Ancient Native Americans

An international team of archaeologists has excavated and examined 8,000-year-old projectile points (spear- and arrowheads) at two sites in Yemen and Oman. They’ve found that ancient Arabians independently invented a process to create distinctive projectile points — called fluting — that was first used by Native Americans about 5,000 years earlier.

Various types of fluted points and preforms from Manayzah, Yemen: (1) double-fluted preform on a plano-convex elongated bifacial piece; (2) broken fluted preform on a bifacial elongated piece with symmetrical section; (3) base-fluted projectile point; (4 and 5) tip-fluted projectile points. Image credit: Crassard et al, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236314.

Various types of fluted points and preforms from Manayzah, Yemen: (1) double-fluted preform on a plano-convex elongated bifacial piece; (2) broken fluted preform on a bifacial elongated piece with symmetrical section; (3) base-fluted projectile point; (4 and 5) tip-fluted projectile points. Image credit: Crassard et al, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236314.

Fluting is an iconic stone tool manufacturing method and a specific action that involves the extraction of a channel flake along the longitudinal axis of a bifacial piece. It is well known in North America, evidenced by finds across the continent dating from 13,000 to 10,000 years ago.

“There was one key difference between fluting as it was used in North America and the way it was used in Arabia,” said co-author Professor Joy McCorriston, a researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the Ohio State University.

“In North America, fluting was used just to make the arrowhead or spearhead more functional. But in Arabia, people also used it to demonstrate their technical skills.”

Professor McCorriston and her colleagues studied dozens of projectile points from two archaeological sites: Manayzah, in Yemen, and Ad-Dahariz, in Oman.

“Finding fluted points outside of North America was an important discovery,” said lead author Dr. Rémy Crassard, a researcher in the Centre Français d’Archéologie et de Sciences Sociales at CNRS.

“These fluted points were, until recently, unknown elsewhere on the planet. This was until the early 2000s, when the first isolated examples of these objects were recognized in Yemen, and more recently in Oman.”

“Fluting involves a highly skilled process of chipping off flakes from a stone to create a distinctive channel. It is difficult and takes much practice to perfect,” Professor McCorriston added.

“In North America, almost all fluting on projectile points was done near the base, so that the implement could be attached with string to the arrow or spear shaft. In other words, it had a practical application.”

The scientists found some Arabian points with fluting that appeared to have no useful purpose, such as near the tip.

As part of the study, they had a master technician in flintknapping attempt to create projectile points in a way similar to how researchers believe the ancient Arabians did.

“He made hundreds of attempts to learn how to do this. It is difficult and a flintknapper breaks a lot of these points trying to learn how to do it right,” Professor McCorriston said.

“The question, then, is why would these Neolithic people do this when it was so costly and time-consuming and didn’t make the points more useful? In addition, they only used fluting on some points.”

“Of course, we can’t say for sure, but we think this was a way for skilled toolmakers to signal something to others, perhaps that one is a good hunter, a quick study, or dexterous with one’s hands.”

“It showed one was good at what one did. This could improve one’s social standing in the community.”

The findings suggested that while there were many similarities between the American and Arabian fluted points, there were also differences.

“The way that people performed the fluting in the two places was different, which is not surprising since they were separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years,” Professor McCorriston said.

“Finding the fluted points in Arabia provides one of the best examples of independent invention across continents,” said senior author Professor Michael Petraglia, a scientist in the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland.

“Given their age, and the fact that the fluted points from America and Arabia are separated by thousands of kilometers, there is no possible cultural connection between them.”

“This is a clear and excellent example of cultural convergence, or independent invention, in human history.”

The team’s paper was published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

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R. Crassard et al. 2020. Fluted-point technology in Neolithic Arabia: An independent invention far from the Americas. PLoS ONE 15 (8): e0236314; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236314

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