University of Minnesota
Department of Anthropology
anth@umn.edu
612-625-3400


  •  

Holcombe

A small, thin fluted point named by Fitting, DeVisscher, and Wahla (1966) after specimens from the Holcombe Beach site in Macomb County, southeastern Michigan.

Holcombe
Holcombe - U of M Teaching Collection

Description: Holcombe points are small (ca. 1.4 to 2.7 inches, or 35 to 70 mm), thin (ca. 0.1 to 0.2 inches, or 3.5 to 6 mm) fluted points with a shallow basal concavity (less than 0.2 inches, or 5 mm) (Wahla and DeVisscher 1969; Deller and Ellis 1989; Justice 1987:24). In Michigan and elsewhere, they are made mostly on small, thin flakes of Bayport chert, Mercer flint, Onondaga flint, Kettle Point and Haldiman cherts from Ontario, and other regional cherts. With their broadly convex sides and high mid-point above the center, they are thought to resemble a pumpkin seed in outline. As a result, they are called “pumpkin seed” fluted points by some collectors (DeRegnaucourt 1991:9). Blade width was 0.6 to 1.1 inches (16 to 28 mm) in a sample of points from the Holcombe Beach in southeastern Michigan (Justice 1987:242). In contrast to their broad blade, they have a very narrow basal width (0.5 to 1 inch, or 13 to 27 mm) caused by a sharp contraction toward the base that distinguishes them from other types in the cluster. They also have sharp, usually thin, basal ears that often have been delicately chipped, a well ground basal concavity and lateral edges, and a biconvex cross section or, more usually, a cross section that is convex on one face and almost flat on the other. About half of all specimens are fluted. Most of these have a flute on only one face, which was made by detaching multiple channel flakes. Flute length is usually about equal to the width of the base (0.5 to 1 inch, or13-27 mm). Fluting seems to have been omitted where the base was already sufficiently thin to allow hafting. Primary flaking seems fairly random, while secondary flaking can be neatly patterned.

Distribution: Most Holcombe points have been found in Michigan and southern Ontario. Smaller numbers of Holcombe or Holcombe-like points have been reported from northern Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. At least 16 Holcombe-like points have been found in Minnesota (2 in Cook County, 5 in Koochiching County, 1 in Roseau County, 1 in Houston County, 2 in Pine County, and 4 in Freeborn County) (Florin 1996:Figure 62; Higginbottom 1996: Figures 35 & 38); the SHPO archaeology database also records a Holcombe point in Marshall County.

Age and Associations: Because of their technological features and a radiocarbon date of 9000 B.C. obtained from a hearth at the Holcombe Beach site, these points are thought to date to the Late Paleoindian period. In addition, since some have been found on the lakebed of Glacial Lake Algonquin, which drained about 8500 B.C., at least some Holcombe points are thought to be more recent than this date. For this reason, they are also thought to be more recent than Clovis, Barnes, Gainey, and other fluted point types in the region that have not been found on the lakebed.

The people who made Holcombe points are usually considered hunters whose prey were barren ground caribou that migrated in herds through the open parkland and open spruce parkland vegetation zones of the Late Pleistocene Great Lakes. This interpretation is supported by an age in the final stages of the Wisconsin glaciation, the geographic distribution of the points, find-spots on old glacial beach ridges and lake bottoms, and a possible association with the remains of barren ground caribou (Rangifer articus) at the Holcombe site. While the small size and delicate nature of these points seem to make them unsuited for spearing large animals, many have snap fractures one-third to one-fourth the way up from the base, suggesting the tips broke off after the spearheads were thrust into an animal.

According to an alternative interpretation, Holcombe points are a transitional point form between earlier fluted points and more recent Plano Lanceolate points. In this interpretation, Holcombe points were manufactured during the technological shift from the spear to the atlatl. This view is supported by the small size and more delicate nature of the point and by the large numbers of points (almost half) that were not fluted, perhaps because of greater basal thinning.

Comments: The single Holcombe point reported from an excavated site in Minnesota was recovered by Forest Service archaeologists from the Superior National Forest during archaeological testing of the Bearskin Point site (21CK18), which is located on the north shore of East Bearskin Lake in Cook County. It was first reported in a Forest Service annual report by Gordon Peters (1990) but has since been briefly discussed by Florin (1996) and Dobbs and Anfinson (1993). The most detailed information about the point has been provided by Tony Romano (1996, personal communication with Dan Higginbottom), who observed the point and took photographic slides of it. The specimen, made of siltstone, is the basal fragment of a medium-sized lanceolate projectile point with wide, convex lateral sides, a deep concave base, and sharp ears that project downward at both corners. Large, broad flakes appear to cover both faces. Fluting was attempted on both faces, but the soft texture of the material used prevented the detachment of all but short, broad flutes on the two faces (Tony Romano: personal communication 1997). A fracture that may have resulted from the botched attempt at flute removal occurred somewhere below mid-blade. No information is available regarding the presence of edge grinding. The material is an opaque, gray-black siltstone with a dull slate-like luster (Bakken 1999:75). According to Romano, it is difficult to successfully flute points with this material. Since this region of Minnesota was a parkland/tundra in the Late Glacial period, it is possible that people who were hunting barren ground caribou made the point.

Similar and Identical Types: The Holcombe fluted point is readily distinguished from other fluted point types by its small size, thinness, overall delicate appearance, and contraction toward the base. However, it is similar in appearance to Crowfield points, which are found in the same general area. Crowfield points may be somewhat older (8300 to 8500 B.C.) and ancestral to the Holcombe point (Deller and Ellis 1988). It is also somewhat similar in appearance to the still earlier Gainey fluted point, which has the same general geographic distribution, and to the Bull Brook fluted point in New England.