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Projectile Points
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SAVANNAH RIVER

Defining Attributes

The Savannah River point has a large, triangular blade with a broad, square, straight stem.

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Chronology

The Savannah River point dates to the Late Archaic period.  One of the oldest radiocarbon dates for the type is 4865 +/- 280 BP (approximately 3650 BC in calendar years) from the Warren Wilson site in North Carolina, while one of the youngest is 3260 +/- 90 BP (roughly 1525 BC calendar) from the Pony Pasture site in Virginia (Eastman 1994).  In his type description for the point, Coe (1964) noted a date of 3894 +/- 250 BP (approximately 2400 BC calendar) at the Gaston site in North Carolina.  Numerous radiocarbon dates have been reported between 3900 and 3700 BP (2450-2050 BC calendar), suggesting a possible peak period of use (Dent 1995).  One is from Maryland, at site 18MO572 in Montgomery County, where Savannah River points were found within and immediately above a layer dated to 3800 +/-40 BP (between 2130-2340 BC calendar) (Fiedel et al. 2005).  Justice (1987) suggests a date range of roughly 5000 to 3000 BP (3750-1250 BC calendar) for the Savannah River, while Custer (1996a) suggests 4500 to 3700 BP (3300-2050 BC calendar) in the Mid-Atlantic region.  Steponaitis (1980) gives it a much more narrow range of 3900 to 3700 BP (2450-2050 BC calendar) along the Patuxent River.

Description

Blade: The blade is large, broad, and triangular, with excurvate or straight sides.  On some specimens the sides of the lower 1/3 to 1/2 of the blade are parallel, then curve towards the tip.  The shoulders can range from pronounced and at a right angle to the stem, to weak and obtuse-angled.  The blade is relatively thin, with an average thickness to width ratio of 1:10, and can be biconvex or flat in cross section. 

Haft Element: The stem is usually square and its sides are typically straight, although expanding and contracting varieties do occur.  The base is usually concave, but can be straight. 

Size: Length ranges from 44 to 170 mm.  Width ranges from 35 to 70 mm.  Thickness ranges from 7 to 12 mm.

Technique of manufacture: The points were made by percussion flaking.  Light pressure flaking was used to finish the sides and to straighten the stem and shoulders.

Material: In a sample of 47 Savannah River points from the lower Patuxent drainage, Steponaitis (1980) reported that 65% were quartzite, followed by rhyolite (27%), slate (4%), quartz (2%), and chert (2%).  In the area surrounding Zekiah Swamp on the lower Potomac, Wanser (1982) found that 80% of 139 Savannah River points were quartzite, with 12% quartz, 7% rhyolite, and 1% jasper.  At the Indian Creek V site in Prince George’s County, all 17 standard Savannah River points were quartzite, while the seven Small variety points (see below) were mostly rhyolite, with one example each of chalcedony and hematite (LeeDecker and Koldehoff 1991).  In the Monocacy River drainage, 73% of 166 Savannah Rivers were rhyolite, with 25% quartz and 2% argillite (Kavanagh 1982).  In the Hagerstown Valley, roughly 75% of Savannah River-like points were quartzite, with the rest rhyolite (Stewart 1980).  Quartzite Savannah River points predominate in the middle Potomac River Valley, but quartz and rhyolite were also used (Hranicky 2002).  In Delaware, they are commonly made from quartzite, argillite, and rhyolite (Custer 1996a), while in Virginia, quartzite is the most common material, but other stones were also used (McLearen 1991).

Discussion

The Savannah River point is found along the Eastern Seaboard from Florida to at least New Jersey, and west into the Appalachian Mountains (Justice 1987).  It is most common in the Southeast, but it is also found in large numbers in Maryland.  It is the single most abundant point type in the Middle Potomac River Valley (Hranicky 2002). Ritchie (1971) suggested a “genetic relationship” between the Savannah River and the similar Snook Kill (or Lehigh/Koens-Crispin) point of the Northeast, and others have proposed that the Savannah River was the antecedent of the various Broadspear points found in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast (cf. Funk 1993; Dent 1995).

A Savannah River Narrow Blade variant is recognized by some researchers.  McAvoy and McAvoy (1997) dated it to 4070 +/-80 BP (approximately 2600 BC in calendar years) at the Slade site along the Nottoway River in Virginia, and suggested it might be slightly earlier than the standard Savannah River.  The 24 specimens at the Cactus Hill site in Virginia ranged in length from 45 to 95 mm, in width from 20 to 35 mm, and in thickness from 6 to 10 mm (McAvoy and McAvoy 1997).

The Small Savannah River point variant was formally defined by Oliver (1981) using examples from North Carolina.  There is some evidence that the small variant is more recent than the standard Savannah River point, but the degree of chronological overlap (or separation) between the two varieties is uncertain (McLearen 1991; Sassaman 1993).  At the Indian Creek V site in Prince George’s County, the Small Savannah River ranged from 35 to 50 mm in length, 20 to 33 mm in width, and 7 to 9 mm in thickness (LeeDecker and Koldehoff 1991).  Some have suggested that the Holmes type should be seen as a small, northern derivative of the Savannah River (Dent 1995).

A short stemmed variant of the Savannah River point was defined by Geier (1996) at the Cattle Run site in Virginia.  The variant was found in association with standard Savannah River points, but was distinguished by a very short stem (13 mm median length) with a convex or straight base.  The blade was identical to the standard Savannah River.  The variant has some morphological similarity to the Morrow Mountain I point, but the latter typically has a more pointed base, a more triangular blade, and is usually not as well made as the Savannah River.  The variant is also quite similar to the Lehigh/Koens-Crispin point (McLearen 1991).  The Cattle Run variant has been noted at other sites in Virginia, and is somewhat similar to Savannah River variants described by Coe (1964) and Claflin (1931).

Defined in Literature

Claflin (1931) published the first detailed description of the Savannah River type from points excavated at Stallings Island in Georgia.  Coe (1964) formally defined the type using examples from North Carolina.

References

Claflin 1931; Coe 1964; Custer 1996a; Dent 1995; Eastman 1994; Fiedel et al. 2005; Funk 1993; Geier 1996; Hranicky 2002; Justice 1987; Kavanagh 1982; LeeDecker and Koldehoff 1991; McAvoy and McAvoy 1997; McLearen 1991; Oliver 1981; Ritchie 1971; Sassaman 1993; Steponaitis 1980; Stewart 1980; Wanser 1982

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Maryland's Prehistory

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Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab Updated: 12/30/12

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