Articles

To LeCroy or not to LeCroy

That is the Question

Many modern people, when confronted with the term “Indian artifacts”, immediately think of the word arrowheads.  These small projectile points, however, are a minor part of the overall picture of American Indian collectibles.  The bow and arrow is only about 1500 years old in the USA Southeast but humans have been here for at least twelve thousand years and during that lengthy time made and used stone spear points, drills, burins, axes, celts,  pipes, gorgets, pendants and a multitude of other tools and implements.  Beginning with what is called the Paleo Period, ancient man made and used fluted points attached to long thrusting spears for hunting megafauna such as mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths and other now extinct animals.  After those mammals were eliminated, man began hunting smaller game during what is commonly called the Archaic Period which began around ten thousand years in the past.  The actual projectile point shapes and sizes changed with the advancement of time and among the earliest of these are small bifurcated blades that many collectors, today, call LeCroy points.   But are they all LeCroy points or not?  That is the question.

The LeCroy blade was named by Madeline Kneberg in 1956 for examples found on the LeCroy Site near the Tennessee River in Hamilton County, TN.  The location, itself, was named for the modern finder of this ancient site, Archie LeCroy.  The LeCroy is the most famous of the bifurcated blade family but it certainly is not the only one – in fact it is somewhat late in the ancestral line of this artifact type.  There have been some successful stratigraphic excavations of bifurcated blades thus giving us chronological evidence of the ages of the various types in this family and how to correctly align their successions.  All bifurcated points/blades date from the Early to Middle Archaic Periods which means 8000 to 4000 years BC.   They possibly descended from the more ancient Hardaway/Palmer/Kirk traditions and are about ten thousand years of age for the most ancient called MacCorkle and Nottoway River, down to about six thousand years old for the youngest, the Stanly tool.  The classification of these blades as bifurcates is because their stems are split or divided on the basal edge – thus bifurcated.  These blades are now believed to have been used mostly as knives because their basally notched stems would have been very effective knife hafting areas and because many, if not most, bifurcates have been sharpened and re-sharpened, as cutting tools, down to the short nubby and expended sizes that we generally find today.  Many bifurcates have serrated blade edges and it is believed that serrations were used mainly on re-sharpened knives since it would have given the tools saw-tooth sides and greatly increased the cutting abilities.  Some, though, most likely would have been used only as dart or small spear points.

The blades named MacCorkle and Nottoway River (which may be a distinct type or a MacCorkle variant) are the elder statesmen of the bifurcate group and will date from around 8000 to 7700 BC.  They are described as small to medium size corner notched knives, that ae beveled with straight or convex blade edges which are usually serrated.  The stems are expanded up to about forty-five degrees from the centerline of the blade and have rounded basal lobes that are normally ground. This stem abrading or smoothing is probably a carry-over from the Hardaway/Palmer/Kirk horizons and gradually disappears as these bifurcates evolve during the next thousand or so years.  In the Carolinas and Virginia, the MacCorkle blades were usually made of rhyolite and silicified shale in the Piedmont and Ridge & Valley chert in the mountainous regions.  The Nottoway River blade is normally found closer to the ocean, with quartz and quartzite being the most used lithic materials.  The MacCorkle/Nottoway River blades are somewhat more prevalent in the western Piedmont and uplands but even there, they are not common.  The MacCorkle was named by Bettye Broyles in 1966 from examples discovered in West Virginia.  The Nottoway River was named by Floyd Painter in 1970 from blades found near the river of that name in eastern Virginia.

 

The St. Albans type follows the earlier ones chronologically and dates from about 7700 to 7400 BC and was named by Bettye Broyles in 1971 from examples found on the St. Albans Site adjacent to the Kanawha River in West Virginia.  It is considered a small to medium, shallowly side notched blade with straight to convex sides that are often beveled and normally serrated.  The stem is expanded and has rounded basal lobes that are routinely ground.  It differs from its predecessors in that it is side notched (though this is not always readily apparent on considerably re-sharpened and expended specimens) and it is customarily not as large and hefty as the MacCorkle/Nottoway River types.  The lithic materials and the areas where found are generally the same as the earlier types.

Next in line in the family tree is the LeCroy point, which is the most prevalent bi-lobed point found in the eastern half of our country and is the one many collectors refer to when discussing the bifurcated blades.  It is typically a small to occasionally medium size corner notched blade that will date to the 7500-6600 BC time period.  The blade is triangular, ordinarily serrated and infrequently beveled.  The narrow stem is straight to being slightly expanded and has lobes that are more pointed than rounded and they are almost never ground.  The shoulders are quite often angularly barbed though on much re-sharpened examples these barbs may have completely disappeared.  Also it is not uncommon to see a barb only on one edge which simply means that the opposite edge of the knife received extra sharpening thus eliminating the barb  on that edge.  The LeCroy differs from the earlier types with its straight, non-abraded and pointed stem lobes and the often large and toothy serrations.  This knife form was apparently a local favorite of the ancient Indians in southeastern Virginia based on the large quantities found there and was usually made of white quartz in that region.  In the Piedmont silicified shale and volcanic rhyolite seems to have been the favored stones while the hill country LeCroy blade knappers seemed to have preferred to use jasper, quartzite and black chert for these knives.

 

The Kanawha point next appears but it is almost always found only in the mountainous regions where it was made of local black cherts and was named by Bettye Broyles for Kanawha County, WV.   It is a small triangular shaped blade that will date to the 7000-6500 BC time period.  The short and slightly expanded stem terminates with often large basal notch and rounded lobes that are not ground.  The blade edges may or may not be serrated.  The initial thought when seeing this type is that it is a very small Stanly knife. 

 

And that brings us to the baby of the bifurcated knives, chronologically speaking – the Stanly.  It was named by Dr. Joffre Coe in 1964 from examples found in the 1940’s and entitled for Stanly County, NC.  It is normally a small to medium sized knife which is often broad bladed and triangular shaped.  The stem is usually narrow and slightly bifurcated and is not ground.  The straight blade edges are normally not serrated but on rare examples can be.  The blade will be broad on un-sharpened specimens and narrows as the knife sides were re-flaked so as to acquire a new keen cutting edge.  It dates to the Middle Archaic Period or 6600-6000 BC in chronological time and in its non-re-sharpened state, it looks like a classic Christmas tree.  The Stanly can be found in quartz, quartzite and silicified shale but the ancient stone artisans seemed to favor the two tone tan & grey rhyolite for this reasonably rare blade.

 

Since these knives are all about the same size, with blades that are usually somewhat triangular shaped and have bifurcated bases, they are often confused one to the other.  And to add to this confusion, there are numerous local names such as Culpepper, Fox Valley, Southampton, Lake Erie, Limeton, Susquehanna, Muncy, Frederick, Cossatot River, Ricve Lobed and Jerger that are employed incorrectly throughout the eastern half of the USA.  No wonder most collectors lump all bifurcates under the single overly used name LeCroy.  Hopefully this paper will assist you in correctly classifying them by their correct names and ages and not to simply say “LeCroy or not to LeCroy – That is the Question”.  Now, hopefully, your questions can be answered.

 

REFERENCES:

Anderson, David G. & Kenneth E. Sassaman                          1996

    THE PALEOINDIANS AND EARLY ARCHAIC SOUTHEAST

Brier, Bert W.                                                                         1977

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Broyles. Bettye J.                                                                    1966

    “The St. Albans Site, Kanawha County, West Virginia”, THE WESTG VIRGINIA

    ARCHAEOLOGIST, Vol. 19

Broyles, Bettye J.                                                                    1971

    “Second Preliminary Report –The St. Albans Site, Kanawha County, West Virginia”,

    THE WEST VRGINIA  ARCHAEOLOGIST

Coe, Joffre L., PhD                                                                  1964

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

    PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY, Vol. 54, Part 5

Hranicky, Wm. Jack & Floyd Painter                                      1988

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Kneberg, Madeline                                                                 1956

    “Some Important Projectile Point Types Found in the Tennessee Area”, TENNESSEE

    ARCHAOLOGIST, Vol. 12

Mathis, Mark A. & Jeffery J. Crow                                         1983

    THE PREHISTOROY OF NORTH CAROLINA

Maus, James E.                                                                       1983

    “The Stanly Point”,  PIEDMONT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY NEWSLETTER, Vol. 28

Painter, Floyd                                                                          1970

    “The Nottoway River Projectile Point”, THE CHESOPIEAN, Vol. 6, No. 1

Perino, Gregory                                                                      1985

    SELECTED PREFORMS, POINTS AND KNIVES OF THE NORTH AMEERICAN INDIANS, Vol. 1

Walthall, John A.                                                                     1987

    PREHISTORIC INDIANS OF THE SOUTHEAST

Winsch, John, MD                                                                   1975

    “LeCroy or Lake Erie Bifurcated Points”, ARTIFACTS: Vol. 5, No. 3