Articles

LERMA

A GREATLY MISUNDERSTOOD BLADE

 

In the 1940’s, Richard S. MacNeish discovered a blade at the Diablo Canyon Site in the Lerma Valley, Tamaulipas, Mexico and named the artifact for the region.  Later, in 1954, three archaeologists in Texas described a similar point in a book about artifacts found in that state.  For well over fifty years we have had descriptions of this point but many, or maybe even most, collectors today know little of it  - Lerma  -  a greatly misunderstood blade.

 

The Texas authors and a host of other archaeologists have written about this point for many years as to the description and age.  It is an ovoid shaped lanceolate point or blade with excurvate sides.  The cross section may be rhomboid or lenticular with often parallel flaking extending to the center or ridge line of the blade.  The basal end or stem may be pointed or rounded and is usually thinned.  The stem is frequently ground and small serrations are often present on the blade edges.  The overall workmanship can be excellent to poor which probably relates to the ability and experience of the ancient knapper.  This point/blade is normally considered to be medium to large in size which would mean about three to six inches in length on average and the age of the artifact is usually explained as 9,000 BC to 3,500 BC.  Those dates would place it into the Late Paleo to Archaic Periods.  Lermas have been found in all the southern states bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and extending across the country to the Pacific Ocean and southward into Mexico and northward into western Canada.  The Lerma may encompass the second largest area of occupation by prehistoric people of any blade type in the Americas – only surpassed by the Clovis point.  Now the above description is a little complicated but can be easily broken down as a willow leaf shaped point with rounded or pointed base.  This should be simple enough for anyone to classify this artifact.  But apparently it is not.

 

The Lerma is often misclassified because there are many almost identical and better known tools across the Americas.  These go by such names as Guilford, Angostura, Lake Mohave, Black Creek, Mahaffey, Desmuke, Haskett and Cascade and are all well known in their respective regions.  Also the age of the Lerma is recorded as 9,000-3,500 BC which is a problem because that is a very long interval of time for a single point type to have been in existence.  No other named point/blade is believed to have been used by ancient natives for over five thousand years.  Why is this blade so difficult to identify and just how old is it?

 

The rue Lerma point or blade is reasonably uncommon.  This writer has observed maybe a couple hundred out of tens of thousands of points/blades actually seen and studied.  But there have been seen, many similar blades that may have been the Lerma type but were called by other names most likely because the owners simply did not know of and understand the Lerma.  Of the few actual Radiocarbon-14 dates that have been obtained for this point (Mexico, Texas and northwestern USA), all have fallen into the 7300 to 4800 BC range which is certainly far less than the five thousand plus age guess work that has been postulated for the past half century. 
And for information purposes, a given stone projectile cannot be Carbon-14 dated because only organic materials (including you and me) can absorb Radiocarbon-14 isotopes which are needed for this test.   For a stone point to be accurately dated, it must be found in the same stratigraphic level or layer as datable carbonaceous materials, such as burned wood, plant seeds or bones of a past living organism, which can be scientifically analyzed.

 

In the Carolinas and Virginia, there has been no Carbon-14 dating of the Lerma blade but his artifact has certainly been found in the region.  Most of the known observed examples for the area are made of rhyolite or silicified shale with few being in quartz or quartzite and even fewer existing of jasper or coastal plains chert.  Most are in the roughly two to four inches long range and are heavily patinated from being in the soil for thousands of years.  A reasonable guess as to the age of these elusive tools in the Piedmont and surrounding area is 7,000 to 4,000 BC (9,000 to 6,000 years old) which would place the blades the Early Archaic in times.  Some knowledgeable collectors, though, firmly believe the Lerma is from the Paleo period or more than ten thousand years ago but without reliable Carbon-14 data, this will always be just supposition.  But by guess or by golly, this ancient point/blade certainly can be and has been found in the Southeast.  The difficulty, apparently, is that after discovering one, the finder must then decide if it is truly the Lerma- a greatly misunderstood blade.

 

REFRENCES:

Cambron, James W. & David Hulse                                                    1975

     HANDBOOK OF ALABAMA ARCHAEOLOGY, Part 1

DeJarnette, David L. Edward Kurjack & James W. Cambron             1962

     “Stanfield-Worley Bluff Shelter Excavations”, JOURNAL OF ALABAMA ARCHAEOLOGY

     Vol. VIII, Nos. 1-2

Painter, Floyd & Wm. Jack Hranicky                                                  1989

     “The Lerma Projectile Point Type in Virginia”,  CHESOPIEAN, Vol. 26, Nos. 3-4

Perino, Gegory                                                                                    1985

     SELECTED PPREFORMS, POINTS AND KNIVES OF NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS, Vol. 1

Suhm, Dee Ann, Alex  D. Kreiger & Edward B. Jelks                          1954

     “An Introductory Handbook of Texas Archaeology”,  TEXAS ARCAHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY,  Vol.

      25

Tully, Lawrence N.                                                                              1989

     FLINT BLADES & PROJECTILE POINTS OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN