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Northern Plains Sites & Cultures (General)

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  • Northern Plains Sites & Cultures (General)

    Paleo Evidence on the High Plains
    Tom Westfall, Sterling, Colorado
    Originally published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.57, No.1, pg.24

    The High Plains of eastern Colorado and western Nebraska between the North Platte and the Arkansas Rivers was heavily used by Paleoindians. At the end of the Pleistocene era, the glaciers began receding, leaving the region with abundant water and a climate conducive to the development of the short-grass prairie.

    The megafauna—mammoth, camel, and bison antiquus, and others—which existed during the Pleistocene era, soon gave way to growing herds of bison. The land teemed with a variety of plant and animal life which sustained a largely nomadic population of ancient sojourners.

    Well-developed trade routes must have existed, because many of the artifacts found in this region are made of exotic lithics which were traded into the area, including Alibates, Knife River Flint, Hartville Uplift Jasper and others. Paleoindians seemed to place a premium on the use of high quality lithics, and the stone projectile points from the Paleoindian time period are a testament to this value.

    Many types of Paleoindian points have been found in this region, including Clovis, Folsom, Goshen, Allen, Eden, Scottsbluff, Agate Basin, Hell Gap, and others. Local lithic sources include a wide variety of "White River Group Chalcedonies" which includes Flattop Chalcedony, a beautiful stone which outcrops in Logan County, Colorado, and has turned up in sites more than seven hundred miles away. Silicified wood is another prominent stone that was anciently used, along with several types of jasper, including Upper Republican (Niobrara).

    Generally speaking, lithic was at a premium on the High Plains, and many of the projectile points which have been recovered show significant signs of having been heavily resharpened. It is extremely rare to find a "first stage" or unresharpened Paleoindian projectile point. Although there are a few, people who purchase artifacts should be extremely leery of Paleoindian points that show no signs of having been resharpened. Lithic sources were widely scattered, and if a group of people was following a herd of bison, it might take them a considerable amount of time to work their way back to a good lithic source.

    There are a number of Paleoindian sites in this region, many of which were originally discovered during the 1930's when poor farming practices and extended drought witnessed the devastation of the prairie. In the wake of this destruction, which witnessed large "blowouts" occurring in the abundant dune fields, thousands of artifacts were found, including many Paleoindian projectile points.

    A second "round" of discovery occurred in the mid-1970's when the Ogallala Aquifer was first recognized as a water resource for the arid plains. Large "tail-water" pits were dug, most often in the lowest area of a cultivated field, which happened to correspond with ancient "buffalo wallows," as they were termed by the old-timers. Digging out these pits with backhoes uncovered the skeletal remains of mammoth and other animals, and included a number of Paleoindian kill site discoveries.
    In more recent times, artifact collectors who seek evidence of Paleoindians must hunt draws, creek drainages and the river gravels where ancient artifacts may still be found. Farming practices, including "no-till" and CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) have put a significant dent in the number of artifacts being found in farming regions of the High Plains.

    The projectile points in the picture ( Figure 1.) represent the "best of the best" in the Westfall Family Artifact Collection and have been found over the past forty-five years by various members of the family and their friends who have walked literally thousands of miles and floated hundreds more in the North and South Platte Rivers.

    Figure 1. "The Best of the Best"

    Note: There are still some wonderful treasures to be uncovered. Five of the points pictured were found in the past six weeks, including my wife's first perfect Folsom!

    Used by permission of the publisher
    To learn more about or to join the Central States Archaeological Society, click here:
    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
    Archaeology of the High Plains

    Here’s a link to download “Archaeology of the High Plains” by James H. Gunnerson, published in 1987 by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Office (pdf and other formats):

    It’s an extensive 330 page document covering the paleo period through to the historic period but a slow download since it’s 22MB as a pdf file.
    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.