For thousands of years before European contact, Native Americans relied on the use of stone for many of the tools that were used in their everyday lives.
Much of the stone was obtained from bedrock sandstone and limestone outcrops that contained deposits of silicified sandstone (also referred to as orthoquartzite) and chert, respectively, that was suitable for fashioning tools.
This was done through a process known as flint-knapping which involves pieces of stone, also called lithics, being struck in a controlled manner to remove excess material and thereby create tools. Common examples of stone tools created and used by pre-contact people around the country include spear and arrow points, knives, drills, and awls.
Once discovered, these natural outcrops of tool-quality stone were often utilized as quarries by Native Americans. The area in and near Fort McCoy has a number of these ancient quarry sites, some of which show evidence of having been utilized as early as the Late Paleoindian period, 10,000 to 8,000 years ago (8000-6,000 BC).
Sources of Monroe County silicified sandstone have been found just west of the installation near Cataract, Wis., and its surrounding hills, and many of these were utilized during the Late Paleoindian period.
Another much larger source for lithic material is Silver Mound in northern Jackson County, approximately 30 miles as the crow flies northwest of Fort McCoy.
Silver Mound contains large deposits of high-quality lithic raw material known as Hixton silicified sandstone and was actively quarried beginning from the earliest times of human presence in the area. This material was heavily utilized by Native Americans as early as 12,000 years ago (10,000 BC) and was used extensively in all later periods.
Hixton silicified sandstone from the Silver Mound quarries is of such high quality that long-distance transport of the material was common. It is well documented to have traveled to regions outside of Wisconsin, with some artifacts found as far away as Kentucky and Louisiana.
Hixton silicified sandstone artifacts are relatively abundant at Fort McCoy and represent periods of time throughout the pre-contact era from as early as the Late Paleoindian (10,000 years ago; 8,000 BC) to as late as the Oneota (300 years ago; AD 1700).
(See picture for a representation of Hixton silicified sandstone points.)
Examples from the Late Paleoindian period include broken Eden/spear point (A).
Examples from the Early Archaic period (8,000 to 6,000 years ago; 6000-4000 BC) include Bifurcate Base (B) and examples from the Late Archaic period (3,500 to 2,500 years ago; 1500-500 BC) include Durst (C).
There is one example of the Motley point pictured (D) and it has a date range of Late Archaic to Early Woodland (2,550 to 1,850 years ago; 550 BC-AD 150).
Early Woodland points are represented by Kramer (E) and Waubesa (F) point types, while examples from the Middle Woodland period (1,900 to 1,500 years ago; AD 100-500) include Steuben points (G).
Late pre-contact points (Late Woodland and Oneota; 1,500 to 300 years ago; AD 500-1700) are marked by Honey Creek (H) and Madison Triangular (I) arrowheads.
All archaeological work conducted at Fort McCoy was sponsored by the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch.
Visitors and employees are reminded they should not collect artifacts on Fort McCoy or other government lands and leave the digging to the professionals. Visitors to Silver Mound are reminded not to pick up pieces of silicified sandstone for personal rock collections. Any individual who excavates, removes, damages, or otherwise alters or defaces any post-contact or pre-contact site, artifact, or object of antiquity on Fort McCoy is in violation of federal law.
The discovery of any archaeological artifact should be reported to the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch.
(Article by the Fort McCoy Archaeology Team.)