Woe to the outdoorsman who ventures forth without "plan B"! Even the most experienced
and well prepared have days when nothing goes the way they want. To think it would be
otherwise would be foolish. And so, when the fish won't bite, the rain won't stop, or the truck
won't start, it is time to consider alternatives. For me, a change of plan may mean a
twelve-mile hike back to the hard top road, or a candy bar for lunch instead of the sandwich I
forgot to bring. For ancient hunters, a well thought out "plan B" could mean the difference
between life and death.
North American Indian cultures are famous for their conservative ways. They maintain their
time-tested traditions, and adopt new ideas slowly and cautiously. Although such a sweeping
generalization begs argument, it is true that the lithic technologies of North America display
an amazing continuity. Passed from teacher to student, these methods of flaking and
sharpening stone developed into the clusters of point "types" we recognize today. The choice
of tools for percussion and pressure work, the choice of flint, the stages and pattern of
reduction, all are very obvious cultural traits. Each culture had a plan, which resulted in the
production of a desired product. And each maker and user of these stone tools had a "plan
Plan B tools are, by definition, atypical. But whereas the word atypical implies less than
perfect or just not quite right, Plan B implies an inconvenience or minor change. An atypical
point is one you wish WAS typical. Plan B is looking down at the brand new dart point you
just broke in half and saying "we needed a new end scraper, anyway". Perhaps not the way
you had hoped to reduce the point, but a good plan B!
This is a simplistic example drawn from the tool reduction cycle, but circumstance can
necessitate plan B much earlier, in the manufacturing process. Today if a knapper has
trouble with a Scottsbluff he can just turn it into a Gary. 9,000 years ago that was not an
option. When the beautiful, long knife form lost 2 inches of tip while being made, rather than
a short, unsatisfactory knife plan B might be to create 2 smaller dart points from the pieces.
Today when we see the shorter of the two of these points in a collection, reduced even
further by use, we think "What an atypically small Scotty! I wonder why...?".
Like a complex and deadly serious chess game, much of the focus of Paleo and Archaic life
ways was placed on were one found ones self after the move was made. Setting one's self
up for the next move, and the move after, was an obsession rooted in survival. The success
of these Masters of the Hunt demonstrates their knowledge of their environment and their
ability to plan and execute complex strategies. I'm sure that if we could ask, they would tell
us.... "Always have a plan B"
Plan "B" Artifacts