Articles

THE GUILFORD LANCEOLATE POINTS

WHO MADE THEM?

 

In North America, the oldest recognized stone spear tip is the fluted point or Clovis.  It is a narrow lanceolate form that was made and used to kill megafauna such as giant sloths, mammoths and mastodons more than 12,000 years ago during the Paleo Indian Period.  In the Southeast, after the Clovis time, the people began using broad points which are so named because they are relatively thin and wide or broad. These broad points were stemmed or side/corner notched in form, and they mostly prevailed during the entire Archaic Period which lasted from about 10,000 BC until 1,000 BC.  Natives called hunters and gatherers lived during this entire lengthy Archaic Period and they were thusly named because it is thought they were frequently moving to fresh camping and hunting areas so as to exploit new animal stalking locales and wild plant foraging grounds. This prehistoric time is archaeologically divided into the Early Archaic (10,000 – 6,000 BC); Middle Archaic (6,000-3,000 BC) and the Late Archaic (3,000-1,000 BC).  In the Southern Piedmont, the Early Archaic Period is noted for projectile points that are named Hardaway which were followed, chronologically, by the Palmer, Big Sandy and Kirk, all of which are notched or stemmed broad points.  Next in line, the Middle Archaic people used points we now call Stanly, Morrow Mountain, and Guilford.  The shorter lived Late Archaic Period natives used a common biface we call the Savannah River and the more infrequent type named the Halifax.  Now if you are familiar with these point types, you will have noticed something odd.  Most are reasonably thin broad points with side or corner notches or basal stems except for the ones which are not thin and have no notches or stems – they are long and narrow and thick - the Guilford lanceolate points.  Wonder just who made them?

 

How did these slender and stout points/blades/knives, that were named by Dr. Joffre Coe for Guilford County, NC, come along in the midst of nine thousand years of lean and wide broad points?  These lanceolates were made and used about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago and are found as far south as Georgia and as far north as Maryland but are mostly located in the Carolinas and Virginia, especially in the Piedmont region.  They are normally more or less almond shaped in cross section due to the method of making the point – that being to percussion flake the blank to shape with a hammerstone and large antler mallet then finish by sharpening the edges with pressure knapping using a smaller pointed antler tool. The bases of these lanceolates can be straight across, concave or convex and this basal area is usually narrower than the mid-section of the blade.  Since the Piedmont does not have the easiest to flake materials, mainly rhyolite, quartz and quartzite, these lanceolates often appear to be crudely made but because they were long and narrow and stout, they probably were very efficient hunting and killing weapons.  Guilford points, along with the Morrow Mountain and Savannah River blades, are among the most common types found in the Piedmont and they normally will be encountered in the two to three inch long range but have been occasionally found six or more inches in length.  Of course, the two-three inch examples most likely were initially made much larger and were gradually reduced to these expended sizes as they were re-sharpened for continued ancient use.  They would have served as knives or blades for butchering animal meat or maybe for carving wooden items and also as projectile points mounted onto three to five feet long spears or darts.  Along with these lanceolate points the natives, in that time period, would have had short wooden spear throwers with stone counterweights or as they are known today -bannerstones.  And the Indians had chipped axe heads, that today are generally called Guilford Axes, and which are made of the same type rocks as the points themselves. There are found, in the Piedmont, points that some collectors call Shouldered Guilford’s because they seem to have simple shoulders/barbs just above the base.  These, most likely though, are later Savannah River points that have had their edges re-sharpened and reduced until their original shoulders have almost disappeared.  Another type that is occasionally found in the Piedmont, and is reminiscent of the Guilford, is the Lerma point/blade but it can be distinguished from the Guilford because it is normally bi-pointed and often serrated.  The point type that is called the Halifax is also similar to the Guilford in overall width and thickness but does have the small, usually ground, side notches near the base.  Some collectors have suggested that the Halifax is in reality a Guilford that was altered with side notches but that is probably not correct.  There is a point/blade found in a small region of western South Carolina that is called the Briar Creek and that greatly resembles the Guilford but it is a good guess that it is a variant of the Guilford rather than it being a separate type because of the small quantities and small region found.  We know all this information to be correct but we do not know just how and why these narrow Paleo-like Guilford blades were made and used in the same time periods as the typical archaic broad points.  Let us examine some facts.

 

 

This is getting more confusing.  We know that Guilford points have been found stratigraphically between the lower (older) Morrow Mountain types and the higher (younger) Savannah River points in a number of scientific archaeological excavations.  What does this mean?   The Morrow Mountain and Savannah River points are obviously stemmed broadpoints and were made and used immediately before and after the Guilford chronologically.  So how can this lanceolate just appear, among older and younger broad points, and have the Paleo characteristics that should have been gone six thousand years previously?  Did a group of Paleo Indians defy all the odds and live another six thousand years among the Archaic people?  That is very doubtful.  Some collectors believe that the point type came around the Appalachian Mountains from the Agate Basin or Nebo Hill Cultures of the Midwest but one of those is much earlier and the other is much later than the Guilford type.   Many, if not most, collectors simply do not have a reliable theory as to how the Guilford lanceolate came into fruition during the Middle Archaic Period.  Maybe a group from another part of the country and who used a lanceolate type point did indeed move into the Piedmont.  Or maybe the archaic people who were already living in the region decided that a long narrow point might be better than their traditional broad points.  Or maybe ancient aliens, from another planet, landed at that time and gave the natives their favorite narrow spear point.  There could easily be a hundred guesses about these artifacts with no concrete answers.  But maybe exact answers are not really necessary.  Maybe we only have to enjoy the simple beauty of these ancient Archaic Period points.  And maybe we only have to go into an agricultural field and find a couple of these long and narrow blades and then stop and say:  “They are called Guilford lanceolate points.  Does it really matter who made them?”

 

REFERENCES:

Bierer, Bert W.                                                           1977

    INDIANS AND ARTIFACTS IN THE SOUTHEAST

Coe, Joffre L.                                                               1964

    “The Formative Cultures of the Carolina Piedmont”,  TRANSACTIONS OF THE AMERICAN

    PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY

Daniel, I. Randolph, Jr.                                                1998

    HARDAWAY REVISITED

Hranicky, Wm. Jack & Floyd Painter                          1988

    PROJECTILE POINT TYPES IN VIRGINIA AND NEIGHBORING AREAS

Hranicky, Wm. Jack                                                    2007

    NORTH AMERICAN PROJECTILE POINTS

Maus, James E.                                                           1990

    “The Guilford Point: A Southeastern enigma”,  THE CENTRAL STATES ARCHAEOLOGICAL

    JOURNAL, VOL. 37,  No. 2

Maus, James E.                                                           2011

    “Lerma: A Greatly Misunderstood Blade”, JIMMAUSARTIFACTS.COM

Michie, James L.                                                         1968

    “The Briar Creek Lanceolate”, THE CHESOPIEAN, VOL. 6, NO. 3

Perino, Gregory                                                          1985

    SELECTED PREFORMS, POINTS AND KNIVES OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS

Rights, Douglas L.                                                       1947

    THE AMERICAN INDIAN IN NORTH CAROLINA

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

     TIME BEFORE HISTORY: THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF NORTH CAROLINA

Wetmore, Ruth Y.                                                       1975

    FIRST ON THE LAND: THE NORTH CAROLINA INDIANS