This bladelet core from Ohio was made during the Hopewell period from Flint Ridge chert. Microblades, also called ‘bladelets’ by local archaeologists, were traded extensively as part of the Hopewell Interaction Sphere. Bladelets in Ohio date to ca. 1500-2000 BP.
The core in this model was found in Ohio near the Flint Ridge chert source. The reverse side of the core was prepared by invasive hard-hammer flaking, and a bifacial edge was created at one end. This bifacial edge became the platform for detaching the bladelets from the opposite face. The bladelets were probably removed by a soft-hammer percussion technique, although the regularity of the earlier scars in the sequence may suggest that a pressure technique was used.
In archaeological terminology, a ‘blade’ is a flake struck down parallel ridges on a core face, and measures at least twice as long as it is wide. The edges of the blade are approximately parallel. The core face is maintained by prior removals, and blades are struck off in series. If they are struck from one platform, the removals are ‘unidirectional’, and if they are struck from two opposed platforms, they are ‘bidirectional’. Blades were struck by direct percussion (using a hard or soft hammer) or indirect percussion using a punch; or they were pressed off using a pressure technique. This involved placing the end of the indentor onto the platform edge and applying a load—either by hand or using a lever—until the crack initiated. The placement of the indentor and the amount of applied force can be precisely controlled, resulting in extraordinary control of the size and shape of the resulting pressure blades. A common approach was to set up the core so that most of the blades had a trapezoidal cross section; these are called ‘prismatic’ blades. One of the trickiest aspects of pressure blade-making is securing the core, and experimental flintknappers have devised various ways to do this. Pressure blade-making was famously explored by the experimental flintknapper Don Crabtree in the 1970s.
The Hopewell tradition is a name given to cultures that arose in the Middle Woodland period in the Eastern Woodlands of the United States, ca. 1500-2100 BP. The Hopewell people were dispersed across a large area from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, but were linked by an exchange network known as the Hopewell Interaction Sphere. Objects for trade were made from local materials and traded for exotic materials found hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away. For instance obsidian sourced from Obsidian Cliff in Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming was made into ceremonial ‘Ross Barbed’ bifaces interred in elite burials in Ohio, as well as other tools from Hopewell sites throughout the region.
Hopewell ‘bladelets’ are a stone tool type that was traded widely through the Hopewell Interaction Sphere. The term ‘bladelet’ is used by archaeologists working in the region to refer to this form of microblade. The stone for bladelets was extensively moved between groups engaged in the exchange network. For instance, colourful chert from the quarries at Flint Ridge in central Ohio have been found to the south in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia, and to the west at sites in the Illinois River Valley. At least two regional knapping traditions supplied bladelets for exchange, including the relatively large bladelets associated with the Havana Hopewell in Illinois, and the smaller bladelets made by the Ohio Hopewell. Many bladelets were probably made by soft-hammer direct percussion, although some archaeologists have proposed that a pressure technique may have been used to make the more refined examples. A study of a large assemblage of bladelets from Ohio suggests that they were made by non-specialist knappers. The methods used to reduce the cores varied considerably.
Use-wear studies suggest that bladelets in Ohio were used for a variety of tasks, such as butchering, general cutting, scraping, perforating, drilling, and incising. Use-wear studies of Hopewell bladelets in Illinois have suggested to archaeologists that they were sometimes used in mortuary preparations with symbolic overtones. For this reason, bladelets may have been preferred over simple flakes in ritual contexts. A study found that bladelets were significantly more common with female burials than with male burials in Illinois, suggesting that the tools were associated with female gender roles.