Articles

The Big Sandy Point

In the study of the typology of projectile points used by prehistoric Americans during the Paleo and Archaic Periods in the Carolinas and Virginia, there seems to be only four types generalized by the point bases.  The lanceolate type is straight sided without any notches or stems and is primarily known for the Clovis and Dalton styles of the Paleo Period, circa 10,000 to 8,000 BC.  After the Paleo Period ended, with the demise of the large megafauna such as Mammouth, Mastodon and Giant Bison, the point types changed to notched bases and later to stemmed points. The two notched basal types included the corner notched (Palmer and Kirk) and the side notched styles (Hardaway and Big Sandy).  These all began during the earliest times in the Archaic Period with a beginning date of at least 8,000 BC and ending around 6,000 BC.  After that the stemmed type points mostly dominated for the next five or six thousand years.  In this region, almost every collector wants to find the Hardaway, Palmer and Kirk points and seems not to care for one of the less common side notched varieties.  But that should not be since one of the most well made and oldest Archaic Period points is the seemingly obscure Big Sandy.

The Big Sandy point was named by Madeline Kneberg and T. M. N. Lewis in 1959 from examples excavated at the Big Sandy Site in Henry County, Tennessee.  It is described as a small to medium (1 1/2 to 2 ½ inches) side notched dart point with convex or straight blade edges that are often serrated and/or beveled.  The large side notches and the base are usually ground and often quite heavily.  The base, which is normally the same width as the blade, may be straight or incurved except for the broad base variety in which the base is considerably wider than the blade, though that may simply mean that the blade width was reduced substantially by re-sharpening rather than the base originally being made wider.  The Big Sandy points were made by percussion flaking followed by pressure edge touch up and the blade cross section can be biconvex, rhomboid or with a median ridge.  They have been found throughout the modern southern states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia in reasonable numbers though not nearly as plentiful as the Kirk/Palmer group. The point type was made of mostly rhyolite and silicified slate, in the Carolinas and Virginia, and occasionally of quartz, quartzite and jasper.  Today the Big Sandy classification is considered at least as old as ten thousand years, if not older, because of one trait - the tool kit of these people is virtually identical to that of the older Clovis culture, that being Paleoindian type end scrapers, adzes, blades and flake tools. The archaeologists DeJarnette, Kurjack and Cambron, at the Stanfield-Worley Bluff Shelter in Alabama, recorded a Radiocarbon 14 dating of ten thousand years before present for the Big Sandy horizon. Other scientists today consider that date to be at least one thousand years too young, meaning the point type could be more than eleven thousand years old which would place it into the Paleo Period.  Many archaeologists, in the Deep South do indeed, consider this type to be of the Paleo age in that region.

In the North Carolina, collectors seem to want to forget the name Big Sandy in favor of a name coined by a local college professor for his home county – Rowan.  But if one views true Big Sandy points alongside of the so called Rowans, they will be identical.  But what is in a name?  The point could be called Big Sandy or Rowan or Jones and they would still be the same - just name confusing.  Big Sandy, though, is the accepted name for this unique ancient tool throughout the South and should also be used in the Carolinas and Virginia. And, of course, the regional amateur archaeologists should want to admire and collect this very old side notched and name perplexing artifact – The Big Sandy Point.

 

REFERENCES:

 

Anderson, David G. & Kenneth E. Sassaman                        1996

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Cambron, James W. & David C. Hulse                                  1964

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Cooper, Peter P, II                                                                  1970

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Hranicky, Wm. Jack                                                               1994

            MIDDLE ATLANTIC PROJECTILE POINT TYPOLOGY AND

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Lewis, T. M. N. & Madeline Kneberg                                   1959

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Mathis, Mark A. & Jeffery J. Crow                                      1983

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McAmis, William                                                                   2007

            “The Southeastern Early Archaic Period”, THE PIEDMONT

            ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY NEWSLETTER, Vol. 31, No. 4

Perino, Gregory                                                                      1985

            SELECTED PREFORMS, POINTS AND KNIVES OF THE NORTH

            AMERICAN INDIANS, Vol. I

Walthall, John A.                                                                    1980

            PREHISTORIC INDIANS OF THE SOUTHEAST