From Hand to Hand
The Story of a
The Ancient Flint-Knapper
You may have read somewhere, or heard someone say, that we die twice. The explanation that follows this statement suggests that our first death is physical; our body ceases functioning.
Then, sometime later, depending on our fame or infamy, our final death arrives when no one alive utters our name again.
The man sitting on a large flat rock just outside the shadow of a glacial wall was carefully knapping a flint tool. He was almost 40 years of age, an old man by today’s standard of longevity. His skill took years to master, and it showed in the elegant fluted spear point he was creating.
His name has not been spoken for more than 12,000 years. We will never know his name nor what he and his group called themselves. But, we call them the Clovis people.
Millennia before, the ancestors of the Clovis people took advantage of the ice age to journey across the Bering Strait from Siberia to North America. Much of the Earth’s water was tied up in ice, allowing a land bridge to develop between the two continents.
The toolmaker’s clan hunted the giant creatures of the Pleistocene Epoch, the mammoth, mastodon and giant bison. These were just a few among the many now-extinct animals that grazed upon the expansive North American Steppes.
A certain amount of skill, courage and technology was required to hunt and kill these animals.
The design of the bi-faced Clovis point was superior to that of earlier groups that wandered North America. So much so that the descendants of the Clovis people continued using the design long after they were replaced by the modern tribes of Native Americans.
As the man put the finishing touches to the greenish flint blade, he took great care to avoid flaking out a small blood-red crystal near the point of the projectile. He appreciated the beauty of this feature and thought that there must be something extraordinary about this point.
The green Clovis point with the red crystal would be his final work of art. As well, his next hunt would be his last hunt.
The great flint-knapper would soon experience his first death after driving the point into the ribs of a mastodon. The enraged beast would snuff out his life with its curved tusks that extended out longer than the height of a human.
The mastodon made her escape, carrying the Clovis point within her. She, too, would soon fall to the ground, dying. Snow and ice would entomb her body for thousands of years.
From His Hands to Hers
A time would come when all of the great ice sheets had melted. The Beringia land bridge returned to being a seabed once again. The descendants of the Clovis people called the Great Plains their home, and they thought of their ice-age ancestors as the “ancient ones.”
Theirs was an oral history, passed down through millennia.
In 1849, a young Pawnee woman named Pakuna was digging roots when she struck a hard object with her digging stick. She thought it was a rock, but further digging revealed bone – the hip bone of a mastodon.
True to the meaning of her name, Pakuna was intelligent and inquisitive. Curious about this creature, she continued a sort of archaeological excavation, exposing the spine and finally the massive ribs.
Wedged between two ribs was a handsome green spear point. Wrapping her right hand with leather, Pakuna freed the razor-edged point from the ribcage.
Turning it over in her hands, the brilliant jasper crystal embedded in the face immediately caught her eye. The green point had a different shape and heft from the spear points the Pawnee and other Plain’s Indians used.
It was elegant compared to her dull gray flint knife. She tried to imagine this craftsman who had made something utilitarian yet so beautiful. Was he one of the ancients that her grandfather spoke of? Those that came from afar during the time of ice?
She felt confident that the ancient hunter was the last person to touch the point before she pulled it from the creature’s ribs. She experienced a strange but strong connection to this man. Although delayed by a great span of time, the point came directly from his hand to hers.
Pakuna considered that there may be more meaning to this synchronicity than she could fathom.
She thought the point was too well-crafted to use as an everyday flint knife or scraping blade. She would keep and treasure this point. After cleaning the blade on her buckskin skirt, she placed it in her beaded bandolier, where she kept her few treasured possessions.
Perhaps the blade would harbor great strength and protect her. This was her hope, anyway.
Through the years that followed her discovery of the giant creature’s skeleton, she would often retrieve the Clovis point from her bandolier and admire its simple but elegant beauty.
Pakuna would show the point to her children and, later, her grandson. She would speak of the great beasts and the people who lived in the time of ice.
She told the wide-eyed children how the point, now sacred to her, was used to bring down the mammoth creature that stood twice as tall as the buffalo that now roamed their plains.
But, the tribe’s peaceful life of hunting buffalo and raising corn, beans and squash was about to be shattered.
On a warm August morning in 1873, some 60 Lakota Sioux warriors rode into their village just as the sun rose.
What followed could hardly be called a battle. Many of the Pawnee men were out on a buffalo hunt, but that didn’t stop the Sioux warriors from massacring more than 90 old men, women and children.
Pakuna, already wounded in her left arm and bleeding badly, saw a Sioux warrior pursuing her 10-year-old grandson up a dry canyon located a short distance from the village. She ran after the two as fast as she could, catching up to them just as the warrior was about to club her grandson as he lay pinned to the ground.
She reached into her bandolier, and the Clovis point seemed to fall right into her waiting hand. With all of her remaining strength, she ran straight at the warrior, using her momentum to drive the green point deep into the man’s back.
He dropped the war club and fell to the side. A few more raspy breaths, and he was no more. Only his tribe knew his name, but few would memorialize the killing of a child, so perhaps his second death came soon.
Life was ebbing from her body quickly now. In her final breaths, she instructed her grandson to flee up into the canyon’s head and hide in the caves. Pakuna admonished him to stay there until all of the Sioux had left.
The boy lived to tell the story of the massacre. Pakuna’s name is still spoken among the Pawnee, and it is said her ghost guards the entrance to the canyon. Her final death will never come as long as there is one Pawnee left on earth.
The Sioux recovered the bodies of their dead, including the warrior in the canyon, and buried them far out on the plains.
The Farmer’s Calloused Hand
It was the 1920s, and the Great Dust Bowl would soon claim much of the farmland of the Great Plain States. Joseph McKinley had high hopes of turning his 1,200 acres into profitable farmland; wheat, they said, was the ideal crop for the Nebraska soil.
One morning while tilling his fields, he spotted the familiar shape of a flint point from high in the tractor seat. Joseph called all flint points “arrowheads,” which they are not. He could be forgiven for this common mistake as many, even today, call all flint tools arrowheads, despite their size, shape and apparent function.
He put his tractor in neutral and stepped down to retrieve the artifact.
His sunburned and calloused hand released the point from a chunk of dry soil. Joseph was the first to hold the Clovis point since it was held tightly in Pakuna’s hand so long ago.
Joseph McKinley never even took the time to notice the brilliant jasper crystal on one face of the point. He was, after all, a practical man with much work to do. It was an arrowhead; what more did he need to know?
So, without further examination, he stuck the green point into the pipe pocket of his dusty bib overalls. When he returned to the house for lunch, he would toss the point in an old jewelry box full of flint points that sat on the fireplace mantle.
Eventually, Joseph’s box of “arrowheads”would make its way to the musty cellar as most such collections usually do. There, the Clovis point would wait in silence and darkness until it made its way into another hand.
To Be Continued