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A Previously Unreported Fluted Point from Martha’s Vineyard—a Paleo-American Manifestation along the Terminal Moraine (posted May 2007) by William Moody

(Click on image for a large view of fluted point) A Previously Unreported Fluted Point from Martha’s Vineyard

Amateur Archaeologist JournalAlmost 40 years ago, William Ritchie published important research with wide-ranging regional implications for southern New England prehistory in his book The Archaeology of Martha’s Vineyard. In that report of his extensive field work, Ritchie included no direct evidence of Paleo-Americans on Martha’s Vineyard, and instead made the assertion that fluted points were unreported from Cape Cod and the offshore islands (Ritchie 1969, p. 212). We now know that his conclusions were incomplete. Over the years since Ritchie’s publication, evidence has indeed surfaced on the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, of fluted-point makers along the margins of the terminal moraine after the close of the last ice age. A handful of such points with good provenience have now been noted in private collections and in the local historical societies.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalIn February, 2007, the author and his wife (both members of the New England Chapter of ASAA) were given the opportunity to view a small collection of projectile points on Martha’s Vineyard that has been kept within the family of Mabel Medowski for many years. Hanging on her living room wall is a glass-fronted antique wooden frame. At the center of the frame, a fine Levanna type point sits attached to a handwritten note, in old-style script. The India-ink message states simply: 128 arrow points found in Chilmark and Gay Head. These points are all secured directly to a black background board with thread or twine, although a few have managed to work themselves loose and come to rest at the bottom of the frame.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalMrs. Medowski is a lively and sharp octogenarian with a wealth of island history garnered during her 87 years as a full-time resident. Her island roots extend back many generations, and she proudly displays such curiosities as a cocoanut that she retrieved after it washed up along the shores of Martha’s Vineyard following the great hurricane of 1938. She also tells of picking up pieces of eight washed out of the sands at Lambert’s Cove many years ago. The silver coins all dated from the 1700s.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalMedowski reports that the arrow points in her frame were collected personally by her great uncle, Daniel Vincent. After some discussion, a simple calculation put the period of discovery sometime in the 1890s.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalThe projectile points in the frame represent all the types expected from the region, such as Levanna, Jack’s Reef, Orient, Normanskill, Squibnocket, Wading River, Atlantic, Stark, Neville, and so on. Of particular note, in the upper lefthand corner of the frame, resides the fine fluted point pictured with this article.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalEastern fluted points show a wide variation in style, as noted by Hranicky and McCary in their analysis of Clovis forms and technology, highlighting especially the substantial database of fluted points developed in Virginia (Hranicky and McCary 1995). The Martha’s Vineyard point has affinities with both the more classic Clovis points from the Northeast as well as the fluted variety known as Barnes. It exhibits a long preliminary flute underlying the final flute for hafting, with at least one additional flute extending slightly to the left of the main hafting flute. (These observations are pertinent only to the obverse of the artifact, as it was not possible to view the reverse.) The point appears to have undergone at least one re-sharpening episode. Similar examples have been identified at the Sugarloaf site in western Massachusetts. (See Gramly 1998, plates 7, 8, pp. 50-53.) Another very similar example is found in Ritchie, Traces of Early Man in the Northeast, Plate 9, A, pp. 48-49, from Tioga County, New York.

Amateur Archaeologist JournalThe lithic material of the Vineyard point is a gray/green rhyolite with tan inclusions and noticeable banding. It may be a variety of the Mt. Jasper rhyolite quarried and mined by ancient peoples near today’s Berlin, New Hampshire. (Joseph Finneran, pers. comm. See also Gramly 1977.)

Amateur Archaeologist JournalThe measurements of the point that could be taken while it was still secured behind its glass-fronted frame are as follows:

Amateur Archaeologist JournalTotal length: 4 inches, or 10.1 cm
Amateur Archaeologist JournalBasal width at ears: 1 5/16 in., or 3.35 cm
Amateur Archaeologist JournalWidth at mid-point: 1 ¼ in., or 3.2 cm
Amateur Archaeologist JournalDepth of basal concavity: 5/16 in., or .8 cm
Amateur Archaeologist JournalLength of lateral grinding visible at base: 1 3/8 in., or 3.5 cm
Amateur Archaeologist JournalLength of longest initial flute: 1 7/8 in., or 4.6 cm
Amateur Archaeologist JournalLength of flute for hafting: 1 in., or 2.5 cm

Amateur Archaeologist JournalBecause of the substantial size and rarity of this fluted point, the author felt it was important to put the artifact on record. It is hoped that this report will eventually become part of a larger database of fluted points from Martha’s Vineyard and the other islands along the terminal moraine of southeastern New England.

Photograph by Bill Moody; photo editing by Jeff Boudreau

References Cited

Gramly, Richard M.
1977 The Mt. Jasper lithic source area. Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 38(3):48-52.

Gramly, Richard M.
1998 The Sugarloaf Site: Paleo-Americans on the Connecticut River. Persimmon Press. Buffalo, New York.

Hranicky, Wm. Jack and Ben c. McCary
1995 Clovis Technology in Virginia. Archaeological Society of Virginia. Courtland, Virginia.

Ritchie, William A.
1969 The Archaeology of Martha’s Vineyard: A Framework for the Prehistory of Southern New England. The Natural History Press. Garden City, New York.

Ritchie, William A.
1957 Traces of Early Man in the Northeast. The University of the State of New York. Albany, New York.

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