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Archaeo News 

11 October 2009
Survey of Paleoindian artifacts in Montana

The tools that Montana's early peoples (USA) left behind hold invaluable clues to piecing together the state's early history. Archeologists say Montana is brimming with these clues but they're hard to find and often it's not the archeologists who unearth them. Ruthann Knudson, a semi-retired archeologist and adjunct professor in Great Falls, estimates that 95 percent of Paleoindian artifacts (defined as those older than about 8,500 years) are found by people she calls 'avocational archeologists.'
     Knudson said farmers, ranchers, hikers and the like are the best collectors because they're the ones out in Montana's vast spaces. But that means a lot of Paleoindian artifacts - which are mostly 'fluted' points, stone tips of tools characterized by their 'fluted' grooves - are scattered across the state, in homes, on farms on ranches, even in safety deposit boxes. "We just don't know where a lot of these things are," Knudson says. Which is why Knudson has teamed with the Montana Historical Society and state archeologist Stan Wilmoth to take a statewide survey of Paleoindian artifacts. "We want to get more people talking about what they know and what they have," Knudson says.
     Archeologist Leslie Davis did pioneering work in the late '80s on Paleoindian artifacts, which unearthed many new pieces, but this will be the first broad-based survey in the state, Wilmoth said. Knudson and Wilmoth are asking private collectors to submit digital photos, descriptions and if possible, approximate locations of their artifacts, either directly to Knudson or via an online form available on the Society's Web site. (www.montanahistoricalsociety. org/shpo/forms.asp) Some information, such as the specific location of the find or the owners' names would be made public only with permission. The archeologists are interested in any information, even if it's just a description of an artifact or some knowledge of where artifacts might be. "The whole project is about information, education and sharing," Knudson says. Knudson will compile the information and analyze it as well as submit it to the Paleoindian Database of the Americas, a nationwide survey of artifacts.
     There have been some large-scale finds across the state, some private, some public. Total, Wilmoth says there are about 100 total recorded Paleoindian points in Montana. The big finds, like the McHaffie site near Montana City, on which Knudson did her doctoral study, the Ansick site near Wilsall, the Mill Iron Site near Ekalaka, the Barton Gulch site in the Ruby River valley and the Myers-Hindman site near Livingston have all furthered scholars' understanding of Montana's early people. But, Knudson says, there is much more yet to be learned and much of that knowledge can come from the small and scattered private collections of everyday Montanans.
     By having more data to work with, scholars can begin to paint a better picture of where and when Paleoindian cultures lived. They can start to see how climate effected the lives of the early people and they can look for variations in the craftsmanship of the tools - all important information to better understand Montana's early history.

Source: Great Falls Tribune (9 October 2009)

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