Articles

THE HALIFAX SIDE NOTCH POINT

 

During the long Archaic Period, the ancient American natives in the Southeast, made a number of styles of projectile points/knives, most of which are considered broad points.  At least two types, though, would not fall into the broad point category – the relatively common Guilford Lanceolate and the much rarer Halifax Side Notch.

 

The Halifax point was named, in 1964, by Dr. Joffre Coe from examples found at the Gaston Site on the Roanoke River and entitled in honor of Halifax County, NC.  He called it a slender quartz blade with shallow ground side notches and a slightly restricted base.  And that description does indeed cover many of these uncommon artifacts but certainly not all.   They are normally biconvex in cross-section and reasonably narrow being on average about ½ to ¾ inch in width to their one to two plus inches of length depending, of course, on just how much a given point was anciently re-sharpened thusly reducing its overall linear measurement.  The side notches are normally shallow but wide beginning as much as one-third of the blade length from the base and extending to the base.  In some cases the side notches extend past the base and give the impression of a stemmed rather than a side notched point and these present problems determining if the blades are indeed Halifax points or are stemmed points such as the Savannah River.  The base may be straight or incurved or very slightly convex and is often ground to match the abraded side notches and it is normally slightly narrower than the maximum width of the blade itself.  This smoothing of the bases and notches is an oddity.  The Guilford points, which chronologically preceded the Halifax, did have some grinding on the lower lateral edges, but not on all the blade basal extremities.  Prior to that, the time frame must go back many thousands of years to the Palmer Corner Notch and Big Sandy points (8,000 BC) to discover much in the way of basal grinding.  What prompted these Halifax people to begin again the practice of abrading the basal regions of their points/blades?  We, of course, believe we know the purpose of the practice - it was to keep the sharp knapped stone edges from cutting the leather or sinew bindings of the knives or spears or darts.  But why was the practice abandoned for 4,000+ years until the Halifax Culture resurrected it around 3500 BC?  This is just another unanswerable question in our ancient prehistory.  And what about the material?   Did Dr. Coe make a mistake by stating that the Halifax was usually made from vein quartz?   Well yes and no!  In the extreme eastern portion of NC and VA, where the Gaston Site is located, white quartz was one of the few primary local materials available to the ancient natives and many, if not indeed most, of the points in the locale were made of that mineral.  In other areas, the Indians had rhyolite, jasper, chert, quartzite, etc. with which to make their tools.   So the materials used for the Halifax points depended on just where the given blades were originally fabricated.  Quartz seems to be a favored material everywhere, though, with probably over half the Halifax points ever seen by this writer being made of this white rock regardless of where made.

 

The Halifax type blade is much scarcer than many of the Archaic Period types and part of that could be because of the reasonably small locales where they are normally found.  These tools are usually located only along, or reasonably near, the large river valleys in the Piedmont and Coastal Plains, particularly the Roanoke, the Dan, the Yadkin, the Catawba, the James, the Rappahannock and the Potomac, though they have been found in limited numbers a goodly distance from these waterways.  The area where most have been found is about mid North Carolina Piedmont/Coastal Plains northward through Virginia into Maryland and southern Pennsylvania though they have been found as far south as Alabama and as far north as New York.  In the more northerly regions, some people have given other names to the blade such as Lamoka and Orient Fishtail but that is probably just personal egos attempting to establish their own naming systems into the archaeology game.  This somewhat chunky and long narrow side notched blade is dubbed a “side notched Guilford” by some collectors but this writer does not agree with that assessment.  The Guilford is found throughout the Piedmont and Coastal Plains regions in reasonable numbers while the Halifax is normally found near the large rivers and in limited quantities.  It is an odd point with its ground base and notches and river plains locales where normally found.  If the time period were moved forward a few thousand years into the corn growing years, one could understand these people wanting to live along the rich alluvial valleys but that probably did not attract them there 5500 years ago.  Whatever it was, these people who were named for a county in northeast NC and did create a very unusual blade that today we simply call the Halifax Side Notch Point.

 

REFERENCES:

 

Brierer, Bert W.                                                                      1977

     INDIANS AND ARTIFACTS IN THE SOUTHEAST

Cambron, James. W. & David C. Hulse                                  1964

     HANDBOOK OF ALABAMA ARCHAEOLOGY

Coe, Joffre L.                                                                           1964

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

     PHILOSOSPHICAL SOCIETY

Hranicky, Wm. Jack                                                                2001

     PROJECTILE POINT TYPOLOGY OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

Mathis, Mark A. & Jeffry J. Crow                                           1983

     THE PREHISTORY OF NORTH CAROLINA: AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SYMPOSIUM

Perino, Gregory                                                                      1985

     SELECTED PREFORMS, POINTS AND KNIVES OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS

Swope, Robert, Jr.                                                                   1982

     INDIAN ART OF THE EAST AND SOUTH

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

     TIME BEFORE HISTORY: THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF NORTH CAROLINA