As Curator of Archaeology at the Stovall Museum or as archaeologist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, I am frequently asked about or receive letters regarding the identification of various Indian artifacts. General questions are asked in efforts to identify the object: What was it used for? How old might it be? What Indian tribe made it? How was it made?
Where are they found? While the answers to such questions are not always easy and are frequently subject to controversy, I felt that some general information, with illustrations, of typical Indian artifacts that have been found in Oklahoma would be a useful source of information to interested individuals.
In the following pages I have selected a variety of artifacts for illustration and have offered some brief general comments regarding the artifacts. I have purposely avoided citing references but have included a brief selected bibliography for those individuals who might wish to do some additional reading on specific kinds of artifacts. In selecting the items for illustration and discussion I have also omitted a number of artifacts which are very rare in Oklahoma, for example, monolithic axes, flint maces, stone spuds, effigy pipes, copper hawk plates, discoidals, and others. I had greater interest in the more common artifacts or those which have been more subject to questions about identification.
With a single exception, all illustrated specimens are in the University of Oklahoma Stovall museum archaeological collections. The single exception is one of the corner tanged knives (Figure 4a) which belongs to Mr. Ralph W. White of Guymon, Oklahoma, who provided a photograph of this specimen. All of the illustrated specimens, with three exceptions, were found in Oklahoma. These exceptions are from adjacent states but are similar to artifacts found in Oklahoma.
There are numerous alternatives in classification and how artifacts are grouped is arbitrary depending upon what one plans to do with the data. Many archaeologists group archaeological materials into such classes as chipped stone, ground and polished stone, bone, shell, clay, etc. I have also followed this procedure by discussing each of the artifacts representing these various materials. Doing this, however, presents some difficulties as we find pipes made of stone and of clay; hence, using this type of classification, they are not discussed together under the heading Pipes, but rather under Stone Pipes and Clay Pipes. Some archaeologists would group all pipes together regardless of the material from which they were made.
Other groupings such as those followed by the ethnographer are sometimes used. In such cases artifacts associated with hunting, for example, would be classed together, or items associated with household activities might form an artifact cluster. I have chosen the flint, ground stone, bone, shell, clay system for identification convenience.
I have also accepted a functional designation for the various artifacts. Such terms as arrowhead, drill, knife, awl, etc., imply the function of the artifact concerned and I have used such terms freely. A number of archaeologists, however, object to this system and use only descriptive terms to avoid any functional implication. They would classify chipped flint items such as projectile points, knives, chipped hoes, etc., as bifaces. The bifaces would be divided according to other characteristics such as form, size, etc., so that a projectile point, for example, might be classed as a flint biface 2:b, whereas a flint knife might be classed as a biface 4:CI. I view such systems as useful for analysis but awkward and detrimental to easy communication. It is also worthwhile to note, however, that some archaeologists who are reluctant to use functional terms for artifacts are quite willing to speculate and postulate theories regarding social organization, family organization, marriage customs, etc.
I have mentioned a number of archaeological time periods or phases to indicate the general dates when certain artifacts were in use. Although these are common terms for Oklahoma archaeology, a general time period for these should be included here to help place this material in a broad framework. I need to point out, however, that although we have a large number of radiocarbon dates for sites in Oklahoma, we are still ignorant about when some of these occupations started or ended. The suggested dates are only reasonable approximations to provide a rough chronological framework.
This refers to the oldest Indian material associated with big game hunting and extinct animals. It starts at least before 20,000 years ago and continues up to approximately 5000 BC. The Clovis and Folsom assemblages are typical of this period and date around 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.
This refers to an early forest adaptation prior to the appearance of agriculture and ceramics. It ranges from perhaps 9000 BC or earlier up to the birth of Christ. Divisions in the Archaic are commonly made with Early Archaic ranging from around 9000 BC up to 5000 or 4000 BC. Middle Archaic ranges from around 4000 BC up to 2000 or 1500 BC, and Late Archaic ranges from around 2000 BC or 1500 BC up to the birth of Christ.
The Woodland period is believed to range from around the birth of Christ up to about AD 800. It is commonly subdivided into Early, Middle, and Late phases.
An early pottery period in eastern Oklahoma dating approximately from around the birth of Christ up to around AD 800.
This includes the Custer focus, Washita River focus, Antelope Creek aspect, and Henrietta focus and dates around AD 900 to AD 1400.
This includes the Harlan phase from approximately AD 800 or AD 900 to AD 1200; the Spiro phase from AD 1200 to AD 1350 or AD 1400; and the Fort Coffee phase from AD 1400 to AD 1600. Fourche Maline appears to be a developmental Caddoan occupation.
This refers to early Wichita 1ndian occupations found in Kay County, Oklahoma
and along the Red river in Jefferson County. It dates from the 18th century.