Exploring Archaeology



About: Retired--doing important stuff in my garage.

Experimental Archaeology with science reading, a pocket knife and some simple stuff.

Step 1: The Clovis Fluted Projectile Point Open Haft Spear

The Open Haft Spear (OHS) theory for the purpose of the Clovis Fluted Projectile Point (CFPP)


This paper presents my theory as to why the Clovis folk created the projectile point with the longitudinal flake or flute, the Clovis Fluted Projectile Point or CFPP. I am not a scientific archaeologist or even an amateur. I do, however, like to read about archaeology. I have been reading lately about the Clovis folk and I have read deeply about the CFPP and the many facts about the flute and the unknowns.

I have given it some thought and I believe I have come up with a pretty good idea about the flute--the why of it.

A scaled model was used to test my theory and I concluded that the flute was used to center the spear point into what I call the Open Haft Spear (OHS).

In this paper I will state what I know about the CFPP from my research so later when I develop my theory of the OHS you will see the context of my considerations. With the scale model made with analogous material, I will show how the OHS works and describe analogous testing. I will then make inferences based on my readings, the scale model performance and Clovis Culture artifacts to further bolster the OHS.

What I know about the CFPP

1. The CFPP is the hallmark of a Clovis Culture that began to spread across North America some 1300 years ago. The CFPP is a pressure flaked stone spear point with a lanceolate shape and a strong basal notch. The detail of the CFPP that draws the most questions is the center channel flute. This is created with a risky hammer stroke. There are estimates of 1 in 5 points being rendered useless by a bad strike. So the question is always why would the Clovis flint knapper chance ruining the spear point to put in a flute that serves no known purpose. During the 500 years of the Clovis many styles of projectile point were made without the Clovis type flute. This indicates that the flute was not necessary for hafting of a spear point.

2. There is also diversity of thought on the purpose of the flute. Engineering Studies have found that the flute distributes the shock of the CFPP hitting a target (especially bone) across the spear point in a way that lessens impact damage.

3. Other theories include a blood groove to help bleed the beast or make it easier for the spear point to be pulled from an animal or to aid in aerodynamic flight or because of some unknowable sacrament.

4. There is scant evidence of how a CFPP was hafted.

5. The obvious purpose is in hafting the spear point to a shaft. This I will show is the reason for the flute; that it is one part of a hafting system that offers many advantages to Clovis hunters.

Scale modeling and testing of the OHS

The pictures above show a scale model of about two inches equals one foot--for a scaled seven-foot spear--point and all. When I conceived of OHS I saw a hafting system with pieces of long bone carved into a dowel or pressure dowel holding the spear point firmly against the flute or groove, and at a right angle to the target (see photos above). Also, an integral part of the OHS is the strongback area on the spear where the basal notch makes contact. The basal notch and the pressure dowels allow the hunter to thrust deep into the beast. The hunter could then easily pull the spear out by leaving the point behind, then instantly re-pointing the spear with a new point pulled from a pouch at the hunter’s hip and impaling the beast again.

My model is constructed with modern material analogous to what would be available to Clovis folk: a willow branch for a stout wooden shaft, pieces of shaped plastic to represent stone and bone, and thread and felt to be leather and twine. The majority of my OHS model was hand fitted using a Swiss Army Knife.

What I hoped to prove with the model OHS was to show the many advantages the OHS gives the Clovis hunter. It gives the ability to strike the beast at a distance allowing the spear point to remain in the beast. With the OHS shaft easily pulled from the now angry and moving large animal the hunter can remain at a safer distance and quickly slip in a fresh spear point into the now empty haft or the Open Haft.

Archaeologists give various depictions of the Paleolithic hunt. In general they describe chaotic scenes with the hunters’ spears either thrown or lanced into some beast, with the hunters falling back empty handed to re-arm or reserve hunters coming into the fray.

At least that is how all those neat dioramas at the Natural History Museum show it.

I believe that in these hunting conditions a cord hafted spear point fixed to the spear or a Closed Haft Spear (CHS) would often be lost or damaged. The OHS would greatly increase survivability of the spear and its components. With CHS in its side the beast rolls and contorts, trying to reach its attacker as it thrashes and falls to the ground in death throe. Damage to both the point and shaft is certain.

With the OHS point separated from the spear and embedded in the ribs between muscle and bone the point would not receive the stress that a point more or less stationary yet connected to a violently moving shaft would suffer. The CHS spear would also be damaged in the violence or lost as a wounded animal runs away or a beast not willing to die chases the hunter away.

The model performed as I thought it would. That is, I expected that the scaled down OHS would be able to pierce a piece of fruit and when the shaft is pulled from the fruit the spear point would remain. The then empty haft was re-pointed and again used to pierce the fruit and when removed from the analogous beast the second point would remain behind. The Clovis folk would collect points at the butchering. I removed the points and ate the dry and hard skinned orange. I believe the model performed the analogy well.

How I found the OHS in Reading about the Clovis Folk

Here are several conclusions I have drawn from reading about the archaeology and artifacts of the Clovis folk, my model testing and a lot of inference. First, I have noted how little evidence there is of how CFPP was hafted. This is what started me on this line of thought. I could not find any report or images of artifacts of a hafted CFPP, only drawings of what science theorizes what the hafting looked like or modern reproductions of a Clovis spear.

The closest I found was a paragraph long description of a Clovis age spear with a “hafted component.” The description led me to believe that the bone component was not a projectile point. If it was not a spear point then it had to be part of the haft. It was in wondering what this component looked like that I conceived the OHS.

Found in the assemblage of many Clovis cash sites are rods made of ivory or bone. I submit that some these rods are part of another design of OHS or an Open Socket Spear. The OSS gives the same benefits to the hunter. The Clovis Hunter would haft the spear point onto the short ivory rod or the fore shaft which would then would fit in a tight but releasable socket. Some added benefit of the OSS over the OHS is that it would be better able to keep the point at a right angle to the target--especially a moving beast. And the spear point hafted on the short rod would serve well as a hand cutting tool. I also see in the OHS and OSS the antecedent to the later Atlatl Dart and Harpoon.

Pictures and drawings of these rods show some that are shaped in a way that would not be conducive to be used as the foreshaft of the OSS. I believe that these rods were used as the Pressure Dowels of the OHS. One problem with the OHS is as the tip of the spear pierces the hide of a moving beast, a lateral movement along the plain of the haft could cause the point to slide out of the pressure dowels thus inflicting little damage to the prey. I believe the skilled hunter would know the best way to hold the spear and understand lines of attack so that this risk would be minimized.

I read with interest the reevaluation of the Clovis folk as general hunters and not the big game specialists which past understanding held. Bone finds in butchering sites and hearths show a diversity of protein sources. The OHS would make it easy for the hunter to re-point as landscape and prey changed. Think of the advantage of OHS to Clovis folk as they walked across the continent.

They only needed to carry one spear with several points in a pouch, points designed for specific hunting needs. Now consider the CHS with a need to carry several spears for the hunt, the possible need to change the spear points because of a lack of primary prey. And remember the damage done to the CHS during the hunt would need to be repaired after each hunt--not so much with the OHS.

One CFPP was found with mastic on the basal element for what is thought to be a traditional CHS, but this glue could also be the adhesive that may have been used to fix a strip of hide in the flute as a bearing surface to smooth out uneven channels. My model test showed that a leather strip could close the fit of the pressure dowels. The closer the fit the less pressure is needed to lock the point in place. This leather bearing would help in getting deeper penetration and a smoother release.


At this point I realized that my ideas here are just creating more questions and ideas. How do I test this theory? Can I look at a fractured CFPP and tell if it broke at impact or was snapped while attached to a CHS--in the side of a writhing beast. Even answers that might come from testing an OHS, built as the Clovis may have made it, would only start a new line of questioning. An artifact is the only proof. As I said I am not an archaeologist, not even a dilettante. I hope that there is an archaeologist perhaps in Montana at an ancient stream bed, scraping away with a trowel at a layer of culture looking for pieces of the Pleistocene; or a grad student surveying a dry and dusty site on a high desert in Colorado searching for that leaf shaped stone with a clever flute. Or perhaps a curator will open a forgotten Clovis collection and find a preserved spear with enough preserved bone to identify the OHS. Again I would like to state that I am no scientist. I believe that most of what I have written about the Clovis is fairly well known and the rest is just my notions.

The following is a list of some material I read and used for this project.

The Archaeology of Colorado E. Steve Cassells Johnson Books: Boulder, Colorado 1983

Archaeological Theory: An Introduction Matthew Johnson Blackwell Publishing 1999



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