Paleoindian Archaeology: Clovis Stone Tools

Paleoindian Archaeology: Clovis Stone Tools

The stone-tool complex known today as Clovis dates to the terminal Pleistocene, from roughly 9250 B.C. to 8950 years B.C., and represents the earliest Paleoindian culture in North and South America. Clovis artifacts appear suddenly and around the same time throughout much of the New World.

Clovis technology included the production of fluted projectile points. These bifacially flaked spear or dart points are large - up to 11 centimeters long and 3 to 4 centimeters wide (some have been found that are 23 cm. long!), and characterized by a central flute or channel flake, and a concave base enclosed by small, thin ears. The Clovis tool kit (link opens new window) includes these fluted points, bifaces, side scrapers, end scrapers, retouched blades and flakes, perforators, and cobble tools. The similarity of Clovis tools from site to site demonstrates the great adaptability of the tools to all the environments of the Americas at the end of the last ice age.

Clovis fluteThe channels, or "flutes," near the base of the projectile points are the hallmark of the Clovis industry. Created by removing broad flakes from either side of the point (see Clovis flakes), the basal thinning of Clovis projectile points aided in hafting the point to a spear shaft (see Clovis point, Arkansas). This seemingly minor aspect of Clovis projectile point technology is considered by anthropologists to have been a crucial key to the success of Clovis people, allowing them to sweep across North America and down through the tip of South America at a remarkably swift rate (~1000 years).

The Paleoindians of the Clovis era lived in small nomadic groups and hunted mammoths and mastodons. Archaeologists have uncovered a number of sites containing mammoth and mastodon remains with Clovis artifacts. One such site is at Mastodon State Park in Kimmswick, Missouri (see Kimmswick 1 and Kimmswick 2). After the extinction of the American mammoth and mastodon, possibly the result of Clovis overhunting, Clovis stone-tool technology is followed by the Folsom tradition. Folsom points are characterized by larger flutes and were used to hunt bison.

Identifying a Clovis point can be tricky for the non-specialist, as they can be quite similar in appearance to both Folsom and Dalton stone points (see 3 points comparison). However, there are some key diagnostic features that can be used to distinguish between these three point types. Clovis points are typically larger than both Folsom and Dalton points. While all are fluted, Clovis flutes extend from the base to about a third to halfway up the point. Folsom flutes extend from the base almost to the tip of the point. Folsom points are also frequently wider relative to their length compared to Clovis or Dalton points. Dalton points usually have relatively shallow and short fluting and commonly have edges that are more serrated than Folsom or Clovis.

This minigallery is an outgrowth of research conducted by Ryan Ellsworth for his paper "The Paleoindian Occupation of the Americas: The Archaeological Record and What It Can Tell Us About the Early Inhabitants of the New World" (pdf).

References

Alroy, John. 2001. "A Multispecies Overkill Simulation of the End-Pleistocene
Megafaunal Mass Extinction." Science 292:1893–1896.

Haynes, C. Vance. 1980. "The Clovis Culture." Canadian Journal of Anthropology 1:115–121.

Haynes, Gary. 2002. The Early Settlement of North America: The Clovis Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kelly, Robert L., and Lawrence C. Todd. 1988. "Coming to the Country: Early Paleoindian Hunting and Mobility." American Antiquity 53:231–244.

Powell, Joseph F. 2005. The First Americans: Race, Evolution and the Origin of Native Americans. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lyman, R. Lee, O’Brien, Michael J., and Virgil Haynes. 1998. "A Mechanical and
Functional Study of Bone Rods from the Richey-Roberts Clovis Cache,
Washington, U.S.A." Journal of Archaeological Science 25:887–906.

Waguespack, Nichole M., and Todd A. Surovell. 2003. "Clovis Hunting Strategies or How to Make Out on Plentiful Resources." American Antiquity 68:333–352.

Text and photos by Ryan Ellsworth summer 2008

Arkansas pointClovis Point Arkansas FlakesClovis Flakes (flute scars) Naco site pointClovis Point Naco, Arizona Dent site pointClovis Point Dent, Colorado
Clovis site pointClovis Point Clovis, New Mexico Kimmswick site pointClovis Point Kimmswick, MO (1) Kimmswick site point 2Clovis Point Kimmswick, MO (2) clovis tool kitClovis Tool Kit
3 points3 Points Comparison Simon site point 1Clovis Point Simon, Idaho Simon site point 2Clovis Point Simon, Idaho Simon site point 3Clovis Point Simon, Idaho
Simon site point 4Clovis Point Simon, Idaho

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