Fluted Point Distribution in the Loess Hills of Southwestern Iowa

Article excerpt


Clovis and Folsom points from Mills and Fremont counties in the Loess Hills of southwestern Iowa are mainly found on hilltops, the only part of the Paleoindian landscape that is likely to be exposed on the modern surface. Approximately half of the fluted points broke in manufacture. Most of the points are made of locally available chert. Nonlocal lithic material is also present, primarily in the form of finished points.

Keywords: Paleoindian; Clovis; Folsom; Loess Hills; Iowa


This study of 33 Clovis and Folsom points from the Loess Hills and adjacent landforms of the Missouri River Alluvial Plains and the Southern Iowa Drift Plain in Mills and Fremont counties, southwestern Iowa (Fig. 1), examines the relationships between site location and geomorphology, and between site location, stage of point manufacture, and lithic material. The study area has some of the best-known archaeology in Iowa, in part because professionals have long interacted with two amateurs: Paul Rowe and D. D. Davis. Many of the points included in this study come from their collections. From the 1920s through the 1960s Rowe documented his artifact collection with a catalog and maps, carried on extensive correspondence with professional archaeologists (Green et al. 1992), and published articles. One article illustrated fluted points from the Loess Hills (Rowe 1952). Davis collected artifacts from the 1950s to the mid-1990s, documenting his collection with maps, notes, and a catalog.

The 33 points included in this study were located by checking site files, reviewing local publications, talking with collectors, and most importantly by examining the correspondence of Paul Rowe. Rowe's detailed letters contain descriptions of many fluted points in his own and other collections, along with provenience data.

Clovis and Folsom sites and find spots are poorly documented in Iowa. This situation is being rectified partly by an ongoing state-wide study of the distribution and characteristics of fluted points (Morrow 1996; Morrow and Morrow 1994, n.d.). No fluted points have been found in intact archaeological contexts in Iowa. Even a cluster of 21 Gainey points (an eastern variant of Clovis) from the Rummells-Maske site in eastern Iowa were in disturbed plowzone (Anderson and Tiffany 1972; Morrow and Morrow 1997). Fortunately, Paleoindian sites are better documented outside of Iowa. Known Clovis sites date between ca. 11,000 and 11,500 years ago, and Folsom sites between 10,200 and 10,900 years ago (Haynes 1992,1993; Hofman 1995). Clovis points are generally larger, thicker, less skillfully made, and have shorter flutes and a shallower concave base than Folsom points. Folsom points typically have flutes that extend almost to the tip (Bell 1958). Of the 33 points discussed here, 20 were examined and photographed (Figs. 2-3). Drawings of nine more points were obtained, and four are without visual documentation. Site numbers could not be assigned to about half of the points because their provenience was unknown, poorly known, or was in a secondary deposit such as a gravel bar in a creekbed.

This study distinguishes finished points from those which were broken or rejected during manufacture. A finished point has small pressure thinning flakes, a shaped base, a pointed tip, flutes on both faces, and ground basal edges. Points that broke or were rejected during manufacture are called preforms. Preforms are identified by greater thickness, absence of small thinning flakes, absence of basal edge grinding, and occasionally by a flute flake that hinged and caused the point to break. All of the points identified as preforms in this study were fluted on at least one face. Lithic material and stages of manufacture are given in Tables 1 and 2. Lithic material types follow Morrow (1994) and Reid (1980).


Fluted point distribution in s Iowa varies according to geographic and topographic factors. …