A Clovis Phase Biface from Larimer Co. Colorado
By Bill Breckinridge. (This was first published in Central States Archaeological Journal , and is
reprinted here by the author for educational purposes.)
Occasionally something great walks into your life. You can't predict it, you may not
deserve it, but it happens. The following article is intended to document the
recovery, identification, and curation of an important artifact. But it's also such a
great story I want to share it.
Sometime in the early 1920's a boy living on a farm near Loveland, Colorado brought
his father an artifact he had found. I'm sure he had other "Indian rocks" in boxes or
jars hidden with his treasures, but this rock was different. Although not a spear
point, it had a presence that fascinated those who saw and handled it. And it was
really big! The youngster must have felt this was an important find. He was right.
The farmer took his son's discovery to the local museum. This was before the
Folsom and Clovis digs, and the archeology of the American West was still in its
infancy. Stone tools were all assumed to be a few hundred to maybe four thousand
years old. Points and tools were common in the plowed fields and wind-blown
pastures, and nearly every farm family had a collection of artifacts they had found.
But the staff at the Loveland Pioneer Museum was quite interested in this very large
piece. The farmer left the museum with a receipt documenting the loan of the
artifact for an indefinite time. I'm amazed at the respect this relic commanded, and
the special treatment it received. After all, it was just a "scraper".
I'm sure the young man was disappointed when his dad returned without the
scraper. But no doubt he was proud to have his find in the museum, too. I'm certain
everybody in the county heard about it! He must have returned to see it
occasionally, because he never forgot who it's true owner was.
The prosperous and hopeful 1920's slid slowly into the dust bowl and economic
depression. The dirty thirties were a time of hardship and trial on the high plains,
but very profitable for archeology. Many early points were gathered from the
wind-blown fields south of Larimer County by collectors during this period. And late
in the 1930's the now grown Mr. Quigley did something I suspect he had wanted to
do for a long time. He went to the county museum and got his artifact back. It
remained in his possession for the rest of his long life, on display in it's own frame
and still in exactly the same condition as the day he found it. What is it about this
particular scraper that inspires such loyalty and interest?
The Quigley Biface is 9-3/8 inches long and 4-3/4 inches wide. It is broadly
lenticular, and approximately one inch thick in the center. The material is gray
Ogalala Quartzite. It is free of inclusions and no fossils or pieces of fossils were
observed. It was manufactured using direct percussion. A hard, heavy hammer was
used to remove large flakes. The knapper used powerful, well-spaced blows in an
orderly pattern to form this piece. Only a few of the flake deltas have been trimmed,
using a light percussion stroke. No pressure flaking of the edges or flake deltas can
be seen. Macroscopic examination of the artifact reveals use wear on the edges. This
wear is consistent with that observed on modern reproductions used to butcher
animals and cut green hide. Rounding of the edges and leveling of high points along
the edge are similar to wear found on hide scraping tools, especially those used to
process buffalo hides. Several large flakes appear to have been detached in sequence
from one end, which has made the artifact more pointed at one end than the other.
A small notch may be observed where the resharpened area meets the original
The more obtuse end is slightly thicker than the acute end. It shows damage from
battering and has several short impact fractures. It has been repaired with light
percussion to maintain an even bit-like edge.
In the fall of 2007 I was exhibiting artifacts at a show in Colorado. It was late on the
second afternoon, and many exhibitors were starting to pack. A friend from Kansas
came up to me with a local couple in tow. "These nice people have something
interesting," Burns said as he introduced me to Jeff and Cindy Feneis. "I thought
you might be able to tell them more about their rock." We exchanged a few
pleasantries, and then they got the artifact out of the grocery bag it had traveled to
the show in.
I bet I had the same look on my face as people who see Elvis- half shock, half awe. A
giant biface shaped like a platter. Classic Clovis flaking. A Clovis Platter Biface!! I
was in the process of selecting two examples of the Clovis Platter for an illustrated
Clovis reduction series, and I had handled a half a dozen and seen a few others
pictured, illustrated, or under glass in the last few months. My instant reaction most
likely had something to do with this recent immersion in Clovis technology. The
example the Feneises were holding was completely undamaged and in perfect
condition. I was very excited, I admit, and excitement is contagious. Mrs. Feneis's
mother and a few on-lookers had joined us, and all at once our little group was
jumping around like a bunch of hounds after a rabbit.
Mr. and Mrs. Feneis are historians, who explore and document the past from a love
of history. Together they have authored "Exploring Loveland's Hidden Past", a book
on the history of Larimer Co. Colorado. It was this love of the past, focus on their
local area, and don't spare the shoe leather approach that lead them to Carol, the
daughter of Mr. Quigley. She had become the keeper of the Quigley Biface when her
father, the finder, passed away in 2003 at the age of 93. I will always believe she
knew the time was right to pass the platter on to new keepers, and the Feneises were
the right people. My later observations would seem to prove she made a good choice.
I encouraged the artifact's owners to consult other knowledgeable people who had
gathered for the show. As I put away the frames I had brought, the Feneises made a
tour of the floor and visited with several collectors and archaeologists. The buzz of
people talking and a visible swirl in the crowd marked the platter's passage around
the large room. When they returned to my table they were, if possible, even more
dazed than when they left. In that short time they had received confirmation their
artifact was a Clovis Platter, received feelers from a well known museum, and been
approached by several collectors wanting to buy the piece. One joked he would be
willing to mortgage his house. Not bad for a scraper!
The Feneises allowed me to take the platter back to Oklahoma for further analysis.
While it was in Oklahoma the owners paid a professional artifact casting service to
make a mold of the piece. In this way they could share the information the artifact
conveyed with the greatest number of interested people. This also allowed them to
retain possession of the authentic platter while sharing with researchers and
historical groups. It is interesting to note that several important artifacts, including
the Hell Gap type point and the famous Clovis found at the Dent Site, are now
known only from casts. These "back-up" copies truly guard the archaeological record
as well as broadly disseminating knowledge.
It is my opinion that the Quigley Biface is a Clovis Phase artifact of the type
commonly referred to as a Platter. It is made of Ogalala Quartzite, a material known
to have been used by Clovis knappers. This material has excellent durability and
shatter resistance. Quartzite is also quite beautiful in sunlight, especially when
freshly knapped. This Platter served several functions, showing use as a knife,
chopper or cleaver, and hide scraper. It also served as a core, furnishing sharp flakes
for cutting and flake blanks for points. Microscopic examination at 30x revealed
distinctive striations and green hide wear on both edges. This was most pronounced
towards the center of the blade, where the edge is most excurvate. Examination of
the notch in the upper blade on one side showed the edge worn into a shallow U
approximately 1/2 centimeter across. The inside of the notch exhibited wear and a
A series of large percussion flakes have been detached from one end of the piece.
These flakes were easily large enough for use as tools or points. The spacing of these
flakes was closer than that of the original manufacturing flakes, and their removal
has resulted in a more lenticular body and more acute tip at that end of the platter.
The shape emerging from this planned reduction foreshadows the Clovis
preform/knife. It seems reasonable that these large platters eventually were
recycled into the more familiar Clovis spear points. This seems to have occurred
when the platters were reduced to 5 or 6 inches in length. Clovis tools, especially
these large platters, often appear oversized when looked at in comparison with later
stone tools and points. I experienced an interesting change of perspective when out
of convenience (and out of desk space) I laid a cast of the Quigley Biface next to a
mastodon limb bone elsewhere in the office. It looked just right!
The Quigley Clovis Biface is back in Colorado now. The young couple that so
generously shared their big scraper with me now know much more about the
significance of their artifact. The human chain that began over 11,000 years ago
continues to safeguard this ancient relic. I don't particularly want that responsibility.
I'll settle for a cast...and a darned good story!
Jeff and Cindy Fenis pose with the