Fluted projectile points represent the earliest North American stone tool technology, although they comprise a small portion of the overall stone technology observed in the New World. These easily recognized spear points represent one form of technology used by the earliest human inhabitants of North and South America. Locally, the two most iconic fluted point traditions in Colorado were manufactured by the Clovis and Folsom peoples of the Paleo-Indian period. Fluted points are quite rare in the Colorado archaeological record, but their importance to understanding the people of the New World is fundamental.
The “flute” of a fluted point is the groovelike flaking scar intentionally created by a flintknapper by removing a flake from the base of a spear point. Some points may have only one large flute removed, whereas others may have several smaller flutes. Fluting is generally done on both sides of the point, but in some cases only one side of the point is fluted. In Clovis technology, the flute generally extends no more than half the distance of the overall point length, whereas in the Folsom tradition the flute generally extends nearly the entire length. Apart from the fluting, Clovis points tend to be longer than their Folsom successors, also having more convex margins and a less concave base. However, both consistently have intentionally abraded basal margins.
The first fluted points were discovered near Folsom, New Mexico, in the 1920s. These “Folsom” points provided the first glimpse of the antiquity of human culture in North America, because they were found in direct association with an extinct species of bison (Bison antiquus). Later, in the early 1930s, a small sample of fluted points (different than those from Folsom) was recovered in association with mammoth remains outside the Blackwater Draw area near Clovis, New Mexico. These “Clovis” points (originally identified as Llano) pushed the antiquity of human presence in North America into the late Pleistocene period, or sometime before 11,000 BC.
Stratigraphically, Clovis materials persistently lay below Folsom materials, suggesting an earlier occupation. However, it was not until absolute dating methods (specifically, radiocarbon dating) were developed in the early 1950s that better chronological resolution of these early cultures was achieved. In 1931, albeit before those recovered at Blackwater Draw, Clovis style fluted points were found in direct association with mammoth remains near Dent, Colorado, and were later dated to approximately 10,900 BC. Since then, stone tools have been documented at numerous Clovis sites dated between 11,050 and 10,750 BC.
The act of fluting requires incredible skill, and many fluted points appear to have been fractured during the manufacturing process, especially with the thinner Folsom points. Broken, partially fluted tools are well documented in the archaeological record. Flintknappers continued to craft the points despite this high rate of failure, indicating a cultural necessity for fluting. The flute could be a stylistic identifier or may have served a functional role in the tool’s performance. Early interpretations of fluted points suggested they represented something akin to fullers (or “blood grooves”) seen in modern knives; however, this hypothesis has lost most of its supporters after additional experimental research. Another hypothesis suggests fluted points maximized penetration due to their thinner profile. Additionally, this thinner profile allows easier hafting into multicomponent weaponry (e.g., foreshafts, atlatls, etc.) which was a common practice among Paleo-Indian cultures.
Folsom flintknappers were the last to flute their spear points, as later Paleo-Indian groups made no attempt at fluting. The reasoning behind this sudden change in hunting point technology, as well as the act of fluting, is still ambiguous today among researchers. However, the importance of fluted points in archaeological contexts remains unequivocal, as they have been invaluable in helping archaeologists determine how some of the earliest humans lived in Colorado.