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Tools & Projectiles of Southeastern North America
Softcover. Large format. Perfect binding. 604 pp.
ISBN 978-0-692-00721-1......Single copies $35.00 plus $5.00 postage.
Order from: B. Thompson, 231 Willow Way North, Alexander City, Alabama 35010.
The author is a retired college biology professor living in central Alabama. For many years he collected stone tools in Alabama and has come to know fellow collectors, amateur archaeologists and professional researchers working within the greater Tennessee River region and the "middle reaches" of that state. Here in this impressive work, which marks Professor Baker's second attempt to master the subject, he sets forth what he has learned about flaked stone tools of the Deep South.
Necessarily perhaps, the book's focus is intra-regional, and the author has chosen to ignore several popular reference works about North American flaked stone tool typology that treat the topic broadly. Their use would have benefitted his presentation, and their lack makes it impossible for this volume to stand alone upon bookshelves of stone tool analysts. It does not replace older works of wider relevance but will augment them.
The author advocates two outlooks upon North American prehistory, which most readers will find novel but which I found refreshing. First, he gives equal weight to unifacial tools made on flakes, such as scrapers, burins, gravers, as he does to bifacial artifacts (knives, adzes, projectile points, etc.). It cannot be over-emphasized how other elements of a flaked stone tool industry — besides bifacial cutting tools — are useful for telling time, making cultural assignations, and identifying the nature or function of archaeological sites. Second, diverging sharply from conventional wisdom, Winston Baker argues that the New World was inhabited thousands of years prior to the Palaeo-American (Palaeo-Indian) era. In support of this novel outlook upon New World culture history, Professor Baker illustrates no fewer than 149 (!) separate flaked artifact types and varieties that he deems "Palaeolithic." All these type specimens were discovered at Alabama prehistoric sites.
Because Alabama never was glaciated at any time during the Pleistocene and did not experience the scourging effect of massive ice sheets, prehistorians working in that region tend to think more freely about human colonization and when it may have begun. The possibility that early colonizers from the Old World (Europe, Africa, or Asia) left large, primitive-appearing flaked stone tools was addressed by Matthew Lively and Daniel W. Josselyn during the 1960s. Although their speculations about a Palaeolithic "Lively Complex" in southeastern North America have faded and largely been forgotten, the germ of their idea has been resurrected by Winston Baker. Professor Baker's re-kindling of this old debate has been inspired by ongoing research into the feasibility of cross-Atlantic movement by European Solutrean (Upper Palaeolithic) populations.
For reasons that are not entirely clear to this reader, the book is divided into two parts. Each part has its own index, table of contents, and color photographic section. There is only one section of references ("Literature Cited") for the entire work, which occurs at the end. The first part is devoted to the Palaeolithic era through Early Archaic; while, the second treats of all else through the Proto-historic era. The lack of running headings is a challenge to a first-time reader and assumes close familiarity with the book's layout.
The value of any manual is judged by how well it addresses uncomplicated, straightforward queries about stone artifacts — queries of the sort an archaeologist receives routinely. My own test of the utility of Winston Baker's manual was successful. I was presented with a large flake "drill" of rhomboidal cross-section from Lauderdale County, northern Alabama. My questions about this artifact were: Were similar specimens on record for the state? And what might be their age? The index for the second part of Professor Baker's book listed no fewer than 25 different types of drill! Within the text there were several clear illustrations of each of these 25 types accompanied by a paragraph of description and estimates of age. In just a few minutes I was able to locate a match to my drill and establish its estimated age. No one could expect more from any manual!
Reviewed by Richard Michael Gramly, PhD, ASAA Organizer; 5/2011.