Clovis culture: Wikis


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"A Clovis blade with medium to large lanceolate spear-knife points. Side is parallel to convex and exhibit careful pressure flaking along the blade edge. The broadest area is near the midsection or toward the base. The Base is distinctly concave with a characteristic flute or channel flake removed from one or, more commonly, both surfaces of the blade. The lower edges of the blade and base is ground to dull edges for hafting. Clovis points also tend to be thicker than the typically thin later stage Folsom points. Length: 4–20 cm/1.5–8 in. Width: 2.5–5 cm/1–2
A Clovis projectile point created using bifacial percussion flaking (that is, each face is flaked on both edges alternatively with a percussor)
Image courtesy of the Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources.

The Clovis culture (sometimes referred to as the Llano culture[1]) is a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture that first appears 11,500 rcbp radiocarbon years ago, at the end of the last glacial period, characterized by the manufacture of "Clovis points" and distinctive bone and ivory tools. Archaeologists' most precise determinations at present suggest that this radiocarbon age is equal to roughly 13,500 to 13,000 calendar years ago.

The Clovis culture was replaced by several more localized regional cultures from the time of the Younger Dryas cold climate period onward. Post-Clovis cultures include the Folsom tradition, Gainey, Suwannee-Simpson, Plainview-Goshen, Cumberland, and Redstone. Each of these is commonly thought to derive directly from Clovis, in some cases apparently differing only in the length of the fluting on their projectile points. Although this is generally held to be the result of normal cultural change through time,[2] numerous other reasons have been suggested to be the driving force for the observed changes in the archaeological record, such as an extraterrestrial impact event or post-glacial climate change with numerous faunal extinctions.

After the discovery of several Clovis sites in western North America in the 1930s, the Clovis people came to be regarded as the first human inhabitants of the New World. Clovis people were considered to be the ancestors of all the indigenous cultures of North and South America. However, this majority view has been contested over the last thirty years by several archaeological discoveries, including possible sites like Cactus Hill in Virginia, Paisley Caves in the Summer Lake Basin of Oregon, the Topper site in Allendale County, South Carolina, Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania, and the Monte Verde [3]and Cueva Fell sites in Chile.



The culture was originally named for a small number of artifacts found between 1936 and 1938 at Blackwater Locality No. 1, an archaeological site near Clovis, New Mexico. People began collecting artifacts at this site in the late 1920s but artifacts and animal remains that had not moved since the Pleistocene were not recovered until 1936. The in situ finds of 1936 and 1937 included most of four stone Clovis points, two long bone points with impact damage, stone blades, a portion of a Clovis blade core, and several cutting tools made on stone flakes. Clovis sites have since been identified throughout much, but not all, of the contiguous United States, as well as Mexico and Central America, and even into Northern South America.[4]

A hallmark of the toolkit associated with the Clovis culture is the distinctively-shaped fluted stone spear point, known as the Clovis point. The Clovis point is bifacial and typically fluted on both sides. Archaeologists do not agree on whether the widespread presence of these artifacts indicates the proliferation of a single people, or the adoption of a superior technology by diverse population groups. It is generally accepted that Clovis people hunted mammoth as Clovis points have repeatedly been found in sites containing mammoth remains. Mammoth is only a small part of the Clovis diet; extinct bison, mastodon, sloths, tapir, palaeolama, horse (the association of Clovis with horse remains is in dispute as no actual Clovis artifacts have been found in direct association with fossil horse remains) and a host of smaller animals have also been found in Clovis sites where they were killed and eaten. In total, more than 125 species of plants and animals are known to have been used by Clovis people in the portion of the Western Hemisphere they inhabited.

Disappearance of Clovis

The most commonly held perspective on the end of the Clovis culture is that a decline in the availability of megafauna, combined with an overall increase in a less mobile population, led to local differentiation of lithic and cultural traditions across the Americas.[2][5] After this time, Clovis-style fluted points were replaced by other fluted-point traditions (such as the Folsom culture) with an essentially uninterrupted sequence across North and central America. An effectively continuous cultural adaptation proceeds from the Clovis period through the ensuing Middle and Late Paleoindian periods.[6] It has also been argued that Clovis ended in a very abrupt fashion.

Whether the Clovis culture drove the mammoth, and other species, to extinction via overhunting – the so-called Pleistocene overkill hypothesis – is still an open, and controversial, question. Another possibility is that climate change[7] coupled with human predation, disease, and additional pressures from newly arrived herbivores (competition) and carnivores (predation) and isolation made it impossible for many species to reproduce and survive. It has also been hypothesized that the Clovis culture saw its decline in the wake of the Younger Dryas cold phase. This 'cold shock', lasting roughly 1,500 years, affected many parts of the world, including North America. It appears to have been triggered by a vast meltwater lake – Lake Agassiz – emptying into the North Atlantic, disrupting the thermohaline circulation.

A recent hypothesis suggests that one or more extraterrestrial bodies caused the mass extinction and triggered a period of climatic cooling.[8] This is known as the Clovis Comet or the Younger Dryas impact event and proposes that an extraterrestrial object such as a comet exploded in Earth's atmosphere above North America's Great Lakes region about 12,900 years ago,[9] and significantly impacted the human Clovis culture. Research published in January 2009 argues that there was no extraterrestrial impact but fails to explain the high levels of metal and magnetic spherules found deep inside the tusks and skulls of mammoths.[10] Additional evidence of comet impact is the widespread occurrence of microdiamonds and black mats in a layer of sedimentary rocks of that era,[11] but is not reflected in the extinction record.


A cowboy and former slave, George McJunkin, found an Ancient Bison (Bison antiquus, an extinct relative of the American Bison) skeleton in 1908 after a flash flood.[12] It was first excavated in 1926, near Folsom, New Mexico under the direction of Harold Cook and Jesse Figgins. On August 29, 1927 they found the first in situ Folsom point with the extinct B. antiquus bones. This confirmation of a human presence in the Americas during the Pleistocene inspired many people to start looking for evidence of Early Man. [13]

In 1929, 19-year-old part Native American Ridgely Whiteman, who had been closely following the excavations in nearby Folsom in the newspaper, discovered the Clovis Man Site in the Blackwater Draw in Eastern New Mexico.[12] Despite earlier legitimate Paleoindian discoveries, the best documented evidence of the Clovis tool complex was excavated between 1932 and 1937 near Clovis, New Mexico, by a crew under the direction of Edgar Billings Howard from the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences/University of Pennsylvania.[12] Howard's crew left their excavation in Burnet Cave, New Mexico (truly the first professionally excavated Clovis site) in August, 1932 and visited Whiteman and his Blackwater Draw site. In November, Howard was back at Blackwater Draw to investigate additional finds from a construction project.[14]

The American Journal of Archaeology (January-March, 1932 V36 #1) in its Archaeological Notes mentions E. B. Howard's work in Burnet Cave, including the discovery of extinct fauna and a "Folsom type" point four feet below a Basketmaker burial. This brief mention of the Clovis point found in place predates any work at Dent, Colorado. Reference is made to a slightly earlier article on Burnet Cave in The University Museum Bulletin of November, 1931.

The first report of professional work at the Blackwater Draw Clovis site is in the November 25, 1932 issue of Science News. The publications on Burnet Cave and Blackwater Draw directly contradict statements by several authors (for example see Haynes 2002:56 The Early Settlement of North America) that Dent, Colorado was the first excavated Clovis site. The Dent Site, in Weld County, Colorado, was simply a fossil mammoth excavation in 1932. The first Dent Clovis point was found November 5, 1932 and the in situ point was found July 7, 1933. The in situ Clovis point from Burnet Cave was excavated in late August, 1931 (and reported early in 1932). E. B. Howard brought the Burnet Cave point to the 3rd Pecos Conference, September 1931, and showed it around to several archaeologists interested in Early Man (see Woodbury 1983).

Clovis First

The predominant hypothesis (known as "Clovis First") among archaeologists in the latter half of the 20th century had been that the people associated with the Clovis culture were the first inhabitants of the Americas. The primary support for this was that no solid evidence of pre-Clovis human inhabitation had been found. According to the standard accepted theory, the Clovis people crossed the Beringia land bridge over the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska during the period of lowered sea levels during the ice age, then made their way southward through an ice-free corridor east of the Rocky Mountains in present-day western Canada as the glaciers retreated. This hypothesis has been continuously challenged by studies that suggest a Pre-Clovis Human occupation of the Americas.[15 ]

Evidence of human habitation before Clovis

Predecessors of the Clovis people may have migrated south along the North American coastlines, although there are arguments for many migrations along several different routes[16]. According to researchers Michael Waters and Thomas Stafford of Texas A&M University, new radiocarbon dates place Clovis remains from the continental United States in a shorter time window (11,050 to 10,900 years ago),[17] while radiocarbon dating of the Monte Verde site in Chile place Clovis-like culture there as early as 13,500 years ago and remains found at the Channel Islands of California place coastal Paleoindians there 12,500 years ago. This suggests that the Paleoindian migration could have spread more quickly along the Pacific coastline, proceeding south, and that populations that settled along that route could have then begun migrations eastward into the continent.

In 2004, worked stone tools were found at Topper in South Carolina that have been dated by radiocarbon techniques to 50,000 years ago,[18] although there is significant dispute regarding these dates.[19] A more substantiated claim is that of Paisley Caves, where rigorous carbon-14 and genetic testing appears to indicate that humans related to modern Native Americans were present in the caves over 1000 14C years before the earliest evidence of Clovis. A study published in Science presents strong evidence that humans occupied sites in Monte Verde, at the tip of South America, as early as 13,000 years ago.[20] If this is true then humans must have entered North America long before the Clovis Culture – perhaps 16,000 years ago.

The Tlapacoya site on the shore of the former Lake Chalco reveals bones, hearths, middens, and a curved obsidian blade, presumed to date to over 21,700 years BP, although the dating has been disputed.


Coastal migration route

Recent studies of the mitochondrial DNA of First Nations/Native Americans suggest that the people of the New World may have diverged genetically from Siberians as early as 20,000 years ago, far earlier than the standard theory would suggest.[15 ] However, this pattern is not inconsistent with a later colonization from Siberia because gene coalescent theory predicts that genetic co-ancestry is expected to greatly predate colonization and/or isolation. According to one alternative theory, the Pacific coast of North America may have been free of ice such as to allow the first peoples in North America to come down this route prior to the formation of the ice-free corridor in the continental interior. No solid evidence has yet been found to support this hypothesis except that genetic analysis of coastal marine life indicates diverse fauna persisting in refugia throughout the Pleistocene ice ages along the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia; these refugia include common food sources of coastal aboriginal peoples, suggesting that a migration along the coastline was feasible at the time [21].

Solutrean hypothesis

The controversial Solutrean hypothesis proposed in 1999 by Smithsonian archaeologist Dennis Stanford and colleague Bruce Bradley (Stanford and Bradley 2002), suggests that the Clovis people could have inherited technology from the Solutrean people who lived in southern Europe 21,000-15,000 years ago, and who created the first Stone Age artwork in present-day southern France.[22] The link is suggested by the similarity in technology between the projectile points of the Solutreans and those of the Clovis people. Such a theory would require that the Solutreans crossed via the edge of the pack ice in the North Atlantic Ocean that then extended to the Atlantic coast of France. They could have done this using survival skills similar to those of the modern Inuit people. Supporters of this hypothesis suggest that stone tools found at Cactus Hill (an early American site in Virginia), are knapped in a style between Clovis and Solutrean. Other scholars such as Emerson F. Greenman and Remy Cottevieille-Giraudet have also suggested a Northern Atlantic point of entry, citing toolmaking similarities between Clovis and Solutrean-era artifacts.

University of New Mexico anthropologist Lawrence G. Straus, a primary critic of the Solutrean hypothesis, points to the theoretical difficulty of the ocean crossing, a lack of Solutrean-specific features in pre-Clovis artifacts, as well as the lack of art (such as that found at Lascaux in France) among the Clovis people, as major deficiencies in the Solutrean hypothesis. The 3,000 to 5,000 radiocarbon year gap between the Solutrean period of France and Spain and the Clovis of the New World also makes such a connection problematic (Straus 2000). In response, defenders of the hypothesis state that the Solutreans introduced a tool-making innovation and not necessarily cultural or artistic practices.

Genetic studies

mtDNA-based chart showing Haplogroups A, C and D entering the Americas about 26,000 years ago. Haplogroups X and B are shown entering the Americas around 15,000 years ago.

Mitochondrial DNA analysis has found that some members of some native North American tribes have a maternal ancestry (called haplogroup X) linked to the maternal ancestors of some present day individuals in western Asia and Europe, albeit distantly.

An article in the American Journal of Human Genetics states "Here we show, by using 86 complete mitochondrial genomes, that all Native American haplogroups, including haplogroup X, were part of a single founding population, thereby refuting multiple-migration models." The study also argues for a Beringian isolation and subsequent coastal migration.[23] However the study, which extrapolates from modern genetic specimens, addresses only the genetics of surviving populations and does not rule out the possibility of secondary population bottleneck events having occurred at the time of the Younger Dryas. Moreover, the Clovis population bottleneck hypothesis of the Younger Dryas has been receiving recent empirical support.

Other sites

In approximate reverse chronological order:

  • Pedra Furada, Serra da Capivara National Park, in Piauí, Brazil. Site with evidence of non-Clovis human remains, a rock painting rupestre art drawings from at least 12,000-6,000 BP. Hearth samples C-14 dates of 48-32,000 BP were reported in a Nature article (Guidon and Delibrias 1986). Paleoindian components found here, have been challenged by American researchers as Meltzer, Adovasio, and Dillehay. Niède Guidon is the head archaeologist at the Serra da Capivara National Park.
  • Lagoa Santa, Minas Gerais, Brazil, is erroneously asserted to be Clovis age or even possibly Pre-Clovis in age. The recent discussion of this site (specifically Lapa Vermelha IV) and the Luzia skull, reportedly 11,500 years old by Neves and Hubb, makes it clear that this date is a chronological date in years Before Present and NOT a raw radiocarbon date [24] in eastern Brazil. Clovis sites mostly date between 11,500 and 11,000 radiocarbon years which means 13,000 years before present at a minimum. "Luzia" is at least 1,000 years younger than Clovis and Lapa Vermelha IV should NOT be considered a Pre-Clovis site.
  • Cueva del Milodon, in Patagonian Chile[25] dates at least as early as 10,500 BP. This is a site found particularly early in the New World hunt for Early Man, circa 1896, and needs additional basic research, but 10,500 B. P. would be 1,500 years younger than Clovis, or if the dating is 10,500 RCYBP, it would still be roughly 500-700 years younger than Clovis. In either case this should not be considered a Pre-Clovis site.
  • Cueva Fell[26] and Pali Aike Crater sites in Patagonia, with hearths, stone tools and other elements of human habitation dating to at least as early as 11,000 BP.
  • The Big Eddy Site in southwestern Missouri contains several claimed pre-Clovis artifacts or geofacts. In situ artifacts have been found in this well-stratified site in association with charcoal. Five different samples have been AMS dated to between 11,300 to 12,675 BP (Before Present).
  • Taima Taima, Venezuela has cultural material very similar to Monte Verde II, dating to 12,000 years BP.
  • The Schaefer and Hebior mammoth sites in Kenosha County, Wisconsin indicate exploitation of this animal by humans. The Schaefer Mammoth site has over 13 highly purified collagen AMS dates and 17 dates on associated wood, dating it to 12,300-12,500 radiocarbon years before the present. Hebior has two AMS dates in the same range. Both animals show conclusive butchering marks and associated non-diagnostic tools.[28]
  • A site in Walker, Minnesota with stone tools, alleged to be from 13,000 to 15,000 years old based on surrounding geology, was discovered in 2006.[29]
  • Human coprolites have been found in Paisley Caves in Oregon, carbon dated at 14,300 years ago. Genetic analysis revealed that the coprolites contained mtDNA haplogroups A2 and B2, two of the five major Native American mtDNA haplogroups.[30][31]
  • The Mud Lake site, in Kenosha County, Wisconsin consists of the foreleg of a juvenile mammoth recovered in the 1930s. Over 100 stone tool butchering marks are found on the bones. Several purified collegen AMS dates show the animal to be 13,450 rcybp with a range of plus or minus 1,500 rcybp variance.[32]
  • Meadowcroft Rockshelter in southwestern Pennsylvania, excavated 1973-78, with evidence of occupancy dating back from 16,000 to 19,000 years ago.[33]
  • Cactus Hill in southern Virginia, with artifacts such as unfluted bifacial stone tools with dates ranging from c. 15,000 to 17,000 years ago.[34]

See also


  1. ^ History of the Mark Twain National Forest from the website of the Mark Twain National Forest
  2. ^ a b Haynes, Gary (2002). The Early Settlement of North America: The Clovis Era. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 52. ISBN 0521524636.  
  3. ^
  4. ^ Pearson, Georges; Ream, Joshua (2005). "Clovis on the Caribbean Coast of Venezuela". Current Research in the Pleistocene 22: 28–31. ISSN 8755-898X.  
  5. ^ "Southeastern Prehistory: Paleoindian Period". National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-04-28.  
  6. ^ Lepper, Bradley T. (1999). "Pleistocene Peoples of Midcontinental North America". in Bonnichsen, Robson; Turnmire, Karen. Ice Age People of North America. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press. pp. 362–394.  
  7. ^ McLean, Dewey; Kainlauri, E., Johansson, A., Kurki-Suonio, I., and Geshwiler, M., eds. (1991), A climate change mammalian population collapse mechanism, Atlanta, Georgia: ASHRAE, pp. 93–100,, retrieved 2008-07-04  
  8. ^ THE CLOVIS COMET Part I:Evidence for a Cosmic Collision 12,900 Years Ago In the Mammoth Trumpet, Volume 23 Number 1, by Allen West GeoScience Consulting and Albert Goodyear South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. Accessed August 2008
  9. ^ Firestone, R. B.; et al. (2007). "Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling". PNAS 104 (41): 16016–16021. doi:10.1073/pnas.0706977104. PMID 17901202.  
  10. ^ Comet impact theory disproved
  11. ^ Semeniuk, Ivan (September 2009). "Ice Age Impact". Sky and Telescope: 20–25.  
  12. ^ a b c Mann, Charles C. (2005), 1491: new revelations of the Americas before Columbus  
  13. ^ "America's Stone Age Explorers". Nova. PBS TV. 2004. Retrieved 2006-06-01.  
  14. ^ Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Howard_1935; see Help:Cite error.
  15. ^ a b Fagundes, Nelson J.R. et al. (2008) "Mitochondrial Population Genomics Supports a Single Pre-Clovis Origin with a Coastal Route for the Peopling of the Americas" The American Journal of Human Genetics 82(March): pp. 1-10, doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.11.013
  16. ^ Multiple Colonizations and Many Routes in the Peopling of the Americas
  17. ^ A&M University Press Article
  18. ^ New Evidence Puts Man In North America 50,000 Years Ago from the ScienceDaily website
  19. ^ Scientist: Man in Americas earlier than thought, a CNN article on the South Carolina discoveries
  20. ^ Science, May 9, 2008, Ancient Algae Suggest Sea Rount for First Americans
  21. ^ Jacobs et al. 2004; Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences; 32: 601-652
  22. ^ The North Atlantic ice-edge corridor: a possible Palaeolithic route to the New World. Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford. World Archaeology 2004 Vol. 36(4): 459 – 478.
  23. ^ Fagundes, Nelson J.R.; et al. (2008). "Mitochondrial Population Genomics Supports a Single Pre-Clovis Origin with a Coastal Route for the Peopling of the Americas". American Journal of Human Genetics 82 (3): 583–592. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.11.013. Retrieved 2008-07-04.  
  24. ^ Walter A. Neves and Mark Hubbe: Cranial morphology of early Americans from Lagoa Santa, Brazil: Implications for the settlement of the New World. Laboratorio de Estudos Evolutivos Humanos, Departamento de Genetica e Biologia Evolutiva, Instituto de Biociencias, Universidade de Sao Paulo.
  25. ^ C. Michael Hogan, Cueva del Milodon, Megalithic Portal, 13 April, 2008 [1]
  26. ^ Calvin J. Heusser (2003) Ice Age Southern Andes: A Chronicle of Paleoecological Events, Elsevier, 240 pages ISBN 0444514783
  27. ^ Webb et al. 2006 First Floridians and Last Mastodons, Springer
  28. ^ Schafer from the website of the "Friends of the Ice Age" in Kenosha County, Wisconsin
  29. ^ Ancient Stone "Tools" Found; May Be Among Americas' Oldest from the National Geographic website
  30. ^ DNA from Fossil Feces breaks Clovis Barrier
  31. ^ New Scientist 12/4/08 pg 15
  32. ^ Mud Lake Site from the website of the "Friends of the Ice Age" in Kenosha County, Wisconsin
  33. ^ "The Greatest Journey," James Shreeve, National Geographic, March 2006, pg. 64
  34. ^ Pre-Clovis Occupation on the Nottoway River in Virginia Pre-Clovis Occupation on the Nottoway River in Virginia from the website of the Athena Review, Vol.2, no.3

Further reading

  • Dixon, E. James (1999). Bones, Boats and Bison: Archeology and the First Colonization of Western North America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-826-32057-0. OCLC 42022335.  
  • Schurr, Theodore G. (2000). "Mitochondrial DNA and the Peopling of the New World". American Scientist 88 (3): 246–253. doi:10.1511/2000.3.246. ISSN 0003-0996.  
  • Stanford, Dennis; and Bruce Bradley (2002). "Ocean Trails and Prairie Paths? Thoughts About Clovis Origins.". in Nina G. Jablonski (ed.). edited proceedings of The Fourth Wattis Symposium, 'The First Americans: The Pleistocene Colonization of the New World,' October 2, 1999. The First Americans: The Pleistocene Colonization of the New World (Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences, No. 27.). San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences. pp. 255–271. ISBN 0-940-22849-1.  
  • Straus, Lawrence G. (April 2000). "Solutrean Settlement of North America? A Review of Reality". American Antiquity 65 (2): 219–226. doi:10.2307/2694056. ISSN 00027316.  
  • 31 Nanodiamonds in the Younger Dryas Boundary Sediment Layer

D. J. Kennett,1* J. P. Kennett,2 A. West,3 C. Mercer,4 S. S. Que Hee,5 L. Bement,6 T. E. Bunch,7 M. Sellers,7 W. S. Wolbach8 Science 2 January 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5910, p. 94 DOI: 10.1126/science.1162819

External links

Simple English

The Clovis culture was the first widely spread Native culture in the Americas. The Clovis people lived in the Americas about 13,000 years ago. They lived there for between 200 and 800 years. Different sources list different lengths of time in that range.

They had a special way of making tools like spear tips and knives from stones. Artifacts that they made in this way can be found in many places in North America. The Clovis way of making tools only lasted between 500 and 1000 years. After that, other ways became more popular.

They are called "Clovis culture" because archaeologists first found their artifacts at Clovis, New Mexico.


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