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
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
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
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
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
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.