Joe Hall, Cochise College
Part of our field school experimental archaeology work includes a hike to the San Francisco River to work on flinknapping and atlatl carving. On our recent hike with instructor Allen Denoyer, fellow student Lindsay Shepard and I were lucky to be accompanied by visiting guest and archaeobotanist Dr. Karen Adams.
As soon as we reached the trailhead to the San Francisco riparian area, Karen began pointing out the many local and introduced edible plants along our hike. I was able to try the lemonade berry, a small red berry off a small shrub, which has a sweet-and-sour outer layer and a hard pit on the interior. Karen was a wonderful guide and taught us a lot in the short one-mile walk down to the river.
Once we reached the final switchbacks leading down to the river, Allen informed us we might be able to see desert bighorn sheep on the cliff faces across the river. Keeping our eyes scanning the horizon, we continued down into the canyon where the river flowed in shades of green and blue. We stopped just short of the river for a lesson on flintknapping. Allen had cached items for us to use along our route.
Starting with a nodule of obsidian that was buried in the sand, we used hammerstones to rough out our points and then proceeded to pressure flake the points to create serrated edges. Finally, we added our last touches, a small notch on either side of the projectile point that will be used for hafting (attaching with cordage) the point to a shaft.
The experience we had was simply awesome; I never expected I’d able to progress so quickly from not being able to identify obsidian on the surface of a site to actually making my own projectile point similar to the ones we see at the site where we’re working.
After cleaning up the obsidian flakes from our knapping session, we made a small fire using a ferrocerium rod and high carbon steel. I couldn’t have asked for a better lunch break, sitting in a beautiful riparian area and learning ancient skills.
After lunch, we continued down the San Francisco River to a sandy bank where we gathered our materials to create atlatls. Allen spotted some desert bighorn sheep on a ridge and we were able to observe these rare species, my first time seeing them in the wild. We continued to work on our atlatls well into the afternoon, but we still managed to wade into the clean blue water and explore the surrounding cliff scenery. We were able to create the rough shape of our atlatls in a short amount of time before we had to return back to the campsite.
I look forward to continuing to flintknap and to finishing and using my atlatl in my free time. I appreciate the wealth of knowledge I gained from Karen and Allen.