Introduction

Archaic: 5500 to 500 B.C.

Artifacts

At sites dating from the Archaic period, archaeologists find the first abundant evidence of stone tools designed specifically for the preparation of plant foods. Remarkably, these same tools—or variations of them—are still used today in cultures around the world. Archaeologists working in the American Southwest call these tools "manos" and "metates."

Basin metate, one-hand mano. Illustration by Joyce Heuman Kramer; copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

During the Archaic period, basin metates and one-hand manos were used to grind wild plant foods.

Mano is the Spanish word for "hand," and it refers to a stone that is held in one or both hands and moved back and forth against a larger stone in order to grind seeds, nuts, and other hard materials. Metate is derived from metatl, a word used by native peoples in central Mexico to describe the larger stone against which the mano is ground.

During the Archaic period, manos were round or oval stones small enough to be held in one hand. They are called "one-hand manos" or, sometimes, "biscuit manos," because they somewhat resemble large biscuits. The metates were larger and had an oval or oblong depression, which held the foodstuffs or other materials as they were being ground. These larger stone implements are called "basin metates" because of their distinctive shape.

The spear continued to be used for hunting during the Archaic period, but it was used in conjunction with a new tool called an "atlatl" (pronounced ÄT-lä-tul). The handheld atlatl allowed spears to be thrown with greater force and accuracy. It consisted of a narrow piece of wood with a small projection, or hook, at one end. The projection fit into the butt end of the spear shaft and held the spear in place until it was released. The spear was tipped with a projectile point. Sometimes the projectile point was hafted directly onto the spear; other times, it was hafted onto a short, wooden shaft that was inserted into the forward end of the spear, making the point easily detachable. During the Archaic period, many new styles of projectile points were developed, reflecting the emergence of local stoneworking traditions.

Atlatl (copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center) and atlatl with spear and dart (illustration by Lew Matis; courtesy Kendall/Hunt Publishing).

Hunting equipment used by Archaic peoples. Top: Atlatl. Bottom: Atlatl with spear and projectile point.

 

Atlatl. Edge of the Cedars Museum collection. Photo by Joyce Heuman Kramer; copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

This extremely well preserved atlatl is in the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in southeastern Utah.

Replica of a split-twig figurine believed to represent a deer. Replica created by Paul Ermigiotti. Photo by Joyce Heuman Kramer; copyright Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.

Replica of an Archaic split-twig figurine,
probably a deer.

At some well-preserved Archaic sites in rock alcoves, perishable items such as yucca sandals, baskets and snares made from various plant fibers, and clothing made of deerskin have been found. And in a few locations, archaeologists have discovered small, split-twig figurines in the shape of deer, elk, or bighorn sheep.