Clovis and other blade caches: Lost possessions or hidden symbols?

The finding of multiple Clovis type blade caches in recent years has brought on a vast amount of speculation as to their meaning or interpretive value. However, the scramble for their possession by a few collectors has sometimes caused the search for their meaning to get lost in the haze of the sheer dollar value some have placed upon these so-called unique finds.  In truth, these Clovis blade caches are but the first evidence of a peculiarly American phenomenon of various hidden blade finds that extend across thousands of years of native American prehistory.  Let's look briefly at some of the evidence and conjecture for what these important artifact remains might be telling us about these lost  peoples.


Firstly, what are some of the common and unique elements seen in both the Clovis era caches and those of later time periods?  MANUFACTURE:  Almost without exception all blade cache remains contain individual pieces of exceptional workmanship, large size, or quality of source material (Frequently, the chosen source material is not local, especially in the Clovis finds.).  LOCATION:  While Clovis site visibility remains difficult, it is apparent that blade caches from earlier periods appear to be more isolated from large occupation sites than those of later time periods.  Nearness to water, or kill sites, elevation, microenvironment of cache, etc. have not been adequately documented in all cases, for example.  SOURCE MATERIAL:  Clovis caches are marked by the exotic nature of the flint sources.  In general, no more than two of the cached blades appear to be from the same chert source.  Often the source material is from quarries a great distance from the cache site.  Later caches, especially Woodland Period or single source caches (Indiana hornstone, such as those on display at the National Museum of the American Iindian in Washington, DC comes to mind) are almost exclusively made-up of local cherts or nearby quarries (Ohio caches this author has observed are always locally sourced. But then these peoples did not travel over the vast distances covered by their ancestors). In all cases, however, the chosen pieces are of fine quality and exceptionally well-worked.  The author was also fortunate to find an extremely rare 20 plus piece obsidian blade cache of unknown age in 1981 while doing some MA thesis follow-up survey on obsidian sources in Sandoval Co. New Mexico.  This find is still in his possession.)  UTILIZATION:  A unique feature of all cache blade finds seems to be that the included blades, while of high quality in all respects, show little or no prior edge utilization as a tool, point or other use.  Random finds of equal quality almost always show edge wear patterns, even when found in a non-random context (burial, mound, etc.  An unpublished study by the author and others in 1980-81 while at Marshall University indicated edge wear patterns of higher than 70 % on a large sample of all blade types of early Archaic age or earlier in a series of Ohio Valley collections.)


WHAT ARE BLADE CACHES?:  Most often, writers speculating about individual blade caches, regardless of age, tend to focus on the theme that they are hidden for the purpose of retrieval at some later point in time.  However,  this particular explanation seems somewhat facile in light of the fact that so many blade caches are found, indicating that either their original owners forgot them or, more likely, never intended to come back for them in the first place.  Considering the high quality of such finds it seems most unlikely they would have been merely "misplaced." In the case of the Clovis caches in particular, it seems less remarkable that we  have not found more of them than the fact that--given the overall visibliity of Clovis types--we have found more than even one such cache at all!  To have found multiple Clovis caches across several states begs the question of how many more of them must still be out there beyond our ability to find them by any method other than the sheer chance that has led to the existing discoveries.  This fact of their high quality or exceptional size has led others to speculate that blade caches, in general, reflect an individual or group's attempt at "showing-off" their ability, if not to their fellows then to their ancestral or animal (game) spirits.  Are they some sort of ritualized animal fertility or hunting rite--not unlike what some have speculated about cave paintings during the Solutrean Period?  (Note: One of the arguments against Stanford and Bradley's "Solutrean Solution" for Clovis origins has been the apparent lack of the high art of equivalent European Ice Age hunters.  Could blade caches be one such expression, particularly in the absence of long-term cave occupations in North America?)  The inclusion of red ochre in  the Clovis caches thus far described by others is also indicative, or so it would seem, of some ritualized purpose in the burial of these high quality blades.  In the case of this author's obsidian blade cache discovery, the marked isolation and non-descript surroundings of the find indicates a high probability that an individual returning at some distant time might have had some difficulty even relocating such a site.  However, a unique feature of this find was the fact that less than half the pieces were finished preforms, the remainder being unworked pieces of nearby or locally sourced obsidian of workable size.

SUMMARY:   North American blade caches begin with Clovis and extend into near historic times.  No certainty, as to their purpose can be determined at present, due mainly to a lack of ancillary site info. (Unfortunately, most such finds are made by amateurs, some, but not all, of whom guard their site locations quite closely.) Another obstacle is the rapidity with which these highly desirable and monetarily valuable finds often are removed from study and into private collections, where the detailed information about them becomes obscured or lost.  It seems highly unlikely that these cached burials of high quality material are either random events or "lost" hoards intended for future retrieval or use.  Nor does it appear that they are sacred collections of well-used, favorite implements.  While they may be offerings of some sort, it is not clear to whom or what they were being offered, especially given the thousands of years over which they continued to be made, hidden, and unclaimed.  More work needs to be done on the randomness of these buried caches in hopes of correlating some as yet unseen common elements in their situations, locations, etc.  This author, always fascinated by this subject due to his personal experience in the finding of two such (albeit non-Clovis) caches, has chosen to include his own speculation about the Clovis cache problem as a major feature of Chapter Twenty of the first novel in his People of the Stone saga, The Stone Breakers. One thing remains clear, however.  There must still remain significant numbers of such exciting finds waiting the developer's bulldozer, or the lucky hiker or artifact collector on some unknown path.  Unfortunately, the high value placed on these remarkable finds by some has also led to the marketing of fake caches in recent years, further clouding our ability to learn more about these obviously important clues to the distant North American prehistoric past.

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The blade caches you mention in your blog are very interesting. I personally imagine that they could be a ceremonial offering. It seems that they might have placed these caches as a sort of thanks to the earth they were created from, perhaps in hopes of being provided with reliable future stone resource. The very fact that their lives depended so heavily on these stone tools leads me to believe the caches had some importance. I look forward to reading your theories and how you include them in your novel.

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