Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

June 21, 2008

Dalton versus Meserve, one good type and other may be gone forever

By Bill Young

If you ever have the time, go see the Reading Arrowhead Collection housed in the old library on the second floor at Navarro College. To my knowledge it is the largest private collection of Native American artifacts on display in Texas for the viewing public. The Readings amassed this collection primarily from the 1920s to the 1950s during the same time archeology was just starting to grow and be understood. Some of the artifacts recognized today were not noticed back then and subsequently only a portion of what was present on a site was collected during those earlier years. Everyone could easily recognize what a projectile point looked like but no one gave thought to the fact points were also utilized as knives and even scrapers. The practicing of beveling was not noticed as being something done to a point in which the use was changed to something different. Instead, if some points were found to be beveled, they constituted a totally new, unique point and were therefore given a separate name. In the Reading Collection there are several nice Dalton points from various sites in this area. One Dalton point is especially interesting to me because it is a large Dalton made out of Pisgah Ridge chert. Found on a site in the western part of Navarro County, this particular Dalton point tells us an individual of the Dalton Culture ventured up on Pisgah Ridge in the exact area where the Pisgah Ridge chert is located. This outcrop is only about a mile in length and the chert is embedded in the limestone uplift. This Dalton individual would first have to somehow remove from the limestone by punching or prying out a large piece of the Pisgah Ridge chert. Then he would have made his point either on the ridge or on a nearby site along one of the creeks. From there he walked maybe 10 to 12 miles to the west, resharpened the point one time into what we refer to as the advanced stage, and then discarded the point on another site. The point was not used up and the most obvious question is why he discarded this perfectly useable point long before it would have been considered worn out? Needless to say there are some strange behavioral patterns we don’t understand about these early Native Americans.

Another good example of this problem occurred some 30 years ago when I was visiting an archeologist at Southern Methodist University. The archeologist, Dr. Joel Shiner, was analyzing 6,000 points from a site near Brownwood under a high-powered microscope. The points were many different types but all had one thing in common. Under the microscope, Dr. Shiner was able to determine every point, though each was a finished specimen, had never been tied to any shaft. Once a point has been halted to a shaft, wear-polish can be found in the area where leather thongs were used to anchor the projectile point to the shaft. If these points were never hafted, why were they discarded? There was no visible reason for this many stone weapon tips to be left unused at a site. Just the amount of labor to produce this many points would have been tremendous, so what was going on? A couple of replicators have told me they can make or break a point in about 30 minutes as long as it is not one of the earlier very hard to replicate Paleo points. Some of those points take many hours to produce just one good example due to high breakage during the thinning process. Over-making may have been part of the cause. In other words, an individual sat down and produced a large number of a specific type points and when he finished he had more points than he was capable of hauling off. Therefore, he had to leave some examples at the site maybe with the intention of one day returning to the site and recovering his extra production pieces. If this same thing happened to others over the thousands of years, a lot of unused points might accumulate on a site. Another important factor to consider about this location is how far this site was from a good dependable chert source. This question was not considered at the time by Dr. Shiner because he was only looking at the points.

The Meserve point is a classic example of a named point which may no longer be correct. First found on a site in Nebraska associated with the bones of an extinct form of bison, these points with a right-hand bevel were called Meserve, named after a nearby community where the original site was discovered. As more and more parallel-sided points with a concave base and a right-hand bevel were found in areas all over the southwest and especially in Texas, the term Meserve was applied to each similar looking point and eventually the archeological community had established this wide region as being the so-called homeland for the Meserve culture. When I first got involved in archeology, I saw numerous projectile points in collections which comfortably fitted the description for Meserve. Therefore, it was easy to say each and every one of these points was a Meserve.

Then in the 1970s, two sites were excavated in northeastern Arkansas, the Brand and Sloan sites, which suddenly told everyone what we had been thinking for years was incorrect. Sure makes one feel slightly stupid to realize your thoughts for 30 years were incorrect. Of course this is what makes archeology interesting. The fact someone will eventually find a site which will alter our way of thinking about a specific culture is what makes many archeologists keep going. The quantities of Dalton points accumulated from the Brand and Sloan sites along with other Dalton points from other nearby Dalton sites in Arkansas and Missouri has shown the archeological community all of the variables possible with one specific type. Because of this, most archeologists are now saying Meserve may not be a viable type. Other still cling to the fact if all of the look-alike points are indeed Dalton, then this particular culture covered almost every area from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the eastern seaboard. Some say this is too great an area for one culture but look at the earlier Clovis Culture. It ranges from Canada as far south as Guatemala and Honduras where Clovis points have been discovered. Wherever the mammoth and mastodon roamed, the Clovis people were not far behind. We think Dalton is one of the cultures which grew out of Clovis after the Clovis culture went extinct along with all of the megafauna but there is at least a thousand years separating the two time periods.

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Next week: Other tools in the Dalton tool kit