Folsom and Related Artifacts

Evidence of Early Man in North America

By: Edgar B. Howard

Originally Published in 1935

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As is inevitably the case when a new name comes into use to describe some specialized object of human workmanship, a good deal of confusion develops as to exactly what is meant. This has happened in the case of certain specialized stone artifacts first discovered at Folsom, New Mexico, a few years ago. The fact that these artifacts were found at from four to thirteen feet below undisturbed deposits associated with the bones of bison, pronounced by palaeontologists as an extinct species, has given these spearpoints a respectable antiquity. Any spearpoint today which remotely resembles these Folsom points is immediately considered by those not familiar with the subject as ancient, no matter where found, so that the word “Folsom” has come to be synonymous with age and no longer seems to refer solely to the particular type of artifact found near Folsom, New Mexico, and given that name. What has complicated the problem further is that there are hundreds of spearpoints found all over the country and in Canada that exhibit some of the specialized features of the Folsom point, but about which there is a great lack of information as to where they fit into the picture. One often hears them also referred to as Folsom points, or as Yuma points.

Drawn diagram of different spear points
Plate XXIII — E. B. Renaud’s Classification of Folsom-Yuma Types (not including Base Types) from “The First Thousand Yuma-Folsom Artifacts,” Univ. of Denver, 1934

Therefore, it seems necessary to give considerable time to descriptions of these various types for the sake of clearness. First, let us examine the spearpoints actually found at Folsom, New Mexico, for they are the type “Folsom point” (using the word “point” to refer to a projectile point—spearpoint or atlatl-dart point or arrow point). The latter, however, probably has no relation to the earlier types under examination, since the Folsom and allied points were presumably used with spear-throwers. As will appear in the course of examination, there are other types of artifacts, some of which may be spearpoints and some knives which are associated with the Folsom points at other sites; but these cannot be described as Folsom points since they differ in too many ways from the true Folsom. It may be that as these associations become clearer a number of different kinds of artifacts will be recognized as belonging to a “Folsom complex.” This will be made clearer as we proceed.

Only one or two of the points found at the Folsom site were complete, the rest were points with the bases broken, or others with the tips broken. The outstanding peculiarity of these points is that they exhibit the removal of a longitudinal flake from the faces, which leaves a groove reaching from the base almost to the point.

Those with flakes removed from both faces give a bi-concave cross-section leaving lateral ridges (parallel to the long axis) between which and the edges occurs very fine secondary chipping (see PLATE XXXIII). Another feature peculiar to this type is the base which has two projections like rabbit-ears between which is a more or less flat concave, or sometimes, a wavy line. There is no stem and there are no side notches.

PLATE XXXIII shows types from Folsom, New Mexico; PLATE XXXIV, upper right, is from Clovis, New Mexico. The “rabbit ears” on this one had been broken. There are two in the lower row, right, also from Clovis. PLATE XXXV shows other examples—the one in 2 is from Clovis, and 4 from Folsom. Both of these have the groove on one face only. The latter is made of quartzite. The one above is a yellow-brown jasper. PLATE xxx, 5, from Uvalde County, Texas, is without doubt a Folsom point. We have no space to give other examples from New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Renaud33 in describing what he considers the evolution of the groove on the Folsom point, says:

Drawn diagram of two different point groups
Plate XXIV — Group I, Folsom Types; Group II, Folsom-Like Types. (Natural Size- Actual Tracings)

“Finally, the groove becomes broad and extensive, cutting through the first surface flaking of the piece, generally on both faces, and it reaches over two-thirds of the distance from the base line to the tip of the point and leaves only a relatively narrow margin on both sides. In the most perfect cases this long and broad flake or groove could be called ogival or gothic due to its appearance. When thus boldly made on both faces of the piece it greatly reduces its thickness and leaves two lateral ridges parallel to the edges upward from the lateral points of the base, usually sharp and sometimes named ‘rabbit ears.’ The cross-section of such an artifact instead of being a long, pointed oval, four to six millimeters thick in the middle, or, as in the case of the narrower and stouter points, somewhat lozengic, it becomes double concave in the middle portion and triangular at the edges. This is very unusual in the history of the lithic industry of the world. It represents a highly specialized and rare type of point easily identified and probably characteristic of only one culture.”


“These pieces and fragments with long and broad lengthwise groove, more or less fine marginal retouching between the edges and the lateral ridges, concave base with often long and sharp base points, are really the only ones that could be called ‘Folsom points,’ stricto sensu, that is to say, points of same shape and technique as those actually found at Folsom and likely made by the same ancient people, representing the same culture and probably belonging to the same age. At least these conclusions are logical on the basis of typology, even if they do require further objective proof…. The shapes and proportions of our artifacts, the form of the base and every single detail could probably be found in some other industry, regardless of place and time, but what constitutes a Folsom point properly so-called, is the actual grouping and coexistence of those typologic and technique elements in one piece. It is the compound which is characteristic and deserves strictly the qualification of Folsom point.”


“We may then conclude that a typical Folsom point averages 22 to 23 mm. as maximum breadth, 16 to 17 mm. at the base, 4 mm. in thickness, 10 to 11 flakes (per 2 cm.) or retouches along the edges, although great variations are possible, and has a longitudinal flake, usually on both faces, on at least two-thirds of the length of the point and 13 to 14 mm. wide.”

In further reference to dimensions Renaud34 covers this in his tables under his type 5-c:

(Measurements in Millimeters)
Minimum Maximum Averae
Length 17 75 45.41
Breadth 14 32.5 21.94
Thickness 3 6 5.38

Measurements of similar types from Clovis, New Mexico, show very slight variation from the above averages. Namely, the average breadth (taken at widest part) is 20.3 mm., the maximum thickness 4 mm., length 50 mm. (of one whole one, and somewhat less on several with “ears” broken off).

Figgins35 describes the Folsom types: “The best Folsom types have wide spalls removed from the sides, beginning at the base and sometimes ex-tending quite to the tip, producing a hollowed or ‘fluted’ effect. The bases are concave, often to a depth of a quarter of an inch or more and thus forming ear-like backward projections. In practically all cases Folsom artifacts are widest forward of a point midway of their length, and their width sometimes equals, or exceeds, half of their length.”

There is a further description given by Roberts36 of the Smithsonian Institution in which he says: “A true Folsom specimen is a thin leaf-shaped blade. The tip is slightly rounded and the broadest part of the blade. .. tends to occur between the tip and a line across the centre of the face. A typical feature is a long groove extending along each face about two-thirds of the length, which produced lateral ridges paralleling the edges of the blade. A cross-section of the object should give a hi-concave appearance. . . . The base is concave, often with long sharp base points. There normally is a more or less fine marginal retouching, a secondary removal of small flakes between the edges and the lateral ridge of the central groove. Another feature frequently observed is that of smoothed edges around the base and extending along the edges for about one-third the length of the blade. The usual material from which such objects were made was jasper, chert or chalcedony. Some of the finest chipping of stone ever seen on New World specimens is to be found on the Folsom points.”

In connection with the kind of material used in producing artifacts, there seems to he considerable confusion. Most of it, it is readily agreed, is a cryptocrystalline variety of quartz, but as to whether it should be called chert or flint, jasper or chalcedony, is very difficult to decide, since the differences are largely microscopical. Color appears to be the main guide megascopically, Tarr37 differentiating chert from flint on the basis that chert is usually white and other lighter colors, and flint black or dark gray.

drawn diagram of point types from group two
Plate XXV — Folsom-Like Types of Group II-Continued

This covers the true Folsom point. The question now arises whether we are not justified in applying the name to any points found elsewhere which exhibit all of the same characteristics? It seems reasonable to apply the name “Folsom point” to any point which exhibits all the characteristics of those found at Folsom, New Mexico. But what about the other grooved points which are found in all parts of the United States and parts of Canada? They have a generalized likeness to the Folsom point, exhibiting the chief characteristic, namely the longitudinal groove on one or both faces. Reference to PLATE XXXVI shows examples of these, taken at random from different places. From left to right these points are from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, New Jersey, and Mississippi. See also PLATE XXXVII, 1, from Texas, and 4 from Alabama, and PLATE XXXV, 1, from New Jersey, and 3 from Burnet Cave in New Mexico. PLATE XXX shows other examples: 1 from Texas; 4 from Utah; and 2 from Clovis, New Mexico.

These “Folsom-like” points are generally leaf-shaped with concave bases exhibiting a number of variations—some deeply concave, some shallow, and still others with a constriction just below the base forming a sort of “fishtail” as in PLATE XXX and PLATE XXXVII. Most of them are larger than the true Folsom point, heavier and thicker, and the secondary chipping is never as fine. The grooving is more apt to be irregular and to end more abruptly than on the Folsom point, characteristics that would be consistent with less well-controlled flaking as already pointed out. The use of the word “groove” is not very exact. “Fluting” or “channelling” have been used to convey the same idea, but neither are any better, so we shall use “groove.”

An interesting question in regard to the grooves in the Folsom points is whether they were made after or before the general fashioning of the artifact. We seem to have been mistaken in believing that, at least, the groove on one face was the result of the original flaking from a core or nucleus. Both Renaud and Roberts, as well as others, are of the belief that the grooves were made after most of the chipping was done.

In this connection, however, Alonzo W. Pond has suggested to the writer that the flint used in the manufacture of these points may have a most important bearing in making the grooves. He points out that tabular flint as opposed to nodular flint would make it much easier to produce the grooves by pressure from one end than other kinds of flint. Having made a study of flint and processes of chipping and flaking,38 this suggestion would be interesting to have followed up.

Curiously enough, though many excellent arrowpoints and other artifacts are made for the “tourist trade” in many parts of the country, the writer has yet to meet anyone who can produce a Folsom point.

This technique must not be confused with the rubbed grooves on some Alaska slate points. The technique in one case is supposed to be pressure flaking; on the Alaska points, of much more recent date, it is quite definitely a rubbing technique.

Renaud’s morphological series39 is reproduced in PLATE XXIII, leaving out the types of bases for lack of room. Since this represents the first attempt to classify the various types of Folsom and associated artifacts, we have tried to fit into these groups the types we have studied from various parts of the United States, as well as those with which we are familiar through actual field work. We find it hard to do so in some cases, as will become apparent. It should be pointed out that Renaud, like everyone else who has made any attempt to unravel this “Folsom problem,” has been feeling his way along, and therefore has had no compunction in discarding his earlier conclusions when necessary.

Referring to his classification [PLATE XXIII] we find, for example, that the commonest types—those to which we have referred as having a distribution over most of the United States and parts of Canada and which we have called Folsom-like points, would be included under Renaud’s type 5-a and under types 2-a and 2-b (if they had been shown grooved, as these forms very often are, in fact). If we adhere to the descriptions of the artifacts from Folsom itself, as defining the true Folsom type, then types 5-a and 5-b should not be called Folsom points. In this connection, Renaud himself says:40 “We are logically warranted in calling ‘Folsom point,’ by extension of meaning, artifacts found elsewhere, such as in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, which conform closely to the Folsom type. As for the other implements, in the measure they display characteristics of the real Folsom point, they approach that type and share in its qualifications, but it would not be strictly correct to call them Folsom points and, moreover, as already stated, it would be confusing and misleading. It is proper to call attention to elements of their shape, technique or quality resembling the Folsom type as it may be significant; but to go beyond this would be unscientific.”

Presumably none of the types shown under the group of “Yuma” artifacts has grooves. However, many artifacts with shapes corresponding to Renaud’s types 2-a and 2-b, and occasionally a 4-b type, (see PLATE XXXVIII, 4) will have a groove.

drawn diagram of points from group three
Plate XXVI — Group III Yuma Types

Leaving out the morphological relationships for the moment, let us start with the types from the type site. It must be noted that of those in the American Museum only one is whole [PLATE XXXIII]. In fact, few whole ones have been found anywhere, and, as Renaud has pointed out, this is no doubt due to the fact that the longitudinal grooves weakened the spearpoint and caused them to break easily. However, it can be seen that these types from Folsom are, first of all, very finely flaked, with fine secondary chipping along the edges and around the base, and secondly, are grooved on one or both faces. The one in PLATE XXXV, 4, is grooved on one face only and was found at Folsom last summer by the writer. This covers the true Folsom point, and any others that may have all these characteristics should qualify as such no matter where they are found.

Now we have a lot of others—Renaud’s types 5-a, 5-b, and grooved points corresponding in shape to his types 2-a and 2-b, and our PLATES XXXVI, XXX, 1 and 2, and XXXVII, 1 and 4. These are not Folsom points, but they do have a generalized likeness, and they exhibit the specialized groove and, therefore, it seems logical to assume some sort of relationship. In order to show this relationship, and yet separate them from the true Folsom, we have been calling them “Folsom-like” points. This leaves in Renaud’s classification his types 1, 3, and 4 designated as “Yuma points.” Though it would seem unfortunate to use a place name of a small town in Colorado for such a purpose when there are at least four other places of the same name in the United States (in Virginia, Tennessee, Michigan, and Arizona), the name has come to be known, and will probably continue to be used; but we believe it would be less confusing to eliminate from this group what we have called the Folsom-like types. There are relatively few of type 1. However, some of the finest chipping occurs in this type, of which we believe the great majority represent knives. Renaud’s types 3 and 4 also in most cases exhibit the highest art in the manufacture of stone artifacts. The flaking is narrow and ribbon-like, running horizontally and often diagonally across the faces. The nearest approach to this technique may be seen in some of the Danish and Egyptian Neolithic blades and points. In some specimens, usually narrow ones, there is a distinct dorsal ridge, in others that are wider the secondary flaking may have removed all traces of the ridge. In one type the cross-section will be more or less diamond shaped, in the other a flat ovoid. Some also have a slight shoulder, and the edge from here to the base will be smoothed probably in order to prevent cutting the sinew used for hafting. Examples of both these types may be seen by reference to PLATES XXX, 3, XXXVII, 2, XXXVIII, and XXXIX. All on PLATE XXXIX are from Clovis; 2 and 3 were found embedded in the upper part of the blue sands, while the one in 4 was found at a location on the west side of the gravel pit (see PLATE XVIII), where it is shown mammoth bones were uncovered.

In connection with the two specimens shown as 2 and 3 in PLATE XXXIX, these were found in Beck Forest Lake [PLATE XVII, 3] within a radius of about fifty to seventy-five feet of an occurrence of bison and mammoth bones. The former were particularly plentiful and extended from the surface of the blue sands to nearly two feet deep. Charcoal was plentifully mixed with the bones and the bluish clay. The points were flush with the top of the blue sand, the upper surfaces polished by sand blasting and the underneath surfaces encrusted with a lime-like deposit, as shown in 2 of PLATE XXXIX. The specimen in 3 was found by Dr. John C. Merriam, and is almost an exact duplicate of the beautifully symmetrical point in 1, which was found the year before.

At this particular location we tried an experiment. Having been convinced that these artifacts were actually weathering out of the same bluish-gray deposit with bison and elephant bones, we measured off a circle with a radius of approximately twenty-five feet around a concentration of bison bones, and within this small area picked up everything that showed on the surface, of which there were numerous broken points, small pebbles, and flint chips. Twice we did this at intervals of two to three weeks, and each time that we went back we found artifacts that had been uncovered by the wind, lying flush with the surface of the blue sands. Both the artifacts, PLATE XXXIX, 2 and 3, were found in this way.

On PLATE XXXVIII are examples of types with slight rectangular reductions near the base. All but 4 (from Clovis) are from Colorado. PLATE XXX, 3, is a good example from Nebraska. PLATE XXXVII, 2,41 is also from Colorado, and shows the fine ribbon-like diagonal flaking referred to. This last one might be compared to the Solutrean point shown by Thomas Wilson.42

It should be observed that Renaud suggests, as a result of a study of his morphological series that theoretically his types 5-a and 5-b [PLATE XXIII] may represent earlier attempts to form a grooved point, of which his type 5-c represents the final stage. Theoretically this may be so, but we are not sure, since the former may represent degenerate forms, and it thus seems best to segregate these types with the grooved Perms of 2-a and 2-b under the heading of Folsom-like points.

Let us now examine the distribution of these artifacts, considered as three groups of a general pattern: “Folsom,” “Folsom-like,” and “Yuma” types, with variations as shown. All groups have been found associated with extinct animals, and most of the types also associated, in at least a few places, with scrapers—end or snub-nosed (turtle-back) scrapers and less numerous side scrapers. Other types will no doubt be recognized as forming part of the general “complex,” and perhaps the key to the whole problem awaits the completion of Dr. F. H. H. Roberts’ work at Ft. Collins, Colorado. Here Judge C. C. Coffin and his son and brother have been finding these same types of artifacts for several years. Last summer Dr. Roberts found Folsom points, scrapers and knives as deep as fifteen feet in one place that he has called a Folsom Kitchen-Midden.43

There are many things that enter into this problem of determining relationships of the various types of artifacts we have been considering. For example, in connection with the grooving, which seems to represent an attempt to perfect the hafting problem and perhaps to lighten the distal end of the spear as well, we wonder what part the whims of the maker of the artifact, or what part the material from which it was made, played in the fashioning of the groove. Another question to be answered is to what extent are we dealing with differentiation on the basis of use rather than on that of an evolutionary development? There are a number of reasons that lead us to believe that many so-called “Yuma points” are knives of the same people who made some of the spearpoints already described. In this way we may find that many of Renaud’s types 1 and 2 should be considered as knives and thereby form part of a pattern of which some of his other types may represent the spearpoints; but this being largely theoretical, one guess is as good as another. This question of whether an artifact is an arrowpoint, spearpoint, or knife, has always vexed archaeologists.44 Perhaps we should note here that the method of thinning the base of a point by removing a longitudinal flake, or several narrow flakes, persisted into later times. A type of point sometimes locally known as a “Buffalo point” is said to be associated with the Plains Indians. One of this type from a dune area near Monahan, Texas, in which there is a distinct groove on each face of the broad stem, and one from the lower levels of a “burnt mound,” near Austin, Texas, exhibit this same feature. Indications are that they are later than the Folsom type.

Any grouping of these types at this time cannot be anything but a temporary expedient. Each such attempt, however, should mark some progress in the ultimate solution of the problem as a whole. We can sincerely acknowledge that our task has been made easier by the pioneer work of Professor Renaud. Our effort has been to contribute to what has already been done, not to detract. We should, therefore, like to suggest the grouping shown in PLATES XXIV, XXV, and XXVI.

The Folsom and Folsom-like points seem to be peculiar to America, though this has not yet been proved. So far as Europe is concerned, no points with these longitudinal grooves have been reported. In personal letters from Abbe H. Breuil of France, and from M. C. Burkitt of England, I am told that no such types have been found in Europe. However, Asia has not been heard from. There are some figures in a Russian publication45 which make one wonder whether this characteristic may not also be found in Siberia. There is, without doubt, a vast store of information concerning late Palaeolithic and Early Neolithic culture of Siberia derived from field work of Russian archaeologists, as well as records of palaeontological discoveries, some of which could probably be correlated with discoveries on this side of the Pacific. It is to be hoped that these sources may be made available by translations, and by closer cooperation between American and Russian scientists. Some of the plates in Russian publications of recent years show artifacts of rather specialized types that seem to be very like those found in certain locations of our Southwestern region. In a note in a recent issue of Natural History46 N. C. Nelson points out that the discovery in July 1934 by Mr. J. Dorsch (one of Mr. Childs Frick’s assistants) of about twenty small conical cores and small end-scrapers at Fairbanks, Alaska, is identical in several respects with the finding of thousands of specimens by the Central Asiatic Expedition in the Gobi Desert in 1925-1928. Mr. Nelson says: “The specimens furnish the first clear archaeological evidence we have of early migration to the American Continent, apparently during the final or Azilian-Tandenoisian stage of the Palaeolithic culture horizon, possibly 7,000-10,000 B.C.”

In America up to the present time Folsom points have been found in other places in eastern New Mexico besides Folsom—in Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Kansas. These are all the localities we can be sure of at this time. Recently there has come to my hands the base of a point, which in cross-section is biconcave and is almost exactly similar to the base of one I found at Folsom last summer. It comes from a sand dune area in Vermont, associated with other small leaf-shaped blades, and flake knives and scrapers. Without further study of these I should not like to class them with the Folsom type, but merely mention the circumstances.

The Folsom point seems to center in the High Plains region, taking in southeastern Wyoming, southwestern Nebraska,47 southwestern Kansas, eastern half of Colorado, western panhandle of Oklahoma and Texas, and eastern New Mexico. There are, however, isolated finds from other places in Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Colorado, outside of this region, and not on the High Plains. The distribution of the other grooved points is much wider. I give a list by states of the Folsom-like points:

Alabama, David de Jarnette, Univ. of Ala.; and 13th Ann. Rep’t. Bur. Amer. Ethnol.
Arizona, Princeton University.
Arkansas, S. C. Dellinger, Univ. of Ark.
California, Peabody Mus., Cambridge, Mass.
Colorado, Col. Mus. Nat. Hist.; Perry Anderson, Yuma, Col., etc.
Delaware, Wm. 0. Cubbage, Dover
Georgia, U. S. Nat. Museum
Illinois, Field Museum Chicago; T. B. Stewart, Lock Haven, Pa.; etc.
Indiana, Field Museum Chicago; W. K. Moorehead, Andover, Mass.; etc.
Iowa, Charles R. Keyes, Mt. Vernon, Iowa; Paul Rowe, Glenwood, Iowa
Kansas, M. S. Childs, Sublete, Kansas
Kentucky, Univ. Mus. Phila.; T. B. Stewart, Lock Haven, Pa.; etc.
Louisiana, State Museum, New Orleans
Maryland, Arthur C. King, Tom’s River, N. J.
Michigan, Carl E. Guthe, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Minnesota, A. E. Jenks, Univ. Minnesota, Minneapolis
Missouri, Amer. Mus. N. Y.; Field Mus. Chicago; etc.
Mississippi, Univ. Mus. Phila.; La. State Museum, New Orleans; etc.
Montana. S. R. Sweet, Bridgeport, Neb.; J. Cotter, Denver
Nebraska, C. B. Schultz, Lincoln; J. D. Figgins, Col. Mus. Nat. Hist., Denver
Nevada, E. 13. Renaud, Univ. of Denver Pub., Oct. 1934
New Hampshire, U. S. Nat. Museum
New Jersey, Univ. Mus. Phila.; N. J. State Mus., Trenton
New Mexico, Amer. Mus. N. Y.; Univ. Mus. Phila.; etc.
New York, Rochester Mus.; T. B. Stewart, Lock Haven, Pa.
North Carolina, Univ. Mus. Phila.; etc.
North Dakota, Jack Cotter, Denver
Ohio, Columbus Museum; Univ. Mus. Phila.; Field Museum; etc.
Oklahoma, W. E. Baker, Boise City; J. D. Figgins, Denver
Oregon, Univ. Calif. Pub., Vol. 29, # 1, Plate 12; 0. S. McCleary, Portland
Pennsylvania, Univ. Mus. Phila.; T. B. Stewart, Lock Haven; etc.
Rhode Island, Peabody Museum, Cambridge, Mass.
South Carolina, Univ. Mus. Phila.; etc.
South Dakota, E. B. Renaud, Univ. Denver Pub., Oct. 1934
Tennessee, Univ. Mus. Phila.; Rochester, N. Y.; etc.
Texas, C. N. Ray, Abilene; W. E. Baker, Boise City, Okla.; Col. Mus. Nat. Hist., Denver
Utah, Julian Steward, Univ. of Utah
Vermont, B. W. Fisher, St. Albans
Virginia, Bur. Amer. Ethn., Wash.; A. V. kidder II, Cambridge, Mass.; etc.
West Virginia, Gerard Fowke, 13th Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethn.
Wisconsin, Univ. Mus. Phila.; Field Mus., Chicago
Wyoming, Col. Mus. Nat. Hist., Denver
Canada, J. D. Figgins, Proc. Col. Mus. Nat. Hist., Vol. XIII, # 2, 1934

I have seen the artifacts mentioned from most of the places listed, and of those I have not seen I have either tracings or photographs. The states from which I have not seen these types are: Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Idaho, Washington, and Florida. In this latter state J. H. Connery, Director of the Museum at Rollins College, states that none has been found there.

There are a number from the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. Whether this is due to the fact that more intensive work has been done there than in some other places cannot be ascertained, but it is possible that these particular artifacts centered somewhere in that region.

Dr. H. C. Shetrone of the Columbus Museum showed me well over a hundred of these Folsom-like points when I was in Columbus a few years ago. At that time none was known from mounds. Recently, however, I had a letter from Dr. E. F. Greenman, of the same Museum, in which he says he has been getting together these types of points, and that on one of them is the name of a mound he had never heard of. He further states:

“But the base of a Folsom type of point, of black flint, with median grooves on both sides, was found, above the floor (that is, above the general level of the ground) in Esch Mound number 2, which I excavated in 1930, three miles south of the village of Huron, which is ten miles east of Sandusky, Ohio. It was not with a burial, and consequently was probably in the earth which was gathered from the immediate vicinity of the mound, and out of which the mound was built. This mound is definitely Hopewell in type, and is the only authentic instance that I know of where a point of the Folsom type was found in a mound.” He further calls attention to the fact that the scarcity of these points in Ohio—only one to two hundred in a collection of over half a million—is of some significance. He concludes: “But as you say, there is no evidence yet that any of these points were made by builders of mounds.”

In view of the fact that many hundreds of such points from the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi valleys have been found, and in view of the intensive work on mounds in this area, we think that any found in mounds may be considered intrusive.

These Folsom-like points are in the great majority of cases, surface finds. Some have been reported from along streams and on river terraces. One in the Smithsonian Institution from New Hampshire was found in 1888 by R. M. Swing at Intervale Park, and was said to have come from three feet below the ground, point downward. Figgins48 shows this type in his report on the Weld County, Colorado, discoveries, and several others may be mentioned as having been found below the surface. The one already described from Burnet Cave, New Mexico, is another occurrence of a Folsom-like point found below the surface.

Recently, what appears from the description to be an artifact of this same type has been reported by Dr. A. E. Jenks.49 This is said to have been found in a gravel pit in Minnesota, the deposit being dated by Dr. Frank Leverett as the beginning of the Tintah Stage of Glacial Lake Aggassiz. This point was found with human bones.

There are a number of other finds that have been reported from time to time, some of which are included in those listed by Harrington50 as referred to later on.

We have, then, the Folsom, the Folsom-like, and Yuma artifacts from positions in deposits indicating that they are not artifacts of our recent Indian. Though some are found below the surface, associated with the bones of extinct animals, the majority of the Folsom-like points have been found on the surface. The distribution of the Yuma artifacts corresponds very well with that of the Folsom; at any rate it has not the widespread distribution of the Folsom-like points.

We may ask whether the distribution throws any light upon the subject of relationship; in other words, does the Folsom-like point represent the earlier form of the true Folsom, or is it a degenerate form of which the Folsom represented a regional development? The answer is still in the speculative stage. As we have pointed out, the Folsom-like points seem to be more concentrated in the Middle Mississippi valley and large tributaries, but we cannot be sure whether this is due to the more intensive work in that region.

It seems to be a fair assumption that the true Folsom proved inefficient, on account of the weakness that developed as the result of the grooves. This we believe can be shown by the fact that so many more broken points have been found than whole ones, the break most often occurring not far removed from the base. The true Folsom may, therefore, have been a development of the idea of thinning the point for hafting purposes, or for making the point lighter, which development, in the general New Mexico-Colorado-Nebraska region, proceeded from a cruder type, and which died out before spreading very far because it did not prove to be efficient, while at the same time the cruder, more sturdy forms, which retained the original idea of the groove, spread far across the country. One can speculate upon this phase of the problem and arrive at a number of satisfying conclusions, but the truth is that we cannot prove any of them in the light of what we know at present.

Before summing up the results of our examination of these types of artifacts, we must mention one characteristic which seems to be common to most of them. The question of patination has been a much discussed one both here and abroad, and we believe it offers a chance for much misunderstanding. It is one of those terms which make it hard to draw the line in defining it, since it has been referred to such a wide variety of changes that occur to the surfaces of objects whether of stone or metal. Since our investigations deal only with stone we do not have to consider the oxidation of metal objects which have been exposed to the elements for a long time. It is evident that the surfaces of stones undergo change if given sufficient time. These changes are due either to mechanical or chemical weathering, or to both, and the length of time it takes to produce these changes cannot be measured. It does not seem to be known how long it takes for a pebble to receive a “desert varnish”, nor whether its changed surface is due entirely to the process of sand attrition or to chemical changes due to salts which may be accumulating in basins; but whatever the cause or combination of causes, it is known that these changes take place, and that the surfaces of such pebbles or stones show varying degrees of change ranging from the slight “desert varnish” to the deeply changed weathering which may be seen on broken sections, and with which everyone is more or less familiar.

One should not confuse an encrustation of lime, which often is found on artifacts taken from limy deposits, with a true patination, though this process may be the beginning of one form of patination. One should also be careful, when examining artifacts that show a changed surface, to observe whether the patination was present on an original core from which the artifact may have been made, in which case the later chipping will show up quite distinctly, or whether the patination covers also the chipping, either as part of the original surface change, or as a secondary patination. Dr. Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History has pointed out to me that the surface of obsidian artifacts seems to undergo a change by fire, which makes such an artifact appear to be very much weathered.

As a time criterion, therefore, patination should be used with considerable discretion. The bits of glass turned a purplish color that one finds in desert areas are good evidence of the rapidity of surface change, and since we can-not tell what effect solar radiation has on artifacts of cryptocrystalline composition, about all that can be said is that, in general, patination upon artifacts indicates a more or less indefinite period of time, and that the depth to which it goes (provided a broken section is under examination) will determine to some extent whether such artifacts are comparatively recent or ancient. In the case of the Folsom and allied points we have been discussing, there is nearly always a certain polish on the surfaces, which aids one in picking them out of a mixed collection without much hesitation. On a particular broken point in W. E. Baker’s collection in Boise City, Oklahoma, can be seen a definite line of surface change which covers all of the chipping “scars”. There are other examples. On the basis of patination we may say, then, that all the types we have discussed show a polish comparable to the “desert varnish” on wind-blown pebbles, and we believe this indicates at least a moderate antiquity in relation to the artifacts of the more recent Indians.51

Concerning the age of the Folsom and Yuma artifacts, it is well to bear in mind that these artifacts represent a technique in stone chipping that required unmistakable skill, and that, judging by European standards, only Homo sapiens could have made such implements. Whether it is safe to judge by European standards is a question. Any early Euro-American cultural connection was probably through a common Asiatic root, and not direct. Nor is it clear yet how far back Homo sapiens actually existed. However, common sense makes one hesitate to say that such finely-made artifacts as the Folsom and Yuma types could have been made by a very primitive man.

33 Renaud, 1931.

34 Renaud. 1934.

35 Figgins, 1934.

36 Roberts. 1934a.

37 Tarr, 1926.

38 Pond. 1930.

39 Renaud, 1934.

40 Renaud, 1931, p. 13.

41 From photograph furnished by the American Museum of Natural History, New York City.

42 Wilson, 1899, p. 829, fig. 18.

43 Roberts, 1934b.

44 Wilson, 1891; 1899.

45 Petri, 1916a.

46 Nelson, 1935.

47 Renaud, 1933.

48 Figgins, 1933.

49 Jenks, 1934.

50 Harrington, 1933.

51 Loudermilk, 1931.

Cite This Article

Howard, Edgar B.. "Folsom and Related Artifacts." The Museum Journal XXIV, no. 2-3 (June, 1935): 105-123. Accessed May 26, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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