Understanding Culture History Using Topographic Morphometrics of Lithic Projectile Points: Paleoindian Case Studies from the Great Plains and Northern Alaska
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The classification of projectile points into types has long been used by archaeologists to develop regional chronologies and serves as a basis by which to explain cultural continuity or change over time. This study incorporates assumptions from social learning and culture-historical transmission of traditions to investigate questions surrounding cultural relatedness through the examination of flake scar patterns from different lithic projectile point types. The conceptual basis of this study is that flintknapping knowledge and technique in small, hunter-gatherer groups is passed from generation to generation through small numbers of master flintknappers. This should result in similar flake scar patterning on projectile points that can be identified using topographic morphometric analysis. I created a digital topographic morphometric approach to test whether cultural relatedness between past groups or “cultures” can be determined by analyzing three-dimensional models of lithic projectile points to identify variations in flake scar patterning that result from similar or different flintknapping techniques. This methodology utilizes high-resolution three-dimensional imagery to measure variation in flake scar patterns on both faces of a biface. The cross-sectioning of projectile points at given isoheights records the morphology and patterning of flake scars that are the result of the flintknapping knowledge and technique that goes into the manufacture of a projectile point. If these manufacturing techniques are socially learned, and the production of certain archaeological types of projectile points represent related groups, then similarities in these flake scar patterns should contain the information to relate groups of people who share this same knowledge and technique. This method of viewing culture history is then applied to two Paleoindian case studies. Projectile point assemblages from the Great Plains and northern Alaska that date to the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition are analyzed to investigate the cultural relationships among geographically and temporally similar point types. The results from this study demonstrate that similarities and differences exist in the flake scar patterning of different projectile points types and can be successfully identified using topographic morphometrics. Results from the case studies can help archaeologists to better understand the Paleoindian culture histories in these different regions.