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allaboutarchaeology3 time frames Douglas Complex Soloman River Phase complexes in Kansas stone used in the past describe points radiocarbon dating rock art all about pottery lesson plans for archaeology



Time Frames in Kansas Prehistory

            The time periods listed here are intended to be purely chronological in nature rather than units that reflect cultural changes. However, we use the traditional names for various periods, names that have come to have cultural meanings for many.  PaleoIndian and Archaic are such terms. They are in such widespread use that it would be futile to try to change them now, but people familiar with the cultural implications should realize that in eastern Kansas there is a long temporal overlap between the PaleoIndian and Archaic ways of life (both are described below). 


            We have chosen to follow the time periods proposed in the Kansas state plan for archaeology, with small modifications. First, we have subdivided the Archaic period into three units.  We have also subdivided the Early Ceramic into Middle Woodland and Late Woodland periods.  Finally, we redefine some time periods slightly where recent evidence suggests that the dividing points should be moved.


PaleoIndian:    11,000 - 6,850 BC           11,350- 8,000 BP

            Although a few pre-Clovis sites have been proposed in this region, there is as yet no strong evidence in Kansas for human occupation before Clovis at 11,000 B.C. The earliest inhabitants appear to have lived in small mobile bands and to have hunted large herd animals. This way of life lasted until around 6,850 BC in the western part of the state, but in the east a different (Archaic) pattern emerges after 9,500 BC. The period comes to a close with the gradual onset of a period of warmer and drier climate called the Altithermal.


Archaic                       6,850-15 BC      8,000 BP-2,000 BP


Early Archaic 6,850-4,900 BC                      8,000-6,000 BP

            This time period coincides roughly with the climatic episode known as the Altithermal. This was a period of elevated temperatures worldwide and of reduced precipitation over at least part of the plains. At the Muscotah marsh in northeastern Kansas, there is no tree pollen present at the peak of the Altithermal. 

            Only a few Altithermal sites are known to be present in Kansas, a result of reduced populations and widespread erosion that destroyed many sites and buried others deeply. Two recent studies of collections in western Kansas failed to document any point types of this time period. In the northeastern part of the state, however, there are sites attributed to the Logan Creek complex which dates to this time period. The Stigenwald site in southeastern Kansas also is Altithermal in age. It and many Logan Creek sites occur buried in colluvial fans at the edges of stream valleys.

Middle Archaic                      4,900-2,490 BC            6,000-4,000 BP

            The beginning of the Middle Archaic coincides roughly with the end of the Altithermal episode and with the reappearance of sites across much of Kansas. East of Kansas, people were beginning to rely heavily on plant seeds for subsistence, and this eventually resulted in domestication of many such species. In eastern Kansas, sites contain numerous axes and adzes that may have been used to kills trees to open up areas for planting seeds, but there is no direct evidence yet for domestica-tion in this time period.


Late Archaic              2,490-15 BC      4,000-2,000 BP

            The Late Archaic is marked by increasingly sedentary ways of life and hints of long-distance exchange. The earliest pottery vessels show up in the northeastern part of the state.  This period includes the time frame from 3,000-2,000 BP that is included in the Early Woodland period east of Kansas.  Here, however, there are only scant traces of the pottery that marks this time period in the East.


Early Ceramic                        15 BC-AD 1000            2,000-1,000 BP

            As the name implies, the Early Ceramic period marks the widespread appearance of ceramic vessels across much of Kansas. Subsistence appears to have been primarily by hunting, gathering and fishing, although a few seed crops may have been used to provide storable food.  Settlements include base camps and short-term camps. 


Middle Woodland       15 BC-AD 550              2,000-1,500 BP

            The Middle Woodland period is marked by the Hopewellian Interaction sphere in the eastern Woodlands – with an abundance of exotic materials used for ceremonial purposes.  In Kansas, Hopewellian traits are limited to ceramic designs, a few special-purpose bladelets, and a small number of exotic items.  The period of intensive interactions did not last for the whole of the Middle Woodland period, so not all Middle Woodland sites have Hopewellian objects in them.  What is more, there were Middle Woodland populations that remained at a remove from the interaction, and this may have included some pottery-making groups in Kansas.


Middle Ceramic vessels tend to have thick walls and plentiful temper.  The cord marking on exterior vessel surfaces was produced by rolling a cord-wrapped stick across the vessel, usually in a vertical or diagonal direction.  A few vessels have cord marking on the interior, always applied horizontally because of the conical shape of the vessels.  Not all Middle Woodland vessels in Kansas were cord marked; smooth-surfaced vessels are also present.


Late Woodland                       AD 550-1005    1,500-1,000 BP

            The Late Woodland period is marked by a shift in ceramic manufacturing to the paddle and anvil technique that produces a denser paste usually with sparser temper and a different form of cord roughening on vessel surfaces. Toward the end of this period, the evidence for horticulture increases, at least in the eastern half of the state, and the end of the period is marked by a major shift toward growing crops.  Arrow points begin to occur during this time frame, and by the end of it, they have completely replaced spear and dart points.


Middle Ceramic                     AD 1005-1350            1000-590 BP

            In this time period, there was a substantial change in how people lived that involved a much greater investment in growing crops combined with year-round farmsteads.  The settlement pattern is dispersed, and farmsteads lay at some distance from one another, except in the Bluff Creek phase.    The Soloman River Phase is another example of this time period.


Late Ceramic             AD 1350-1725                    590-130 BP

            This period begins with the abandonment of the region by most of the populations that had lived here previously, followed by movements of people from the east and south. These populations lived in substantial villages and population clusters and obtained a good deal of their meat during long-distance bison hunts.  An example of this time period is the Great Bend Aspect.



Historic                                               AD1541-present

There is a substantial time lag between the first contact with Europeans and substantial changes in Native American lifeways.  In 1719, trade contacts with French Louisiana were established that led to changes in material culture, and prior to this, raiding for slaves had become commonplace. We do not know when the first Old World epidemic diseases struck Kansas, but judging from evidence elsewhere in the Plains, it was probably in the 17th century.


            New tribes entered Kansas in this period, including the Kansa and Osage from the east and the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux from the north. Other eastern tribes were moved to reservations in the eastern part of the state, but eventually most of them were forced to move to Oklahoma. 


            European infiltration began with itinerant traders and then with the establishment of forts, trading posts, towns, farms, railroads and cattle and wagon trails. 



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Radiocarbon Dating more to be added

BP Date Conversion


            BP stands for radiocarbon years Before Present, with “present” defined as AD 1950, the approximate date of the invention of radiocarbon dating. BP is used because radiocarbon years are only an estimate of the age of an item based on how much radioactive carbon it still contains. 14C or radiocarbon is lost  at a very predictable rate after an organism dies, but the amount present in living things has varied over time, making radiocarbon years differ from calendar years.


            To fix this problem radiocarbon dates are calibrated against the ages of samples of known age, usually tree rings (tf01). The following chart is offered as a rough guide to the differences between BP (radiocarbon) and AD/BC (calendar) dates. It is only a rough guide, because many of the variations in the amount of radiocarbon lasted for less than 100 years. 

 radiocarbon dating radiocarbon calibration curve  

You can get more advanced information about radiocarbon dating by pressing this button (3E).


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Archaeological complexes in Kansas

complexes Soloman River Complex
complexes2 Great Bend Complex

1939 Map of Trails in Kansas that identifies the location of counties that Archaeological Sites are found

kansas trails

14RC424artifacts.html 14MP567artifacts.html 14BU404 Chase County artifacts Return to the top of the page

About the Kinds of Stone

This section of the Kansas Artifacts web page describes the various kinds of stone used for making artifacts.  General geological terms used here are defined in the glossary.


On naming stone sources:


            In Kansas, the preference of professional archaeologists is to name a lithic type (kind of stone) for the geologic source from which it derives. This can be either very general or quite specific. If a precise source is not known, one can use the geologic era in which the bedrock formed. Thus all of the cherts from the Flint Hills are Permian in age, while those that outcrop further east are Pennsylvanian.


            When a type of stone can be attributed more specifically, the names of geologic formations or members within a formation are used. Thus the highly distinctive Smoky Hill jasper derives from the Smoky Hill member of the Niobrara formation of Cretaceous age. 

Map of Stone sources in Kansas (ss01)


Argentine chert

This dark-colored, highly fossiliferous chert outcrops in eastern Kansas.  It is usually of fairly low quality, but local peoples made use of it for chipped stone tools.  The background color can be gray or brown; the fossil inclusions are usually white (SS54).


Cheyenne quartzite

This is a chippable quartzite that occurs as concretions within a few outcrops of the Cheyenne sandstone in southern Kansas (image needed).


Dakota quartzite

The Dakota sandstone contains occasional well-cemented concretions, most of which are not suitable for chipped stone tools. There is one deposit on the Little Arkansas River that was used in spite of its coarse texture.  There are some sources south and west of Kansas that are fine-grained (image needed).


Dakota sandstone

A compact sandstone that outcrops in the Smoky Hill region in Kansas and elsewhere in the Great Plains.  It was used frequently as an abrading tool.  Colors range from red to brown to yellow (SS03).


Day Creek chalcedony

This is a lesser source that outcrops in the high hills near Ashland, Kansas. It also outcrops in adjacent portions of Oklahoma. Some Day Creek chalcedony is similar in appearance to Alibates chert, and it derives from an isolated outcrop of the same geologic formation. It differs from Alibates in that much of it is translucent, and while not every piece of Day Creek can be differentiated from Alibates, the presence of translucent pieces and sections of larger pieces shouts Day Creek (SS04).



A dark-colored gray to greenish rock that is found as cobbles in the glacial drift of northeastern Kansas that was used to make ground stone celts (SS05) and other ground stone tools.


Flint Hills green

This is a nickname for a greenish tinted variant of one of the Permian aged cherts of the Flint Hills.  This variety is fairly common in early sites, up to and including the Early Ceramic (SS51)


Florence A chert

The Florence limestone which outcrops in the Flint Hills produces a variety of cherts. The southernmost identifiable variant is Florence A. The raw stone has a somewhat yellowish cast with coarse banding in the outer portions of nodules and pale gray in the interiors. After heat treatment, the yellowish portions turn pink. Fusilinid fossils, shaped like miniature footballs, help to distinguish it, as do fine wavy bands that look like fingerprints. Kay County chert is a nickname for this stone (SS06)


Florence B chert

This variety of Florence chert is found in the southern Flint Hills.  It is most commonly seen in sites east of Wichita. The mass of the chert is dense and fairly dark, from gray to brown.  Some is distinguished by scattered white algal bodies in the chert (SS07).


Florence C chert

This is the most common variant of Florence chert. It comes in a variety of shades of gray and typically has white includsions that are fossil fragments including bryozoans and sponge spicules (SS08)


Florence D chert

This is the most northerly of the distinctive varieties of Florence chert, outcropping north of the Kansas River. Florence D is marked by dark blue banding in the outer portions of the nodules (SS09). End scrapers made from this material have a wide distribution.



This is a red iron oxide that occurs as concretions in a variety of geologic deposits in Kansas (SS10).  A hard, pure, silvery-colored variety is called specular hematite (SS11).  A common soft variety is known as red ocher (SS11a).


Kansas pipestone

A fine-grained reddish stone very similar to catlinite that can be found as cobbles and pebbles in the glacial drift of northeastern Kansas and adjacent states (SS12). It differs from catlinite in containing more quartz and hence in being harder to work. Kansas pipestone was being used to manufacture stone pipes in this region long before catlinite began to show up.


Kay County chert

A nickname for Florence A chert, named for the chert quarries in Kay County, Oklahoma (SS06).



This is a yellow oxide of iron that occurs widely in Kansas (SS46). Some limonite concretions have a hard outer shell and a soft interior. Native Americans sometimes made red paint from limonite by heating it in a fire, which changes the color.


Ogallala Formation

This geologic formation consists of sands and gravels eroded eastward from the Rocky Mountains.  It is a surface deposit over much of the western half of Kansas, and it produced the lag gravels that are present on hilltops as far east as Wichita.  Chippable stone in the Ogallala formation includes silicified sediments, trachite and petrified palm wood


Ogallala palm wood

This is usually a white stone with small dark specks scattered through it (SS59), although a few dark specimens occur (SS56).  It is very light in weight, which is perhaps its most distinguishable feature.  Occasional artifacts of this material are found throughout western Kansas.


Ogallala silicified sediment

The most common chippable stone in the Ogallala formation in Kansas is a silicified sediment that ranges in color from buff to reddish (SS13) to gray. A flake of this material, when held up to a light source, will be seen to contain some “sparkles.”  The gray variety (SS13a) bears a very strong resemblance to what is called Potter chert in Texas (SS37).


Sioux quartzite

A pinkish medium grained quartzite that can be found as cobbles and boulders in the glacial drift of northeastern Kansas and adjacent states (SS14). Used to make manos, mauls and other ground stone artifacts.  The bedrock sources are in southwestern Minnesota and adjacent parts of South Dakota and Iowa.


Smoky Hill jasper

This type of stone is found in outcrops of the Smoky Hill member of the Niobrara chalk formation in northwestern Kansas and southwestern Nebraska. It varies considerably in flaking quality, ranging from fairly soft and chalky in some nodules and outcrops to dense, glossy and hard in others. Commonly, it occurs in relatively thin lenses and this gave prehistoric flintknappers a head start in making bifacial tools. The most common colors range from yellow to caramel brown, but green, black, red and white varieties occur (SS15). The jasper is often banded, and color changes between adjacent bands are abrupt.  Sometimes there is a seam of translucent material between opaque bands.  Heat treatment of the yellow to brown varieties yields reddish tones.  Frequently there are little white inclusions in the stone, and more rarely mossy black dendrites (G74).



A coarse black stone found in lag gravels from the Ogallala formation and used to make chipped stone artifacts.  It is opaque, grainy and black in color. Trachite cobbles develop a thin pale gray patina (SS16).  Trachite is common in the vicinity of Council Bluff Reservoir.


Westerville chert

This Pennsylvanian age chert varies from coarse to fairly fine in texture.  It is usually yellowish-brown in color, and fossil inclusions are sparse. (image needed)


Winterset chert

This is a chert of Pennsylvanian age that outcrops in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. It occurs in various shafes of gray but can be pale brown in some locations. The most distinguishing feature of this chert consists of veins of calcite that give it the geologic nickname of “zebra chert” (image needed).


Westerville chert

This Pennsylvanian age chert from eastern Kansas is usually of low to moderate flaking quality and can be very coarse. It is usually yellowish-brown in color but turns various shades of red with heat treatment. Fossil inclusions are usually sparse, while calcite-filled veins and voids are more common (image needed).


Wreford A chert

One of a variety of cherts from the Wreford formation that outcrops in the Flint Hills. Wreford A is restricted to the southern Flint Hills. It ranges in color from tan through buff to grayish buff (image needed). It has a medium to fine grain.


Wreford B chert

This chert is medium to fine grained and blue-gray to gray in color. Found throughout the Flint Hills, it often contains mottling that is slightly darker than the surrounding stone and usually contains many small white fossil fragments (image needed).


Wreford C chert

This chert from the Wreford formation of the Flint Hills ranges in color from yellow through tan and brown to grayish. It is medium grained in texture with few fossil inclusions (image needed).

Exotic stones found in Kansas sites

Archaeologists use the term exotic for materials that have been carried a long distance to a site. 

map 2


Alibates chert

A high quality chippable stone that outcrops along the Canadian River in the panhandle of Texas. Alibates has a distinctive mottling best described as like bacon rind. It comes in a variety of colors, with white and reddish tones dominating (SS23). Some people call Alibates an agate because of the banding; more properly it is a chert that formed in dolomite.


Bijou Hills quartzite

This is a coarse grennish quartzite that outcrops in northeastern Nebraska and southern South Dakota.  It was commonly used for cutting tools (SS55).


Burlington chert

This Mississippian-age stone outcrops in the general region where  Iowa, Illinois and Missouri meet.  It can be of very high quality, and is most often white (image needed). 



A fine-grained reddish stone that is quarried in southwestern Minnesota. Native Americans used catlinite to make tobacco pipes and a few other artifacts.  It is difficult to distinguish from Kansas pipestone without mineralogical analysis, but some varieties of catlinite are paler in color than Kansas pipestone and may have small bleached spots within the stone (image needed).  It also tends to have a soapier feel than Kansas pipestone.



This is a material that looks something like scoria, which is a volcanic rock filled with little holes like a sponge (image needed).  Clinker is not volcanic in origin, however.  Instead it forms when coal seams catch fire, baking surrounding materials to such high temperatures that gasses are produced, creating a foam.  Erosion eventually resulted in pieces of this material getting into the Missouri River, and the foamy structure made it light enough to float downstream.  Native peoples collected pieces to use as abrading tools.


Crescent Quarry chert

This variation of Burlington chert outcropped near St. Louis. It is very rare in Kansas. It is marked by sudden changed in color and texture within a single piece, making for artifacts with striking appearance (image needed).


Dakota quartzite

In addition to the coarse quartzite concretions found in Kansas, the Dakota formation in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado contains finer-grained well cemented quartzites appropriate for flintknapping  (image needed).


Edwards Plateau chert

This stone, from central Texas, is of extremely high quality. Color varies from nearly white to black and brown; the majority is gray (SS27).


Flattop chalcedony

This stone from northeastern Colorado is translucent and has a pinkish cast (SS28). It is of excellent quality for chipping. Similar and related stone found in adjacent portions of South Dakota and Nebraska is called White River Group chalcedony.


Hartville Uplift chert

This chert from eastern Wyoming is of excellent quality.  Brown in color, it usually has black mottling and dendrites (image needed).


Knife River Flint

Actually a chalcedony that is usually brownish in color similar to root beer, with some more opaque whitish mottling and a tendency to develop a white patina (SS30). Heated pieces of this stone have a somewhat bluish cast. The quarry source for this material is in North Dakota, but cobbles of it are also found in glacial drift in South Dakota.


Nehawka chert

This name is given to a set of Pennsylvanian age cherts that outcrop in southeastern Nebraska and adjacent parts of Iowa (SS31). They are named for the town of Nehawka, near which are bedrock quarries of this material. Nehawka chert is occurs in tones of gray and is often ooilitic (SS48).



This is natural glass produced during the eruption of a continental volcano. Obsidian is easily flaked and produces a very sharp edge (SS32). Obsidians from different sources can be “fingerprinted” by analyzing their trace element composition. Most of the obsidian found in Kansas comes either from the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico or from sources in Wyoming and Idaho.


Peoria variant of Warsaw chert

This is a variety of a Mississippian-age chert that was quarried near the little town of Peoria in northeastern Oklahoma. It is of particular interest in Kansas archaeology because it does not seem to have been used prior to the protohistoric period, when people from some Great Bend villages began using it in large quantities. It is light gray to white in color (SS33), often with a few rust-colored streaks and sometimes contains crinoid stems or the impressions from crinoid stems.


Spanish Diggings quartzite

This material is called Spanish Diggings for the name applied (mistakenly) to the prehistoric quarries from which it derives.  It has excellent flaking qualities and varies in color from beige to burgundy (image needed).


Tecovas jasper

Also called Quitaque chert, this material outcrops along the northeastern edge of the Llano Estacado in the panhandle of Texas. In general appearance, it is similar to Alibates chert, but it frequently contains combinations of deep red and bright yellow (image needed) that are not as common together in Alibates, and it sometimes has small former voids that have been filled with a blue-white material (image needed).



A blue-green to blue mineral composed of hydrated  copper aliminum phosphate (image needed).  The turquoise that occurs in Kansas sites probably derives from sources in New Mexico where it was mined in prehistoric times.




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Projectile Point Attributes


            Describing and classifying North American projectile points requires mastery of the appropriate terminology and the ability to recognize critical attributes. This guide is intended for the use of students at Wichita State University who are beginning their careers in archaeology. It provides a guide to both the terminology and the attributes that are used to distinguish between various point types.


            First, however, a word on point types versus point styles. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that prehistoric flintknappers had one or more particular forms in mind when one views a large set of points from a single component site. What is open to question is whether a particular form of point was simply a response to a set of technological requirements, such as the kind of wood into which the point was inserted and the purpose to which the weapon would be put --  thrusting spear v. throwing spear – (in which case the proper terminology is point type) or whether the makers were using the form to distinguish themselves from neighboring groups (in which case the appropriate terminology is point style). 


            It is my view, based on long experience and a bit of logic, that the various forms encountered on the Great Plains are almost always types rather than styles. For instance, I was able to show that in one particular set of sites, each arrowmaker was producing four different types of side notched arrow points (Blakeslee 1999:XX). Similarly, in spite of having different names applied to them in different regions (Cahokia, Washita, Plains side notched), the same point type can be found from Texas (Mexico, actually) to Canada and from the Rocky Mountains to the east side of the Mississippi River. Clearly, they were not used to distinguish among the various groups who lived in the region.


            Another reason to view the forms as types rather than styles lies in what the finished products looked like once they were attached to the weapon hafts. The glue and binding would obscure the whole lower portion of the point, obscuring most of the attributes that distinguish one form from another. This view of the variation in form may also help to explain why several forms appear first in the Early Archaic of the southeastern United States and then gradually move north and west. This is the time frame in which various species of trees responded to the end of the last glaciation by expanding their range to the north and west from the  Wisconsin period refugium on what is now the continental shelf off of Florida and Georgia. Spread by natural processes such as the activities of birds and squirrels, various species of trees expanded their range at different rates and to different extents, and the first appearance and subsequent expansions of some haft element traits may be tracking the various species of trees whose wood was used for spears.


            Finally, another warning has to do with various projectile point type guides. The older ones are completely hopeless with regard to the ages of the various types, and those intended for buyers of points often feature egregious errors. The best guides available are those by Judge, an experienced flintknapper and a careful scholar.

Size                             Extreme (>15 cm), large (75-150mm), medium(37-75mm), small

                                    Dividing points are arbitrary, and another strategy would to be to use

effective half width or weight to define categories. The intent is to divide specimens into cache blades (usually extreme in size), spear, dart and arrow points. Length cannot be measured readily on badly broken specimens, but in cases where only the blade is broken, point size sometimes can be estimated from 1) examination of the haft element, especially effective haft width, and 2) by comparison with the hafts of complete specimens.


Overall shape             lanceolate, ovate, triangular, constricted, pentagonal. This attribute is  judged regardless of the placement of notches on the point. For instance, small side notched arrow points may be triangular, ovate or lanceolate in outline.



Blade attributes

The blade portion of the point extends from the point back to the haft portion, which is defined by the presence of a stem, notches, constriction or lateral grinding. If there is no definable haft element, as with unnotched ovate and triangular points, the following blade attributes pertain to all of the point except the very base.


Blade edge shape       concave, straight, convex, recurved, angular, asymmetrical

Blade edges should be recorded as concave or convex when they depart markedly from a straight line. Point tips are usually convex, even on points that have otherwise straight edges. Given that breakage and reworking are common, the intent of the flintknapper is best judged from a set of points, not from an individual specimen. Likewise, asymmetrical blades are often the result of reworking.


Flaking pattern          percussion only, collateral, diagonal ribbon, narrow.

Percussion flake scars tend to be larger than pressure flaking scars, with deeper bulbs of percussion.. Collateral flaking is transverse to the long axis, with flake scars from each edge running parallel to one another so that they meet in the center of the blade. Diagonal ribbon flaking, seen for instance on Allen points, consists of evenly spaced fairly long flake scars that run at a marked angle from the edges, sometimes producing the appearance of single scars that run all the way across the blade.








Edge modifications    serrated, alternately beveled, bifacially beveled, broken and repaired. Serration is a sawtooth edge and can vary from fine (small closely spaced teeths) to coarse. Alternate beveling consists of the production of one steep edge on each face of the blade (or stem) placed such that the beveled area appears on the same side of the blade no matter which face is up. Alternate beveling of the blade is the product of resharpening/repair while the point is  attached to the foreshaft. Bifacial beveling is the result of purposeful initial shaping. In it, narrow beveled zones are present on both faces of both edges, producing a strong edge. Broken and repaired points often have an irregular blade outline, and even when they do not, the repair can be recognized from an abrupt change in flaking pattern. 



Barb size                     large, medium, small, broken

Projections from the base of the blade are called barbs. They can be quite small or very long, as in Calf Creek points. It is important to examine the base of the blade closely to determine whether barbs may have broken off.

barb orientation         lateral, diagonal, down

Barb tip shape            rounded, pointed, square





Shoulder attributes   

Size                             weak, narrow, medium, wide


Orientation                sloping, horizontal, barbed


Blunting                     faceted, ground

Shoulders are faceted (rarely) by driving burin spalls lengthwise across the shoulder from the end of the barb. Grinding of the shoulder edge is fairly is best determined by feeling edges (of shoulder, sides of haft element, notches, base) and comparing the sharpness to that of the blade.


Haft element attributes

haft element type           constricted, stemmed, corner notched, side notched, base notched

These are analytical categories, not necessarily the same as the models in the heads of prehistoric flintknappers. Stemmed points grade into corner notched which grade into side notched, and in some sites you will find the same basic type of point that includes both stemmed and corner notched or corner and side notched variations. Corner removed is used to describe points which have a small wide portion of the basal corners removed producing a wide, very short stem. A constricted haft element is shown in the figure that illustrates point outlines. Stemmed points come in a wide variety of shapes, as will be illustrated below.


haft element shape        bulbous, expanding stem, straight stem, contracting stem, bifurcated stem


lateral edge shape         straight, concave, convex

Shape of the stem edges is independent of the shape of the stem, so an expanding stem may have straight, concave or convex lateral edges.



lateral edge flaking        normal, alternately beveled, bifacially beveled

lateral haft grinding        sides of point, sides of stem, inside notches

lateral haft faceting        Y/N     This rare technique involves removing burin spalls from both edges of the stem.


Notch attributes

main notch type            side, corner, base, single base

There is actually considerable variation within these categories of notches, depending on their shape (see below) or precise placement. Much of the variation is captured by notch shape (below) and some of it by effective haft width and haft length.


notch shape                  wide or narrow;  deep or shallow;.squared or rounded; upcurving; E-shaped.

auxiliary notches           above main notches, below main notches, on ears, center of base


Base attributes

ears                              downward pointing, bulbous, flared, horizontal

                                    Ears vary in shape and size from large and bulbous to small and pointed




basal corners                If not part of an ear, the corners of the base should be described by shape:

                                    rounded, squared, pointed, etc.

base shape                   convex, straight, concave, V-shaped

basal thinning                multiple flutes, single flutes, unifacial fluting, thinning flakes

Flutes are large flakes struck from near the center of the base. Points made from an already thin blank may have fluting on only one face. Thinning flakes are shorter and considerably narrower than flutes. They may also appear on only one face, as in Goshen points.

base blunting                 absent, grinding, faceted, cortex

Faceting consists of burin spalls driven off the basal edge from one or both corners. Be sure to distinguish a faceted base from a broken base.  Sometimes a blunt base is achieved by leaving the cortex from the core on the basal end of the point. It is always worthwhile to examine the basal edge carefully.


Point metrics

            Total length                               Total length of the point

            blade length                              Total length of the blade from base to tip, including ears when present.

            haft length                                 Total length of the haft from the point of effective haft width to the center of the base (discounting any basal notch).

            base to maximum width The distance along the long axis from the center of the base to the point of maximum width.

            depth of basal concavity            Measured from ends of ears to maximum depth. Not measured on basal notches.


            maximum blade width               Maximum width of the blade

            base width                                Width across the base from one corner to the other

            effective haft width                    Minimum width measurable on the haft element for notched,  expanding stem, and constricted points. Maximum stem width on contracting stems and maximum width of haft element on lanceolate points, however that is judged (such as by extent of lateral grinding).

            thickness                                  Maximum thickness of the point

            haft thickness                            Maximum thickness of the center half of the haft element.




            length/haft length                       Breakage and reworking can alter this ratio dramatically, so  it is essential to record any evidence of breakage and repair.

            width/thickness             Maximum width/maximum thickness






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Kansas Rock Art

Rock art is a general term for any engraved or painted images on cliffs or standing stones or on the walls of caves. For the most part, it is not possible to interpret them other than in a general fashion.



An image formed by inscribing or pecking the form on a rock wall. Most of the surviving rock art in Kansas consists of petroglyphs (RA01) because pictographs weather away more quickly.



A piece of rock art formed by drawing or painting (image needed) rather than by cutting or pecking the image into the rock.



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Artifact List Adzes Axes Blades cache blades Celts choppers Blanks burins chisels drills gravers knives perforators scrapers abraders anvils axes celts flintknappers stone hide working stone manos mauls metates nutting stones pipes awls beads beamers digging stick digging stick tip paint dish hoes grassing needles pendants shaft wrench sickles squash knives antler shaft wrench shell beads shell pendants shell spoons


Link to Lesson Plans for Archaeology

Describing Pottery Manufacture
Pottery is useful to archaeologists because it is plentiful and highly variable. It is plentiful because it breaks into small pieces that retain many of the characteristics of the complete pot. And because there are so many variables in its manufacture, the pottery of each time and place is usually quite distinctive, making pottery highly diagnostic.

Pottery is made from mixtures of clay, water and temper. Prehistoric peoples collected clay from a variety of sources – stream deposits, outcrops on hillsides and subsoil clays. These sources differ in the kinds of clay they contain, trace elements in the clay, and inclusions such as silt, sand and organic materials. These attributes affect the final appearance of the pottery, including its color and texture.

Temper is added to the clay to prevent excessive shrinkage during drying and firing. Clay does shrink during thee processes, and too much shrinkage means the pot will crack. Adding any material that will not absorb water and then shrink during drying alleviates this problem. In addition, some clays can be pre-shrunk by adding a temper that yields calcium ions that neutralize ions on the surfaces of the clay particles, allowing them to come into closer proximity. Limestone, shell and calcite are all good sources of calcium ions.

One also has to be concerned about temper particles that might swell up when fired, weakening the pot. Shell is a good example. At a certain temperature, the mineral that makes up shell is transformed into a second mineral and swells during the process. Prehistoric potters countered this problem by firing some kinds of temper separately before adding it to the clay. This is certainly true of the shell, and at least some of the time limestone, calcite and bone temper were heated as well.

How much temper was used varies through time. The thick-walled vessels of the Early Ceramic period tend to contain more temper particles per unit of clay than later, thinner-walled vessels, but there is considerable variation within both the thick and thin varieties. Some of this may reflect the requirements of particular kinds of clay, but one can see variation in the amount of temper particles from spot to spot on the edges of a single sherd. Apparently, prehistoric potters did not always mix temper and clay so thoroughly that the paste was uniform in terms of the amojnt of temper in it.

What kind of temper a pottery used was dependent on 1) the kind of clay that was available, 2) what was available in the potter's environment, and 3) cultural traditions. An example of the latter is the use of grass fibers to temper the clay of the earliest variety of pottery found in Kansas. The potters of the Nebo Hill phase of 1500 BC used shredded big bluestem as a temper. The grass burned when the pots were fired, leaving a light, porous vessel (aop01).

One of the most easily acquired kinds of temper is sand (aop02). Sand grains from different sources vary considerably in size, shape, how rounded their edges are, in the minerals adhering to their surfaces, and in the number and kind of non-quartz grains included. These variations help to make sand tempers in different kinds of pottery unique. Sand was used in all pottery-making time periods except the Late Archaic.

Another readily available tempering material is grog (c38), which is made up of crushed fired pottery. Among people who made and used pottery, broken vessels were always around, and all the potter had to do was to smash up fragments of a broken vessel to provide temper for the next batch of pots. In the Early Ceramic period, potters of the Cuesta phase made grog-tempered pottery, and in the Middle Ceramic grog-tempered vessels are found commonly in the Smoky Hill and Solomon River Phases and in the Pomona Variant.

Crushed granite temper (c81) is rarer, but not necessarily because it takes a lot of work to create the temper. In Kansas, granite is readily available only in the northeastern corner of the state. The cobbles of granite found there are sometimes crumbly, and repeated use in a fire makes them even more crumbly. Crushed granite temper is found in quantity in pottery of the Valley Variant of the Early Ceramic period and in the Nebraska phase of the Middle Ceramic period. Not surprisingly, sites of both are found in the northeastern part of the state.

Mica temper (c82) is uncommon in Kansas except for pottery of the Dismal River Aspect, the remains of Plains Apaches of the Late Ceramic period. The Apaches apparently learned to use mica temper from the pueblo potters of the northern Rio Grande. Such pottery appears in Kansas only in the latter part of the 17th century, and its use here ended when the horticultural Apache bands were driven south and west by the Comanches in the first half of the 18th century. It is restricted tot he western half of the state; the easternmost recorded Dismal River sites are in the vicinity of Great Bend.

Limestone temper (c83) is far more widespread. Its use begins in the Early Ceramic period, where it is extremely common in the Greenwood phase of the Flint Hills. Limestone temper occurs more occasionally in Middle Ceramic sites. In the Bluff Creek phase, potters sometimes used a highly fossiliferous limestone for temper, producing an easily recognized temper (aop03). When limestone temper has been leached from sherds by acidic groundwater, it leaves behind angular to rounded voids (c87).

Calcite temper (c84) is fairly limited in time and space. It is found in the pottery of the Keith Variant of the Early Ceramic period in northern and western Kansas. The burned calcite crystals in the pottery are gray in color.

Bone temper is seldom the dominant type in archaeological sites. The single exception is the so-called Birdwood culture of southwestern Nebraska which consists of Pawnee hunting camps. Apparently the potters used the most readily available tempering material --bison bone – which may already have been crushed and heated during the manufacture of bone grease. [Note: The identification of the Birdwood culture with Pawnee hunting camps was first made by Steve Holen in an unpublished paper.]

Bone temper (c86) shows up more sporadically in various Early and Middle Ceramic period complexes, including the Bluff Creek and Smoky Hill phases and the Pomona variant.
Burned and crushed shell temper (c85) shows up in a variety of times and places. Like the comminuted bone in hunting camps, it may have been available as the result of the manufacture of lye or merely from the collection and roasting of mussels for food. Shell temper is common in some archaeological units in Kansas during the Middle Ceramic Period, including the Steed-Kisker, Nebraska and Uncas phases. In the Late Ceramic period, it is common in the Lower Walnut phase of the Great Bend Mosaic and in Oneota sites. Shell temper that has been leached from sherds by acidic ground water leaves flat cells in the paste that are easily identified (c87).

Once the clay and temper have been mixed together, it is time to shape the pot. Ancient potters used a variety of techniques to do this. The very earliest pots in Kansas, those of the Nebo Hill phase, appear to have been made by pinching. In later time periods, pinching was restricted to miniature pots (c60). The fact that this is so makes it clear that one hypothesis about why miniature pots were made – that they were practice pots made by novice potters – is unlikely. Making a tiny pot by one technique does not provide practice for making a large pot by a different technique.

The technique used most commonly in the first half of the Early Ceramic period (i.e., in the Middle Woodland) is a combination of lump modeling, slab construction and pulling. Lump modeling starts with a ball of clay into which a cavity is punched, creating a thick-walled cup. The conical bases of most Middle Woodland pots appear to have been formed by this method. To enlarge the pot and thin the walls, the clay is drawn upwards with the fingers in a pulling motion. This makes the pot taller and thinner, but leaves the thick base seen on pots of this time period. To make an even larger vessel, and many of these pots are quite large, the potter can even off the lip of the vessel and add a new slab of clay to it. This process may explain the occasional coil break seen in the sherds (c14).

Pulling up the walls of a conical pot leaves walls that are irregular in thickness. Middle Woodland potters fixed this problem by rolling a cord-wrapped rod across the exterior of the vessel, either directly upward (c19) or at a diagonal (c20) , leaving telltale cord marking. The same was not possible on the vessel interior, where the curvature of the vessel prevented the stick from lying against the vessel wall. Therefore, the interiors had to be smoothed using a horizontal motion. If the cord-wrapped stick was used to do this, it left horizontal cord-marking that is occasionally mistaken for a fabric impression (c32), as in Greenwood phase pottery. Another technique involved some sort of toothed tool that left horizontal grooves (c32a). If a smooth interior was desired, the marks left by the smoothing out of the walls could be erased with a wet piece of suede.

This technique of creating a pot leaves one with relatively thick walls and with a paste that has not been compacted. This can be seen best in thin section slides but can also be detected with the naked eye (and hand) after long experience.

The next technique to appear in Kansas is the paddle and anvil technique. This process also starts with a ball of clay into which a hole is punched. The thinning of the walls is accomplished by holding some sort of an anvil on the inside and paddling the exterior lightly with a flat tool. Each tap thins the wall slightly, making the pot a little bit bigger. By moving both paddle and anvil between strokes, an experienced potter can make a large pot with fairly thin walls. Thinning the very base of the vessel is still difficult, and this tends to be the thickest part of pots made by this method.

The vessel walls made by this method tend to be quite compact and dense. The paddling thins and stretches any voids present in the paste and also bends the paste around large particles of temper. These details can be seen in thin sections quite readily and less easily with the naked eye. Sometimes, anvil impressions can be seen on the interior of vessel sections.

In order to keep the paddle from sticking to the damp clay, it was either wrapped with cord or a fragment of netting or was grooved. Each method leaves a clear signal on the surface of the pot. A cord-wrapped paddle leaves a cord-roughened surface. On the upper portion of a pot, where the paddle is held in a consistent position, cord-roughening can be difficult to distinguish from cord marking. On the more highly convex body of the vessel, however, cord-roughening can be seen as relatively short patches of parallel cord impressions (c21b) versus long, nearly parallel patches (c21a).

A paddle wrapped with netting leaves a surface that can be identified by the dimples created by the knots (c53). Sherds with these marks are never common in Kansas sites, and use of a piece of netting seems to have been more of a convenience than a technique imbued with cultural meaning.

Pottery formed with grooved paddles shows up first in the White Rock phase at the end of the Middle Ceramic period and is present in the Great Bend mosaic of the Late Ceramic. Called simple stamped (c78), this pottery has rectangular raised grooves on its surface.

The interiors of pots made by the paddle and anvil technique were sometimes smoothed, wiped or thinned. Sometimes wipe marks can be seen on the upper portions of the interiors, apparently left by a handful of grass (aop5). Scraping to thin the walls sometimes dragged temper particles, leaving distinctive tracks (aop6). Although none have been identified in Kansas, mussel shells make excellent pottery scrapers, and one has been identified in a potter's tool kit in Nebraska (aop7). Pots can also be smoothed with the ground edge of a pot sherd, but ground sherds with the kind of convex edge needed for this job are rare in Kansas.

The paddle and anvil technique becomes the dominant method of pottery manufacture in the latter half of the Early Ceramic period and maintains its dominance through the Middle and Late Ceramic periods. Lump modeling and pulling drops out entirely, and pinching is used only for miniature vessels. Coiling is frequently used to add rims to vessel bodies during the Middle Ceramic period, evidenced by coil breaks at the vessel necks. A few other vessels also exhibit coil breaks (c16), as do some vessels from the Late Ceramic period.

Describing Pots and potsherds

In Kansas, there are only a few basic vessel forms (aop08). Jars are the most common form in all of the ceramic periods, and they vary in shape through time. Bowls are small vessels that lack a rim; they may have vertical or insloping upper walls. They appear in the Middle Ceramic and continue in use ino the Late Ceramic. Water bottles have relatively tall insloping rims and small diameter mouths. They occur only in Late Ceramic assemblages.

Complete vessels are found only rarely, and broken vessels complete enough for reconstruction are critical to our understanding of vessel size and form. What we usually have for analysis are sherds – small fragments of broken pottery which have to be analyzed to determine which part of a vessel they come from. Starting at the very top of the vessel, the basic divisions of a vessel are lip, rim, neck, shoulder, lower body and base (aop09).

Each of these parts of a vessel can vary considerably, making potsherds highly diagnostic, even in their fragmentary state. Lips can be smoothed, cord roughened or decorated, and they vary in shape from flat to rounded to beveled (c07) or extruded.

The rim has many important characteristics, including form, cross section, shape and orientation. The basic rim forms found in Kansas are direct, collared, channeled collar, S-rim, and rolled lip (aop10). Within these basic forms, there are many variations, such as rim height, cross section (aop11), orientation (aop12) and the like. Of the basic forms, true S-rims are rare in Kansas, but recurved collared rims are often called S-rims. Rolled lip vessels are also rare, being restricted to the Steed-Kisker phase and its immediate neighbors in the northeastern corner of the state.

Necks and shoulders are also highly variable. Necks can be either gently or sharply curved or even angular, while shoulders vary in width, curvature and orientation. It is often impossible to distinguish shoulder sherds from lower body sherds except when the shoulders are decorated and smoothed while the lower body is not. Cord-roughening on lower bodies tends to occur in a cris-cross pattern, while it is more parallel on the shoulder.

Describing decoration
Decoration on prehistoric vessels from Kansas tends to occur in well-defined decorative zones, which vary from period to period and from one cultural tradition to another (aop13). Decoration on the rim interior shows up in the White Rock phase at the end of the Middle Ceramic period, and more rarely in Bluff Creek and complexes of the Late Ceramic period. Decoration on the inner lip edge is rare, but the lip top is the most commonly decorated zone after the Middle Woodland. Decoration of the outer lip edge, rim top, and rim face varies considerably. Rim face decoration on direct rims is common in some Early Ceramic complexes in eastern Kansas, but it becomes rare in the Middle and Late Ceramic periods. In contrast, collar faces and collar bases are frequently decorated in the Middle Ceramic, but with considerable variation in frequency from locality to locality. Shoulder decoration exhibits several patterns. In the Middle Ceramic period, it occurs in relatively high frequencies in the northeastern part of the state, but it is also very common in the White Rock phase in the north-central part of the state.
Decoration was applied with a variety of techniques. They include
cord-impressing filleting punctating
cord-wrapped stick impressing glazing rocker stamping
dentate stamping incising thumbnail impressing
engraving inching tool impressing
filleting punch and boss trailing

Decorative motifs also vary widely. Collar motifs vary in type and frequency from locality to locality across the Central Plains (aop14). Some motifs, on the other hand, last for considerable periods of time, showing up both in the Late Woodland and in the Middle Ceramic. Others show up sporadically, such as cross hatching on collared rims that appears in the Middle Woodland and again in the Middle Ceramic (xx), but not in the intervening Late Woodland. Some motifs are restricted to a single time period, such as the pendant feather motif (xx) of the Valley phase and the hawk or thunderbird motifs of the White Rock phase (xx).

Texturing of exterior vessel surfaces also varies. Although most texturing can be interpreted as the byproducts of manufacturing techniques, the choice to leave cord marks or simple stamping on a vessel surface was purposeful. Surface texturing includes cord marking, cord roughening, net roughening, cob roughening and simple stamping .Although such texturing is not considered to be decoration, in isolated cases it appears to be (aop15).

Vessel interiors were usually smoothed, probably so that food would not stick to them. Nevertheless, some sherds exhibit interior surfaces that do have some texturing, either grooving or so-called fabric impressions. Both kinds of interior texturing are limited to a minority of vessels of Early Ceramic age.

The most common residue seen on vessel exteriors is soot (aop16). Burned food is also common on both exterior and interior surfaces. Rarely, one sees residue on a vessel interior other than burned food (aop17).

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This web page was developed by the faculty and students of the Department of Anthropology at Wichita State University.  It is designed for people interested in archaeology.   Web site design, text, and graphics are Copyright 2006 by Wichita State University. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Rights are hereby granted for the educational use of images on these pages by nonprofit educational institutions. Any other use of materials on this Web site, including reproduction, modification, distribution or republication, without the prior written consent of Wichita State University, is strictly prohibited.  Using the material without consent you may be subject to penalties involving strange metaphysical phenomena from the images. (We want to see if you read this). updated December 14, 2010