Clovis points are the characteristically-fluted projectile points associated with the North American Clovis culture. They date to the Paleoindian period around 13,500 years ago. They are named after the city of Clovis, New Mexico, where examples were first found in 1929.
Clovis points are thin, fluted projectile points created using bifacial percussion flaking (that is, each face is flaked on both edges alternatively with a percussor). To finish shaping and sharpening the points they are sometimes pressure flaked along the outer edges of a flint, chert, jasper, or other stone of conchoidal fracture. Clovis points are characterized by concave longitudinal grooves on both faces one third or more up from the base to the pointed tip. The grooves may have permitted the points to be fastened (hafted) to wooden spears, dart shafts or foreshafts that would have been socketed onto the tip end of a spear or dart. Points could also have been hafted as a knife whose handle served as a removable spear/dart foreshaft. There are numerous examples of later points hafted to foreshafts, but there is no direct evidence that Clovis people used this type of technological system. The known Clovis bone and ivory tools are not effective foreshafts, though the idea of Clovis foreshafts is commonly repeated in the technical literature despite the paucity of archaeological evidence. The completed spear or dart could have been thrown by hand or with the aid of the atlatl, or spear thrower. Ivory and bone atlatl hooks of Clovis age have been archaeologically recovered.
In early 2009 a major Clovis cache, now called the Mahaffey Cache was found in Boulder, Colorado, with 83 Clovis stone tools. The tools were found to have traces of horse and cameloid protein, which were dated to 13,000 to 13,500 YBP, a date confirmed by sediment layers in which the tools were found and the types of protein residues found on the artifacts.
Whether Clovis toolmaking technology was native to the Americas or originated through influences from elsewhere is a contentious issue among archaeologists. Lithic antecedents of Clovis points have not been found in northeast Asia, from where the first human inhabitants of the Americas are believed by the majority of archaeologists to have originated. Strong similarities with points produced by the Solutrean culture in the Iberian peninsula have been noted, leading to the controversial Solutrean hypothesis that the technology was introduced by hunters traversing the Atlantic ice-shelf.
Around 10,000 radio carbon years before present, a new type of fluted projectile point called Folsom appeared in archaeological deposits, and Clovis-style points disappeared from the continental United States. Most Folsom points are shorter in length than Clovis points and exhibit different fluting and pressure flaking patterns. This is particularly easy to see when comparing the unfinished preforms of Clovis and Folsom points.
Besides its function as a tool, Clovis technology may well have been the lithic symbol of a highly mobile culture that exploited a wide range of faunal resources during the Late Pleistocene and early Recent. As Clovis technology expanded, its very use may have affected resource availability, being a possible contributor to the extinction of the megafauna.
There are different opinions about the emergence of Clovis points. One is that pre-Clovis people in the New World developed the Clovis tradition independently in the New World. Another opinion is that Upper Paleolithic peoples who, after migrating into North America from northeast Asia, reverted back to inherited Clovis-style flaked-stone technology that had been in use prior to their entry into the Americas.
Clovis points were first discovered in the city of Clovis, New Mexico, and have since been found over most of North America and as far south as Venezuela. Significant Clovis finds include the Anzick site in Montana; the Blackwater Draw type site in New Mexico; the Colby site in Wyoming; the Gault site in Texas; the Simon site in Idaho; the East Wenatchee Clovis Site in Washington; and the Fenn cache, which came to light in private hands in 1989 and whose place of discovery is unknown.