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Megafauna Tools: A Paleo Site in Kentucky

by Dan T. Harper, Nashville, Tennessee

Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.4, pg.200Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.57, No.1, pg.42


A group of six chipped tools from the site. The author has uncovered hundreds of these at the site.

I have been studying Paleo Man and his tool kit for the past fifteen years. My surface hunting has yielded many types of tools that most people just pass over. By studying many drawings and photos taken at published Paleo sites, I have educated myself on the types of tools utilized. Some of the tools I have found are problematic. I’ve enlisted the help of Ar­chaeologist John Broster, who has spent the last twenty years studying Paleo man in the Southeast, to give me guidance in understand­ing my finds.

My main site today is on the Red River near the Kentucky-Tennessee border. It is not far from the Phil Stratton Cumberland Site that Dr. Gramly has been working. This Red River site has yielded hundreds of tools, and leads me to believe that it was a place of man­ufacture for many years.

On the site I have found not only what might be termed ‘common” tools, such as hammer stones, but also some very interest­ing large tools. These “megafauna” choppers and rippers required large game to be useful. Combined with large uniface blades, Paleo man would have been able to fully take ad­vantage of the megafauna he was hunting.

After a flood in 2007, the area looked like it was covered in seashells, there was so much material exposed. This flood also altered the site considerably as well as exposing a large gullet’. In it I found the lower portion of a St. Louis style Clovis fluted projectile point. The point was made of a high grade blue-grey hornstone. This confirmed that the site was Paleo in origin, and that the tools I had been finding were exactly what I thought they were. Many of the tools I had collected previ­ously from the site were also of this blue-grey hornstone.

Of all the tools I have found, one of the most interesting are the “rippers.” They have a very defined hook/claw-like feature. John Broster believes they were utilized to open the bone to retrieve the marrow. Bone marrow is especially high in protein, and would have been greatly desired by Paleo man.

Another tool I’ve found are “reamers.”  They feature a prong-like spike, and are usu­ally found on thicker scrappers. I think these were utilized to bore out bone handles. I shared this idea with John Broster, and he said it was possible.

I consider my most unusual find to be large limestone objects. It is possible that they were utilized as a “pounder” to break open the bones for marrow. If you think of some of the mega fauna available at the time such as mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths and camels, there would have to be a need for large tools. Much more effort is involved in utilizing a carcass of one of these animals than a deer or wild pig.


Above: An example of a “ripper” tool in hand.  Notice the defined “hook/claw” feature.


Above: An example of the size of the Megafauna Paleo man encountered. This cast of a Mastodon skull is on display at the Museum of Native American History. The measurements give the true key to its size. The skull is approximately 4 feet in diameter and the tusks are close to 6 1/2 feet long. It would be difficult task to manage such large bones without large tools.


Above: An assortment of the thousands of stone and flint tools from the site. These measure 2-4 inches

The area I have been finding these artifacts has two elements that would have served as a major attractors for Paleo man; abundant wa­ter that would have attracted game and easy to locate high grade lithic material.

It is most interesting that with these large tools is the easy to see usage of flaking meth­ods. Creating a large tool wasn’t any differ­ent than knapping a Clovis projectile. It just involved heavier hammerstones and didn’t require as much attention to detail. Obviously a mistake didn’t require you to discard what you were working on.

One of the main difficulties I have encoun­tered at this site is removing some of the finds. It’s a lot easier to put a point in the pocket than move large rocks. That’s especially true when the site is several miles from the nearest road. But I have thought it important to assemble a collection of these tools to further enhance the understanding of early man

It is my opinion that Paleo man would have valued his tools as much as or even more than his projectile points. When he traveled, he would not have transported these large tools, but returned to earlier campsites to use them over and over. I am certain the site I have been exploring was one of these campsites.”Used by Permission of the Author”
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