Sunday, March 2, 2014

Handaxes and San Pedro Shootout

Hi all,

Recently, students of a Texas A&M anthropology course processed animals with Acheulean handaxes and also observed projectile point penetration on fresh animal hide.  I made the handaxes from chert nodules that I liberated from parking lot medians here in town and the San Pedro points from quartzite and obsidian.  Students conducted many other tests, including skeletal damage cause by blunt force trauma and burn patterning on animal bone.

Beginning in Africa. ca. 1.7 mya, and extending until ca. 100,000 years ago, Acheulean handaxes were in use for a staggering amount of time.  The production and use of these teardrop-shaped tools and associated flakes extends from South Africa to Northern Europe and Asia.  The Acheulean technological complex focused on the production of large cutting tools such as bifaces, large flake tools and large cleavers.  For this study we tested differences in applicability between a handaxe and the flakes produced during manufacture for the task of fleshing and separating sections of a carcass.  The flakes removed to produce the handaxe offered precision cutting tools while the resultant axe provided a sharp and heavy implement for separating joints and crushing bone to collect marrow.      

Students use Acheulean handaxes and observe cut mark patterning

For the next test we set out to see how San Pedro points perform as armed darts.  I have a bit of a soft spot for these after seeing one positioned over a much later stone-sealed offering pit in New Mexico.  The ease of production, durability and wide cutting edge makes this morphology especially attractive.  The darts performed quite well and roared through the fresh sheep hide without issue.  However, going home with a handful of unbroken darts would be boring so we kept shooting until the points broke.  The quartzite point was by far the most robust projectile, no surprise there.  The obsidian points performed well and left very clean puncture wounds.  The barbs created by the notched corners functioned fantastically well, so much so that the darts had to be pulled out through the target from the back.

The arrow I had made from river cane growing in the backyard felt better than the shorter version I had made the week prior.  The added length kept the foreshaft joint off of my hand while at full draw.  This arrow flew true and had no issue passing through fresh hide.

Lower half of target had hide and rib sections for impact tests. Upper portion had hide on cardboard backing
Arrow made from backyard river cane with turkey feathers
This Tularosa Corner Notched (ca.1100 B.P.) on composite arrow performed well

First in a set of San Pedro points ready for flight test (Southwest U.S.,ca. 3500-1700 B.P.) .

Quartzite San Pedro #1 impact on bone through hide
Dart #2, hafted obsidian San Pedro point
San Pedro #2 through sheep hide
Surprisingly, San Pedro #2 split through this branch with minimal tip damage

San Pedro #2 eventually struck bone directly under the hide and shattered

San Pedro #3
San Pedro #3 damaged tip after a few ground impacts and a glancing strike on bone through hide
This Pueblo Side Notched arrow point still pushed through after three resharpening events