiles are unearthed from a radiocarbon 14 reliable setting, there will continue to be speculations as to its age.  As for now, all we can definitely say is “Alamance:  Paleo or Archaic?”

 

REFERENCES:

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Coe, Joffre L.                                                                                      1964

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Dragoo, Dan W.                                                                                1991

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Hoffer, Peter C.                                                                                 2006

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Hranicky, Wm. Jack                                                                          2007

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Painter, Floyd                                                                                               1963

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Sonneborn, Liz                                                                                              2007

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Swope, Robert Jr.                                                                             1982

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Ward, H. Trawick & R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr.                                             1999

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Wittkofski, J.Mark & Theodore R. Reinhart, Editors                              1989

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