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Flint Types of Eastern Kentucky

    For those folks interested in archaeology and/or geology you no doubt have considered the flint (called chert by geologists) that all those arrowheads you've seen or in your collection are made from.  The colors, textures and behavior of the amazing substance various greatly and for many years, in fact up until the early 70's only the major identified primitive quarries type of flint were recognized in archaeological research. Little effort or attention was paid toward the raw material of those beautiful and finely crafted tools. Geologist performed little better simply noting in their field work that some beds of lime stones contained chert though sometimes the chert was described in detail.
Paoli chert in limestone -Menifee Co.
    That all changed in the early 70's as the result of pioneering work on flint classification for sources found in the eastern part of Kentucky. This undertaking was done by Larry Meadows, Garland Dever and Ed Henson. Yes, yours truly was fortunate enough to know these two very knowledgeable men. Back in the 70's Larry Meadows and I began to learn the skill of flint-knapping. That is chipping flint into arrowheads and other primitive tools using likely the same techniques that prehistoric people of the region used. It was not a great leap for us to become interested and noticing that not all flint chipped the same and that there were definitely differences in the
material. It wasn't long before we joined forces with what I would consider one of the best geologist around, Mr. Garland Dever. Garland was in the process of doing field work preparing one of the many geological quadrangle maps of Kentucky. And to our good fortune his area was in the same region of Kentucky that we were gathering flint.
    Moving forward in time, the three of us began to notice that a certain textured, color and type of flint was found associated with a single type of limestone. The first type that stood out was one found deposited in a formation of limestone named Paoli. The limestone had long been established as a particular rock formation generally exposed as outcrops along the edge of the Cumberland Plateau and also in Indiana.
The flint (chert) was distinct in nature when it came to chipping. A very glassy texture but had peculiar requirements if shaped into a stone tool. And it seemed to be the same everywhere this type of flint was found either still in the limestone rock or eroded out into nearby creeks. After many tests and cross checks we felt comfortable enough to identify any stone tool or piece of flint that fit the criteria we established as Paoli. There were many other kinds but put them in a pile and the three of us could pick out flint that we called Paoli from that pile. It was a short step for us to reason that why not try to find sources and type the other flint types from our area. We knew that we could not type everything because some of the flint obviously was traded from outside the region. This, of course, made our quest all the more tantalizing as we could help understand trading routes, establish percentage estimates of trading by a particular site etc. So our first type was established.
Haney chert 
    It was not long that we established another type we called Haney flint. Haney has a characteristic that no other flint type from our area exhibited. It contained tiny pseudo fossils called ooilites. With the use of a hand lens one could see the tiny round rings dispersed through out the stone. No other flint from Kentucky had this quality.  The Haney flint was quickly tied down and perhaps the easiest type to identify. It also is rather scarce and found only in the Haney limestone formation which is limited in its outcropping.  In recent years some reports appear that there is a Haney flint that does not contain ooilites. We never attempted to expand but certainly found many stone points made of material that we could not identify positively as Haney. We were confident that ooilitic material from the region was 100% Haney flint. Generally,only small artifacts have been found made of this material as it comes in small lenses or layers embedded in the Haney formation of limestone.
St. Louis green. This specimen has  hole
naturally formed. From Powell Co.
    Next in our  quest came the beautiful olive green flint that shows up in many arrowheads unique in the Red River country.  In time we discovered after many trips to many rock outcrops that this beautiful flint only comes from the massive St Louis limestone formation.  We called it St. Louis chert.  Very hard to work but given the right effort, the end knapped  tool would certainly be an eye catcher. There are other cherts associated with the St. Louis formation but this particular green, rounded nodules was the only variety we attempted to classify.
Boyle Chert
Boyle Chert in Dolomite 
     At the very edge of the plateau of Eastern Kentucky the magnesium laden Boyle Dolomite limestone is exposed along the outer edge of the Cincinnati Arch which forms the central Bluegrass region.  This dolomite produces a specific kind of flint we referred to as Boyle chert. It is characterized by its rusty brown to almost blue color and
contains random fossil fragments.  These days all the once good outcrops seemed to have been destroyed or simply worked out over the years.
 Artifacts made of the better quality of this flint type are often remarkably beautiful.

    The final type of flint and the last one we typed in eastern Kentucky was one we called the Breathitt flint. Of the the five we typed this one is the only exception to the limestone source rule. This flint was discovered to be found in the Pennsylvanian rock types of the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky.  Massive formations of the flint were exposed for study from the strip mining in the area.  Artifacts have been found made of this type but no one really understood the source material. The Flint Ridge flint was by far the most massive amount of layered flint of all the sources mentioned here.  Now those massive outcrops are all gone being removed by the coal companies. Only eroded sources in the small streams can be found now. This type of flint was found in a variety of colors including shades of green, black and tan. The defining characteristic of this type was the grainy texture as well as its flaking behavior.  The Breathitt Flint Ridge type was and still remains the most difficult of the five types to be identified.
Breathitt Flint Ridge
   Our work was published in a section of an archaeological publication of the Cave Run Rock Shelter by the University of Kentucky under the direction of Dr. John Dorwin. Dr. Dorwin allowed us to apply our new classification system on the hundreds of artifacts recovered from the site the University was excavating. Subsequently, our report was included in a section of this complete study.
    From there other students and scholars began to seriously try to type various flints. Literally dozens of flint types have been identified in Kentucky alone and hundreds world wide. But to our knowledge it all "officially" started right here in Kentucky. Now-days no serious archaeological investigation would even consider leaving out attempts to classify flint types in order to identify possible routes and trading patterns. So much has been learned and much more yet to be discovered by simply understanding the sources of the raw materials used by the early peoples of any part of the world.  We had a great time exploring this idea way back in the 70's!


  1. Thanks you for sharing your work. I enjoyed reading your very interesting article.

  2. Thank you Daniel. It really is an interesting subject if you like geology.

  3. Thank You for the excellent article Mr. Henson. I have collected points of these materials for years and would like to add that the Paoli, Breathitt, and St. Louis Green cherts are so closely related that there is often overlap...making some examples difficult to distinguish and assign to one specific chert type.

  4. Anonymous, your are quite right in that these types are sometimes tough to distinguish, depending on the local deposition. We always end up with another pile of stones that did not fit any of our types. The Paoli is a bit easier and most often has the banded effect even if very light. Of course, there are exceptions that have resulted in new classes in the same area. For example the Carter Caves Flint, which we always considered to be Paoli, turns out to be a newer type now by some folks. I am glad you enjoyed the article and especially interested to hear that you have studied these over the years. Thanks for your nice comment.

  5. So that pinkish mineral in the top photo is chert? Interesting. I've been wondering what a rather large rock I found on my property was, and it looks a lot like your photo.

  6. It is indeed chert. This photo of an unusual outcrop of chert was made on a road cut near Bangor, Ky. In fact, this specific site is unlike any other chert formations I personally have ever observed. Hopefully, I will do a follow-up on this specific site in the future. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I tried a copy/paste of a pic of my rock, but it didn't work. Anyway, I'm in SE Iowa. It sure looks like the chert in your photo. Big rock.


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