Vestal Notched Points
It is not often someone can say that a point they have in their case is one that
can only be found in their area of the state.  I, however, can make such a claim
about New York’s Vestal Notched Point type (fig.1).  The Vestal Notched
Point or Vestal Point is reported to be mainly distributed and originating in the
Broome County area, with its highest concentration near Vestal, New York.  
Vestal is a small town located along the Susquehanna River Valley that is a few
miles west of Binghamton, New York.  The Vestal Point was long thought to be a
Late Archaic projectile dating to between 1,800 BC and 1,900 BC.  It also has
been the rule since the 1960’s or so that Vestal Notched points were younger
and came after the famed Lamoka Point which dates around 2,500 BC and has a
wide distribution throughout Central and Western New York.  Most publications
and time-lines I’ve reviewed support this line of thought.  The Vestal Point
is a thin, narrow- bladed, and finely flaked point that typically ranges in length
from approximately .5 inches to 1.8 inches in length, and .47 inches to 1.26
inches in width.  The base width ranges from .47 inches to 1.10 inches with an
average notch depth of .11 inches (2.7mm). I personally have not found many
representatives of the larger wider variety, but my wife found two that may fit
into the larger end of the scale (fig.2).  Local sites where professional
archaeologists have reported finding this point type include Castle Gardens
(Vestal, NY), Temple Concord, and Roberson (Binghamton NY).

The Late Archaic period in South Central New York is known for its emergence
of pre-cermic steatite (soapstone) cooking vessels and for point types such as
Otter Creek, Brewerton, Lamoka, Vestal Notched, Normanskill, Snook Kill and
occasionally Perkiomen.  Figure 3 is a photo time-line I created of all of these
point types.  Please take note that I did not have examples in my personal
collection of all these points so I knapped the Otter Creek, the larger
Perkiomen on top, the Snook Kill, and the Normanskill of New York’s
native Onondaga Chert that I purchased from Dan Long, who is another
knapper that lives in Ontario, Canada.  Though these recreated points are not
real artifacts, they accurately represent the point types for the purposes of this
article.  Steatite pottery (fig. 4) has also been known to show up on occasion in
Late Archaic sites, but mostly is credited with making it’s strong appearance
during the Transitional Archaic period.  The incised and lined piece of steatite on
the left was found in Chenango County, NY in association with a site that
consistently produces Susquehanna Points and Perkiomen points.  The example
on the right was found in Cortland County, NY and is associated with a site that
was heavily dominated with Lamoka culture artifacts but showed approximately
a 25% presence of Vestal Notched Points.  This heavy Lamoka site produced few
Susquehanna points and one Perkiomen point.

Officially, the professionals claim that the Vestal Point is exclusive to Broome
County, however I have  made surface recoveries in Cortland and Chenango
Counties (fig.1).  I would also surmise that Vestal Points would appear in
neighboring Tioga County and Northern Pennsylvania surface collections as
well.  Personal surface collecting experience has revealed that Lamoka points
and Vestal Points show up in near equal proportions on the same sites.  
However, some of the sites I have surface collected that contain both Lamoka &
Vestal Points are dominated by the presence of Lamoka points and Lamoka type
artifacts such as the beveled adz (which I’ve only found fragments of
currently).  Personal investigations of surface sites outside Broome County
reflect this trend of the dominant Lamoka culture with hints of the Vestal
Points. Some of these sites are nearly a 50/50 split, while others are more of a
75/25 split in favor of Lamoka points.  While finding two different point types
together in agriculturally disturbed surface soil is not uncommon, what the
professionals found at the Castle Gardens site in Vestal, New York was

The Castle Gardens site is located on the banks of the Susquehanna River in
Vestal, New York.  If you travel west out of Vestal on Route 434 you will drive
right past the general area where this site is located.   Much of the area is
developed, but a small section remains undisturbed (except for the former plow
zone when the area was under farming cultivation).  This undisturbed section
has been the focus of recent excavations that have turned up artifacts from the
Late Archaic period into the Woodland period.  The most significant find would
have to be that archaeologists discovered a Lamoka Point and a Vestal Point in
the same level of an undisturbed stratified fire pit.  All subsequent radiocarbon
dating tests confirm that these two points are the same age.  While this was a
significant find for the professionals, avocationals like me are really not all that
surprised.  We have been finding these two point types together for a long time
and have suspected an overlap or some association between the two.  If
anything, this important discovery serves to solidify what we already assumed to
be true. This find does not serve to prove that the Vestal Point is as old as the
Lamoka, but does lend credibility that for a time both the point types were used
by ancient Castle Garden aboriginals during the same cultural period.  I
personally would like to see more finds to support this before I would move the
Vestal Point back into the same approximate time period as the Lamoka Point.  
I also offer up the idea that perhaps an older aboriginal knapper residing at the
Castle Gardens site was still making the Lamoka Point while younger up-with-
the-times knappers were starting to produce the Vestal Point.  This is pure
logical conjecture on my part, but it may simple explain why the two points
happened to be in the same fire pit.  We may never know the answer as to why
the points came to be together, but in the absence of additional finds of a similar
nature we all must use our imagination.

In August, 2005, I  had the chance to examine the Vestal Points recovered at
the Castle Gardens site and found them identical to the ones I’ve found on
surface sites in Cortland and Chenango Counties.  There was even a long
specimen that showed evidence of re-sharpening that was comparable to the two
longer points my wife found and were discussed earlier.  After a long
conversation with the archaeologist in charge of the excavation, we mutually
agreed that it is very possible that the typical Vestal Point usually found may be
the result of many re-sharpenings.  The archaeologist surmised that maybe the
Vestal Point was a specialized point for a specific task such as fishing.  Being a
flint knapper I would be hard pressed to believe that time would be invested to
knap a thin point only to haft it and throw it into water filled with rocks.  They
plan to test this hypothesis, and I will await their findings with great interest as
I would think logically that a bone or wooden fishing spear would be a much
more effective and sensible tool rather than a knapped point.  I would be more
inclined to lean toward it being a more effective hunting point for a particular
animal that was prevalent in this area during the time of the Castle Gardens

In conclusion, I believe this is a perfect example of how the avocational and the
professional archaeologist can build on each others findings.  Some professionals
(not the head archaeologist I spoke with) will rarely admit that they need
avocationals to ferret out and document important sites they do not have time to
find (or desire to find), and us avocationals are also sometimes slow to admit
that we have assumptions, hunches, and hypotheses that need the support of the
professional who excavates stratified sites and finds artifacts in their original
context.  Sadly it is a rare occasion that this teamwork develops, but when it
does it works well and everyone benefits.  This cooperative spirit and teamwork
type attitude was my experience with the archaeologist who excavated Castle
Gardens, and it is my hope that this type of sharing will continue and even
spread in the years to come.

References:   The Archaeology of New York State, by William A. Ritchie
 Quick Guide to Southern Tier Prehistory, NYSAA-TCC 2003
 Major Aboriginal Projectile Points in New York State, Office of the State
 Two Sites Yield Peeks Into Our Past, by April Flores, Press & Sun-Bulletin
 Point, 1993-2005 created by Tara Prindle
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Copyright 2006 by INDIAN ARTIFACT MAGAZINE Vol. 25-3
Ovid Bell Press Inc. (Unauthrorized Reproduction Prohibited)
By Michael E. McGrath