Neponset Paleoindian Preform

Contributed by Quinn Rosefsky

While most of us have seen “arrowheads,” making sense of the complex world of Paleoindian lithic points is a challenge. The process of manufacture, flint knapping: the shaping of flint, chert, obsidian or other conchoidal fracturing stone through the process of lithic reduction (using a hand-tool pressure-flaking process) demonstrates a highly-advanced knowledge of how flint fractures when struck in specific locations on its surface. That the process has been in use for over 10,000 years commands respect for the fine hand coordination, skill, and thought-processes of individuals using this tool-making method. The example we are examining, a Neponset preform, is representative of the post-Clovis Folsom era.

Paleoindian biface from Neponset site, Massachusetts

About 12,000 years ago on the sandy shoreline of a partially drained glacial lake near what is now Canton, Massachusetts, a flint knapper, a Paleoindian using flint from Mt. Jasper over two hundred miles away in New Hampshire, stopped work on our preform. We can presume that something had gone wrong, resulting in the flint fracturing before it could be transformed into a tool, a projectile point, specifically a spear point. Call it quality control.

New England had three distinct point styles, each named after sites where they were found: Bull Brook, Neponset, and Nicholas. Materials came from three major sources: Munsungan, Maine (chert); Mt. Jasper, New Hampshire (rhyolite); and Hathaway, Vermont (chert). The Neponset site was found at the time of construction of a segment of I-95 not far from Canton. The work done by Stanley Buzarewicz, first in the early 1970s, and then in conjunction with Fred Carty in the late 1970s and early 1980s, yielded a variety of artifacts. In a 100 square meter area the archaeologists found ten fluted points and fragments; two miniature points and drills; thirty channel flakes and fragments; ten bifaces including preforms and fragments; eight leaf-shaped bifaces; and three biface edge fragments.

The findings were thoroughly categorized, including channel flakes because these provided direct evidence that a fluted channel had been created. Fluting refers to distinctive channels knapped into both the obverse and reverse of the point. The ones found at Neponset are distinguished from fluted points found at Bull Brook and Nicholas by stylistic elements. Neponset flutes run more than half the length of the point; have an average length of 6 cm; and are slightly tapered towards the base with flared ears.

The preform point, excavated on May 26, 1979, was described in Fred Carty and Arthur Spiess’s article The Neponset Paleoindian Site in Massachusetts published in Archaeology of Eastern North America, Vol 20 (Fall 1992, pp. 19-37). Made from Neponset rhyolite, it is a dark gray, glassy, nearly opaque material.  In these two pieces—now glued together making it whole again—this specimen was the largest preform found at the Neponset site, weighting 30.31 grams.  It measures 106.2 mm long, 36.6 mm wide at the widest point, and has a 6.2 mm deep basal indentation. The specimen was a final stage preform, meaning it had not yet reached the point where its maker would add the flute and finish its base. For whatever reason the point never reached its final form, we are witnesses to that moment in time, over 10,000 years ago, when a living person made the conscious decision not to complete a task.

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