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Clovis Point Fakes

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  • Clovis Point Fakes

    Experimentation led to Discovery
    Col. John F Berner
    Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol. 57, No.1, pg.18

    Lithic reproductionists, commonly referred to as flintknappers have nearly perfected the replication of Clovis paleo forms. Since the 1980's, ascending prices for ancient authentic specimens has driven a new market for authentic appearing replicas. The privileged few whose financial availability is not limited, willingly invest large sums to secure genuine, authentic artifacts. I have always sought items of authenticity. Undaunted by limits of income I sought refuge by enjoying the collections of friends and acquaintances. Thirty years ago, I began to experiment with flint knapping. I learned hard hammers and soft hammers for percussion flaking. I used an antler tine to pressure flake. I learned how to set up a platform by dulling the edge in order to remove the next flake. I always finished each exercise by destroying my work and depositing it in a landfill.

    In Warren County, Ohio 1968, I discovered an Adena flint knapper's tool kit containing stub antler flakers, bone awl flakers and several small sandstone abraders. I tried a small sandstone abrader to polish the bases of my modern projectiles and remove unwanted loose flakes. Comparing my meager attempts to those more proficient than myself (under microscopic examination) I quickly recognized that my work did not compare favorably with that of the ancient knappers.

    About 12 years ago at the annual Owensboro show in Kentucky, a proficient knapper from the North East filled an eight foot table with hundreds of impressive fluted Clovis reproductions. Each measured from 2 ¾ " up to 4 ½ " in length and priced his work at $10 per inch. I inquired how he removed loose hinge flakes and he stated that he used a quartz ball. When asked how he polished the stem and bases, he again said the quartz ball. What he was talking about was applying a small hammerstone of quartzite to reduce the sharpness of the edges and faces of his points.

    At top, a real Clovis Point is on the left. It is 3 inches in length. It is made from Bailey Chert and was found by Dan Figgins on the Malden Plain, Dunklin County, Missouri. The point on the right, was made by a knapper in 1999 who lives in Connecticut. It has been artificially aged in an attempt to deceive. This particular knapper has claimed he can fool every living authenticator. Don't let his work or that of other modern knappers fool you.

    Selectlng a small quartzite hammerstone, I experimented and again compared the results under a microscope; but my disappointment was the same. My efforts compared favorably to that of the modern knappers, but it did not match ancient artifact work.

    Over the next several years, I tried a number of techniques. I had noticed at knap-ins, most knappers used segments of modern grinding wheels to dull projectile bases and stems. I didn't try that method as I knew that such tools were simply not available in ancient prehistoric times.

    Undaunted by my failure to duplicate that of the ancients, I tried a variety of other abrading materials without success.

    After reading a professional report mentioning the finding of strange wear patterns on flint debitage flakes found at a Paleo site, I became curious. Flint is a much harder substance than was used on other experiments. So I removed several lamellar flakes from a flint core and used them to abrade the stem and basal areas of an experimental projectile. The feel was similar to that of an ancient Clovis point, but how would it compare under microscopic examination?

    I used a trinocular 45x scope with a video camera assigned to the third port, connected to a color CRT which increases the image to about 150x. Comparing the recently abraded flint experiment to ancient Paleo projectiles provided an answer I had sought for more than thirty years. Why not?

    Ancient man need not have carried an extensive tool kit, as material needed to polish the base and stem of projectiles was there, available in his debitage pile!

    The story does not end here. Not only must you choose the right substance, you must use that material in a way so the finished base and stem won't cut the hafting that secures a projectile to the shaft.

    A friend who specializes in Paleo noticed that the polish on the projectile stems of ancient Paleo points was always perpendicular to the base.

    He had noted that both the grinding and polish was "up, over and down". This would indeed prevent cutting the hafting. Several years ago, a respected authenticator argued with me that the direction of the polish should be parallel to the stem. So much for that! A knapper/collector who does not sell his experiments, advised me that all authentic Clovis projectiles will also feature a small pressure removed flake from the base of the fluted area, and this reduction is polished. Its purpose is to assist guiding the fluted projectile onto the mounting shaft. Every genuine authentic Clovis point should have this feature, and if it doesn't, it probably is not real!

    Some may fault that sharing these secrets could aid dishonest knappers. However, with this newly acquired knowledge, some serious collectors might recognize the differences between the good, bad and the ugly. And it also may make it more difficult for the dishonest to sell previously knapped Clovis reproductions that were incorrectly manufactured.

    I am proud to state that I was the first person in modern history to expose frauds through my 304 page book entitled "American Indian artifacts, genuine or reproduction" published in 2001.

    This experimentation that led to discovery has been enlightening to say the least, and certainly worthwhile to me as now I might recognize the difference between real and fraudulent. Thanks for listening.

    Used by permission of the publisher
    To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here:
    Last edited by painshill; 01-27-2016, 03:19 PM.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

  • #2
    Authentic Clovis points in private & museum collections
    Col. John F. Berner, Roswell, Georgia

    It has been estimated by professional archaeologists in United States that the average flint knapper can produce about 500 to 2500 flint reproductions per year. With more than 500 active knappers throughout the 48 states, that equates to about 25,000 to 125,000 new reproductions every year. Unfortunately with 167 “authenticators” at present, about 10,000 to 20,000 COA’s are also produced to accompany this spurious inventory.

    It is fact that authentic Clovis points identified and registered throughout our 48 states is limited to 12,790 specimens. And they average approximately 2 ½ “ to 3” in length, 68 percent of which have been discovered east of the Mississippi River; including over 1000 in Northern Alabama along the drainage of the Tennessee River. The balance of Clovis points known have been documented in the Western states including Minnesota. Erosion and human expansion continue to uncover remnants of the past, but numbers of discovery continue to decline.

    The significance? Desire to own a piece of our ancient past continues to drive the authentic collector market with increasing values. And the reproduction market for attractive colorful and significantly large Clovis type projectiles continues to escalate.

    Regarding the availability of colorful Clovis type projectiles, it can be proven that ancient Paleo makers did not heat treat their tool stone. Heat treating is a physical method that produces strong vibrant colors in flint projectiles. Paleo people sought the highest qualities of raw materials to fashion their weapons, choosing flint and chert that is mundane in color. For example, in the midwest quality white burlington flint chosen for ancient Clovis is always the highest grade, as is the popular gray hornstone from Illinois and Indiana and Kentucky.

    One of the foremost identifiers of authentic Clovis specimens was the late Gregory Perino who published 3 volumes identifying varieties of flint types, each specimen carefully documented and hand illustrated. Large and fine collector specimens exhibited in publications and elsewhere with exotic coloration and workmanship were nowhere to be found. Why ?

    A particular “authenticator/dealer” currently on the web always features a dozen and a half large Clovis types of colorful material; available at bargain prices; most are seriously suspect!

    Another prominent authenticator COA’d an unusual huge fluted point of a size never before seen; proclaiming it exhibited three layers of patina. Would not each successive layer have covered the previous layer?

    An authenticator from the west now authenticates any form of stone world wide; as well as Florida types, midwestern types, etc. Would it be a good idea for him to visit a few regional collectors and study some of their field specimens?  Just in case the idea of 4”, 5” and 6” plus Clovis points are not a serious concern; think how many appeared in the Payne collection of the 1930’s. That included 8 railroad box cars of artifacts, still some of which is being sold today!

    In case we forgot, the majority of marketable large and pretty Clovis types are generally without blemish; obviously they were lost before usage? And no nicks or damage!
    If we were to hypothesize, just what percentage of large, fine colorful Clovis in the market are authentic, real and ancient? It’s mere speculation but we would like to think less than 10%! Then perhaps we would like to ask you, just how many authentic ones do you think are in your collection or your local museum display?

    Duplicated from the “Resources” section of and reproduced with permission.
    Last edited by painshill; 01-27-2016, 03:20 PM.
    I keep six honest serving-men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.