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Lithic preforms

Unfinished points and knives

I’ve been working as a crew member on a Section 110 survey in the Southern Piedmont for the past few weeks. This past Friday (06 November 2015) I walked down to the water’s edge to take my lunch and spent a couple of minutes poking around on the surface before I sat down on my screen to eat.

archaeological survey

The beach where I took lunch. I recovered the preform on the surface under the evergreens in the center of the purple oval.

There’s quartz everywhere in the ground down this way, and I’ve been on a steep curve learning to distinguish artifacts from shatter. In the best case scenario there’s a platform and a bulb. Or so I’ve been told. I have yet to see a quartz flake with a bulb!

There was quite a bit of high quality quartz in the area, and I came up on a chunk with a vaguely PPK-ish outline. It looked awfully crude, though.

When I sat down to eat I cleaned it with some water from one of my Nalgenes. I couldn’t make out much more on the surface—there was what looked like a big flake scar—but I was able to make a little more sense of the outline. It looked like there was one side of a stem present. I took a closer look and, sure enough, there was clearly a worked edge.


The “half a stem” that became clear to me once I had rinsed the quartz.

I realized that my surface find was less likely to be a crude finished tool than it was to be an unfinished PPK. My friend Jon Marcoux got a look at a couple of photos and confirmed that I had found a preform. He suggested that it was on its way to being a Morrow Mountain point.1

Before this past Friday I only knew about preforms via passing mentions in a few journal articles and books. If I had know when I was in college that I might one day end up digging shovel tests on a Phase I crew I would definitely have found a way to hang around an archaeology lab in order to become familiar with basic artifact types. Having some level of comfort with field analysis would have made these first surveys easier for me, and would have saved my crew chiefs a lot of question-answering.2 OTOH, coming into the CRM as a real n00b means that sometimes I come back to our hotel in the evening having learned something I didn’t know I didn’t know when we left in the morning. That’s a really neat experience to have at age 40.

Morrow Mountain point

A view of the other side of the preform.


1. On Morrow Mountain points in a Georgia Piedmont context, see John S. Whatley, “An overview of Georgia projectile points and selected cutting tools,” ed. King Adam, special issue, Early Georgia 30 (2002): 81–85.

2. This is my third CRM project, and I have just over six months of Phase I experience in all at this point.


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