17 September 2015

A cult of silent nighttime hunters? Beak on recent bird sculpture find lends support to earlier hypothesis of 'Clovis spear points as owl-symbolic'

Recently discovered owl sculpture with two other birds depicted on its face as featured earlier this month.

In prior years on this blog I identified two Ohio spear point artifacts which are possibly from the "pre-Clovis era" (before about 13,500 years ago) and which may indicate attempts to make the points symbolic icons of the owl.

Illustration of interpreted owl eye and beak features on the Licking County, Ohio, owl sculpture and a close up of the 'hooked owl beak with two nostrils'

Recently I discovered and identified a second flint and quartz crystal owl sculpture from Licking County, Ohio, which has a beak depiction on the bird which is strikingly similar to what I suspected was a beak depiction on one of the owl-iconic spear points. This post introduces this comparison.

Coschocton County spear point made of Coschocton flint found by Dr. Robert Curry near Wakatomika Creek on his farm near Dresden, Ohio, and acquired by Ken Johnston. Described as a "Cactus Hill" type after study by Dr. James Adovasio of Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute. It is likely pre-Clovis and has two similar and symmetrical divots in the flint in the anatomically correct position for 'owl eyes.' Featured earlier on this blog.

Licking County, Ohio, broken spear point base typed by me as "pre-Clovis" because of the basal concavity, large flake removal and its thinness. It resembles some Spanish Solutrean bases I have seen. The base is centered on what I have interpreted as a 'beak' on the face of the owl form.

The beak may be a natural imperfection in the flint or it may have been etched into the flint. The feature seems to demonstrate starts and stops as would be seen with human carving. There is another 'beak' on the opposite side of this piece which was featured earlier on this blog. This side seems to depict a hooked beak.

Spear point 'owl beak' compared to sculpture 'owl beak.' Their similar shape and execution on the flint leads me to conclude this could be an artistic convention to create the owl beak anatomical feature which may likely be found on other owl-iconic artifacts in my local area and perhaps beyond.

I think the new find supports my earlier hypothesis that Clovis points are "owl-symbolic" where the fluted channel came to represent the more explicit 'eyes' and 'beaks' which may have been made on pre-Clovis spear points. The removal of the channel flake may have been a quicker way to produce the owl without having to take so much time for more time involved eye and beak details.

Even if the flute channel is not related to the owl symbolism the basal tangs on Clovis points remain as symbolic of the ears of an owl. This may have been done to bring the magic power of the owls' hunting prowess, evidenced by night vision and silent flight capabilities, to the human hunt.

Dr. Bruce Bradley of the University of Exeter has described the relatively fast emerging and short life of Clovis tool kits as a possible cult-like response to the need for an urgent change in established life-ways. One may speculate that the reduction of available megafauna at the terminal Pleisistocene may have triggered the need for a more focused and fully expressed ritualistic symbol-driven hunting system.

If large animal protein, bone and ivory were less available as scavenged items, hunting and the use of spear points may have emerged to continue to maintain elements of the big animal culture. Maybe the 'owl' icon was seen as a way to improve their odds.
According to the BBC series "Planet Earth", elephant night vision is "not much better than our own." This puts elephants at a notable disadvantage when there are hungry predators around, as demonstrated in the series, when a pride of around 30 lions takes down a medium-sized elephant which has difficulty seeing them once it gets separated from its herd.
Two Paleolithic spear points from Benton County, Tennessee, Ernest Sims Collection.


As of now the "Clovis spear points as owl-symbolic" hypothesis may be weak with just a few examples but by posting my observations here maybe someone in the future who has made similar observations will have a reference.

2 comments:

  1. Sorry but this theory isnt a logical one, nor is it backed up by any evidence other than imaginative thinking. None of the above examples show any actual intent to depict an owl. The coshocton projectile point pictured simply has two "fire pops" in the hafting area from being exposed to heat, not intentional manipulation to depict eyes.
    There is a much more rationale explanation for fluted auriculate projectile points, easier hafting to the foreshaft of an atlatl dart. This means your proposed area of of the point that depicts a owl, is covered in pine pitch and cordage to secure the point in place (not a great place to show off your artistic side!)
    Plus the idea that Paleo hunters would pursue large megafauna at night isnt a good one in my opinion, just sounds like a great way to get trampled in the dark and throw alot of hard to make projectile points into a black abyss.

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  2. Thanks for the comments Josh.

    I've got two flint and crystal owl sculptures and two points with proposed owl features, eyes on one and beak on the other, from the same locale. When I found the recent owl sculpture I noted it had a very similar incised beak form as the one I noticed on the point base. The owl sculptures both have two additional birds depicted and are confirmed artifacts.

    I have conflicting opinions from experts on the owl eyes. Fire pops or percussion punches.

    No one has ever established the purpose of Clovis fluting or the basal concavity. They have long been speculated to have a symbolic purpose in addition to being projectile points. You don't have to show off the point to bring the symbolic power of the owl to hunting ritual. Obviously the 'ears' would have been hidden from view once the point was in use.

    This is a personal blog and a place where I share some imaginative thinking. I appreciate your feedback on it.

    Maybe you and the arrowheads.com community have missed my final sentence in the posting: As of now the "Clovis spear points as owl-symbolic" hypothesis may be weak with just a few examples but by posting my observations here maybe someone in the future who has made similar observations will have a reference.

    If you are ever in central Ohio let me know and I'd be delighted to share the owl sculptures and the points with you for your own inspection.

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