By Jeb A. Taylor
Folsom points are surrounded by a mystique that is absent from most other types of projectile points. This is partly because in their early stages of use cycling, they are among the most beautiful points ever made and partly because even after many thousands of hours of replication studies, no one has yet been able to demonstrate convincingly how they were made. A number of modern knappers have managed to produce reasonable facsimiles of Folsom points, but to my knowledge, no one has been able to do so consistently with aboriginal technology, matching the morphologies of the different stages of aboriginal preforms (which exhibit a remarkable degree of consistency), or producing similar debitage in the process (which is also very consistent aboriginally). In any event, Folsom points are (and probably always were) very difficult to make.
Figure 1: Ten primary and/or early stage Folsom points
from the High Plains. They are (top row): North Dakota,
New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, North Dakota, (bottom
row): Colorado, Wyoming, Colorado, Colorado, and
North Dakota. Remarkably, one individual was fortunate
enough to find two of these points (the center points in the
upper and lower rows). (private collection)
Folsom points, because of their amazingly thin axial cross sections, are also very fragile, so very few primary stage examples have survived. Consequently, most collectors believe that they are generally rather small. It is true that many Folsom points were not much over 2″ long when they were made, but many were also 3″ to 4″ long, and a few recovered broken points and preforms suggest the possibility that some were closer to 5″ long! Remarkably, even the largest of these points/preforms seldom exhibit thicknesses between their flute channels that exceed 3.4 mm (the thickness of 2 quarters ‘).
The Folsom points in Figure 1 are of primary or close to primary stage examples. The KRF example (lower right) was actually damaged and reworked distally and along the right margin all the way to the base—and it is still about 76 mm (3″) long.
Figure 2: A failed Folsom point preform, an early
stage projectile point, and a “slug” — all KRF and
all from North Dakota (private collections).
Figure 2 shows a broken and glued KRF Folsom preform that failed on the B side flute attempt, an early stage Folsom point, and a late stage Folsom point known as a “slug.” For reference, the preform is 102.82 mm (4″) and would probably not have lost much or any of its length as a finished point if the preform had not failed. Remarkably, both portions of this preform were found on a beach by the same individual four years apart. Examples such as these help provide diagnostic information regarding Folsom point production. It is also worth noting here that the distal portion of this preform could easily have been salvaged and made into a finished point that would have been more than 60 mm (2.4″) long, but its maker decided instead to abandon it.
Figure 3: A very late stage Folsom point
preform that failed during the final margin
pressure flaking (a very unusual occurrence). An
attempt was made to re-tip the proximal section
of this preform, but it was abandoned before
completion, possibly upon realization that the
finished point would be too short for its intended
purpose (author’s collection).