Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies
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Dovetails “The St. Charles Blade”:
Aesthetically Pleasing Works of Ancient Art

by Jeff Steiner

Central States Archaeological Societies 2014 January Journal


The Stanfield Knife: A Large Paleo Blade

Dovetails are amongst some of my favorite flint artifacts. These wonderful and outstanding Early Archaic (9500 - 8000 B.P.) period specimens grace many collections today. They have been commonly called “ Dovetails” by collectors because of the fan shaped base
that resembles the spread out tail of a dove. The true archaeological name would actually be the “St. Charles” point type, named by Edward G. Scully in 1951 for points he found in the central Mississippi Valley around St. Charles County, Missouri. The St. Charles type site is the Gronefeld Site, located in St. Charles County. Some examples are bifacial re-sharpened, meaning that they are pressure flaked on all four edges which leaves them elliptical in cross section. Elliptical implies that the face of the blade has a slight curvature. Most are also unifacially re-sharpened, which is being flaked on one side of each face leaving them rhomboidal with one flat cross section and a beveled edge.1 This point type is found in Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Iowa, Tennessee, and West Virginia. A few have been found in northeast Texas, Louisiana, and eastern Oklahoma.

Dovetails are normally heavily built, apparently made for cutting meat from large animals and for rugged use. Most examples show multiple re-sharpening, suggesting their use as a knife form. These knives are almost always re-sharpened by removing short flakes from one face at about an angle of 60 degrees. This beveling is performed with pressure flaking along both edges in the same direction. The advantage of re-sharpening the knife in this manner is that the blade does not have to be removed from the handle to be given a new cutting edge when it gets dull from use. This knapping process produces a very sharp edge and only requires a few minutes of work to accomplish. Pressure flaking was performed with an antler tine (modern reproductions are usually made from a tool made of copper, or other materials). The form can greatly vary in size, ranging from a small to very large blade, 2-10 inches in length; along with narrow corners or side matches that help define the stem or base.

The blade is triangular in form and has a wide face with excavate edges and elliptical cross section when in its first stage form. With continuous re-sharpening, the blade edge would become straight to re-curvedand eventually into a drill form.

One form of Dovetail has been called Plevna by James W. Cambron in 1969, after points he found in northern Alabama. Robert Edler, in his book Early Archaic Indian Points and Knives, classifies the St. Charles Point Style into nine sub-types: designated Type I, Type II, and so on. He ascertains there are nine varieties. 2 All of the sub-types have attributes which are mutual to all, such as beveling, basal and notch grinding and smoothing, serrating, weight to length ratios, and general outlines. Most Examples are made from the finest materials and show excellent workmanship (see Figs 1-2). The Dovetail knife was utilized for many centuries, even millenniums, which tells the story of how effective and useful this tool really was. These Early Archaic knives are contemporaneous with Hardin and Scottsbluff points.

Most Dovetails that I have studied show extensive use wear on the face and sometimes on the blade edges, depending on when it was last re-sharpened before it was lost. I have one Dovetail in my collection that is first stage; as it has never been re-sharpened and shows no use wear on the face or edges. This is extremely rare and makes me wonder if the maker was so pleased with his creation that he put this aside, not to be used. Possibly he had enough knives made already, or it may have been lost before it had a chance to be used.

I can certainly understand why this type is one of the most sought after of all arrowhead types. For this reason it is also one of the most reproduced and faked, so be careful in acquiring an original, ancient example. Any Dovetail that exceeds four inches in length is extremely rare, so once again, be careful as most fakers tend to make copies of this size.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to acquire enough fine specimens to fill a frame after 18 years of collecting them.

My wife Claire and I have been arrowhead hunting local fields in southeastern Wisconsin for 25 years and never came across even one Dovetail. Obviously, these points are quite rare, especially in our region of collecting.

So the next time you have a chance to Dovetails up close and in person, take a little extra time. You will see right away that these beautifully sculptured blades are highly aesthetically pleasing works of ancient art.

1See“Authenticating Ancient Indian Artifacts”, pages 119-126 for a step by step Dovetail re-sharpening process.
2 For more information, refer to “Early Archaic Indian Points and Knives” Pages 68-87


Bennett, Jim R.
2008 Authenticating Ancient Indian Artifacts Collectors Books

Cambron, James W.,Hulse, David C.
1969 Handbook of Alabama Archaeology : Part I Point Types The Archaeological
Research Association of Alabama

Elder, Robert W.

1990 Early Archaic Indian Points and Knives Collectors Books
Articles on the internet:
Ezinearticles.com > Reference and Evaluation

At left: Figure 1. Big Blue - I acquired this Dovetail just minutes before the famous Clovis, known as “Old Blue” was sold to a friend of mine at an auction. Therefore, I name this lithic work of art, Big Blue. It is fashioned of Burlington Chert. There are impurities within the chert that have created dark blue bands and speckles throughout the blade. It meaaures 6 3/8 inches in length and was found in St. Louis County, Missouri. It was previously collected by Dr. Paul Titterington, Gray LaDassor, Floyd Ritter, Pete Bostrom and Tommy Beutell. At right: Figure 2. The Ritter Dove - This Dovetail measures 6 3/16 inches in length and is fashioned of high grade Burlington with brown stripes running the entire length of the blade. It was found in Brown County, Illinois, and was previously collected by Clem Cadwell and Floyd Ritter.