Culture: Clovis Paleoindian
Setting: human settlement / megafauna extinction, North America 13,500-11,000 BP
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Big Bear Native American Museum
"Clovis Culture, which dates 11,300 to 10,800 BCE, is the name given to an early, well established people in North America. In 1936 unique fluted points (now named Clovis points) were found near Clovis, New Mexico along with extinct forms of elephant, wolf, bison, and horse and the people who hunted them. Although known as big game hunters, they also hunted small game, fished and collected a variety of plant foods. They lived in small temporary camps and were mobile according to the seasonal availability of food and game animals. The Clovis tool kit includes these fluted points, bifaces, side scrapers, end scrapers, retouched blades and flakes, perforators, and cobble tools. Ground stone artifacts are not present in Paleo-Indian sites. The similarity of Clovis tools from one campsite to the next demonstrates the great adaptability of the tools to all environments of the Americas at the end of the last ice age.. [sic] After the Clovis tradition, numerous Paleo-Indian cultures occupied North America." ...
* Fagan 2011 p26-27
"A few sites, little more than artifact scatters, mark the arrival of human settlers south of the ice sheets, but the real population explosion began with the Clovis people. Clovis appeared suddenly and flourished for only around 250 years, between about 13,050 and 12,800 years ago. There is some controversy over the chronology, with some experts believing that Clovis began several centuries earlier. Thanks to their distinctive fluted projectile points, we know that their technology spread rapidly across North America, if the radiocarbon dates are to be trusted. These peripatetic hunter-gatherers dropped, at recent count, at least 4,400 points at numerous locations. They camped on low terraces along rivers and streams, in places where game came to feed and plant foods were abundant. The densest concentrations lie around the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Ohio River valleys in the east, where stone outcrops were commonplace. Fewer finds occur elsewhere, but everywhere population densities were low, which is what one would expect of mobile people who preferred areas where food resources were locally abundant. Many bands may have lived on coastal plains -- now sunken continental shelves -- where, conceivably, they relied heavily on marine resources. Inland, a few Clovis sites, like the much-visited Gault location in central Texas, reached a considerable size."
* Kurten 1988 plate 27
"[I]t is evident that the entrance of the so-called Paleoindians, about 13,000 years ago, resulted in a great change in the American scene. The Paleoindians were anatomically modern men, ancestral to the Amerindians of the present day, and their hunting gear with exquisitely shaped, fluted projectile points indicates a specialization in big game. Early Paleoindians, the so-called Clovis people, hunted the mammoth and mastodon, as shown by several finds of butchered specimens with scattered projectile points."
* Childs 2018 p.xiv-xv
"The is a love story -- boy meets girl, if you will. One partner is an unpeopled hemisphere, the other is our hungry, inquisitive species. Some might tell you that the encounter wasn't love at all, but domination, overkill, an invasive species hell-bent on spreading into a land that was doing just fine as it was, without us. Some scientists have called it blitzkrieg, mammoths felled like cordwood. Ours was no docile species, and the animals were not ready for us, or our weaponry. Archaeologists from Alaska to Florida have found Paleolithic spearpoints and stone blades still holding protein signatures from the meat of horse, camel, sloth, bison, bear, and the proboscideans, mammoths and mastodons. Ice Age bones in the Americas have been found scribed with human butchering marks, blackened from fires. But humans didn't always win. Many died; some were eaten. First people, wildly outnumbered by animals, would have found themselves tossed and trampled by tusks and hooves or torn to pieces by the scissoring teeth of scimitar cats. No matter how well-armed they were, even with Eurasian wolf dogs at their sides, surviving among Rancholabrean megafauna would have been challenging. Nobody said love would be easy."
* Collins 1999 p40
"... [A] major rethinking of the romantic notion that Clovis big-game hunters ranged over most of North America is long overdue. It is not clear exactly what will replace that concept, and it will take years of good, hard dirt archeology to ascertain a clearer picture of Clovis 'culture.' Most likely, multiple regional Clovis adaptations will emerge, each with distinct responses to specific kinds of plants, animals, and other resources. It is to be hoped that there will also emerge some answers to the questions of why, over such a wide area, Clovis stone and bone tools were made in much the same way and why, in most regions, much use was made of exotic stone."
* Mann 2005 p169-170
"Clovis culture had a distinctive set of tools: scrapers, spear-straighteners, hatchetlike choppers, crescent-moon-shaped objects whose function remains unknown. Its hallmark was the 'Clovis point,' a four-inch spearhead with a slightly cut-in, concave tail; in silhouette, the points somewhat resemble those goldfish-shaped cocktail crackers."
* Carlson 2005 p37
"Projectile points characterize the Clovis culture. Expertly made, three to four inches long, and sharp-edged, the beautiful but deadly flint points often contained a short groove -- a flute -- along the lower face and a small notch at the base. The groove may have been designed to help hold the point to the shaft or fore-shaft. Hunters reused the distinctive points, and some workers resharpened the points as well as their knives by flaking off tiny bits of rock."
* Fagan 2011 p28
"Fluted Clovis points are one of the iconic artifacts of ancient North America, but their makers remain something of an enigma. They were clearly versatile hunter-gatherers who could kill animals of all sizes, as well as subsisting off plant foods and perhaps fish near lakes and coasts. Bringing down a large beast like a mammoth was probably a rare event, perhaps experienced but once in a lifetime.
"The fluted point itself may be a local invention that developed on the Great Plains or in the Southwest. Such examples that occur in Alaska are later in date, perhaps introduced by people moving northward in pursuit of bison. The Clovis toolkit, which included bone, ivory, and probably hunting nets and bags, generally reflects a mobile lifeway, where everything had to be carried on one's person, including large bifaces, which served as a kind of 'savings bank' from which one could strike blades or blanks for projectile points."
* Justice 1987 p18
"Clovis points are the earliest defined projectile point type of the Paleo-Indian tradition, widespread in North America by about 12,000 to 11,000 B.C., nearing the close of the Pleistocene glacial period. Radiocarbon dates from Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Pennsylvania are well in excess of 16,000 B.C. However, these dates have not been accepted. Dates falling between 9000 and 8000 B.C. represent later phases of the Fluted Point tradition in the Great Lakes area and the Northeast.
"Knowledge of changing ecological conditions of the late Pleistocene period and numerous finds of extinct animals and the presence of Clovis points in the East have long suggested an association of large elephants and Clovis hunters similar to the well documented mammoth kill sites in the Southwest. The association has now become a reality with investigations at the Kimmswick site in eastern Missouri near St. Louis. A clear Clovis-mastodon (Mammut americanum) association has been documented in pond sediments beneath an early Holocene deposit. Smaller mammalian fauna in the point sediment and pollen data from this region indicate a deciduous woodland and open grassland environment for the Clovis component. The environment to the north at the time of the Kimmswick occupation was probably still periglacial with subarctic parkland flora and fauna. Although information about the Clovis economy is still scanty in the East, the developing ecological picture implies a more diverse economy of which the hunting of large animals was only a part."
* Dixon 1999 p151-152
"The primary weapons used for hunting in North America in early times were the lance and/or thrusting spear (which could also be thrown), the atlatl and dart, the bow and arrow, the bola, throwing sticks, and a variety of clubs. ...
"During the Paleoindian period, the major weapon system used for hunting was based around the atlatl, or spear thrower. The spear thrower (atlatl) was sometimes equipped with an atlatl hook, which is a hook-like object attached to the back of the atlatl providing a seat for a dimple-like depression at the end of the dart. The term atlatl is a word used by the Aztec of central Mexico for spear thrower and is commonly used by North American archeologists. ...
"Although no spear throwers known to be more than 8,000 years old have been found in North America, it is probably safe to assume the discovery of atlatl hooks are reliable indicators of the use of this weapon. The preserved hooks have been found at several Paleoindian sites .... Consequently, the use of the spear thrower can be demonstrated in the absence of the artifact itself. In North America and some other areas of the world, the atlatl was never fully replaced by the bow and arrow. It was probably retained for selective use as the 'heavy artillery' of its day that could reliably penetrate the thick hides of some large mammals and even human armor. It also has the advantage of being a weapon that can be used with one hand, thus freeing the opposing hand to use tools, weapons, or shield."
* Carlson 2005 p39
"Favorite weapons must have included spears and lances. As a way to improve their hunting, Clovis people adopted the atlatl, a spear thrower that hunting societies had used for thousands of years. A simple but clever instrument, the atlatl was a short stick with a hook or notch on one end against which the spear was set. A hunter held the spear with his thumb and forefinger and the handle of the atlatl with his other fingers. Then, with an overhand motion and a snap of the wrist the hunter dispatched the weapon toward the target. In effect an atlatl increased the length of one's arm, and, thus, increased the spear's velocity, thrust, and accuracy."
* Lister/Bahn 1994 p122
"Clovis points, finely carved spearheads of stone, were hafted onto long shafts with pitch and sinew. They were efficient weapons which could penetrate thick hide even when thrown from 70 ft (20 m) away. Modern replicas of Clovis points, attached to 7-ft (2-m) wooden shafts, can penetrate deeply into the back and rib cage of (already mortally wounded) elephants in Africa, as experiments have shown. Their points are undamaged by repeated use unless they hit a rib."
* Oakes 2003 p132-133
"Clovis points have been found in every US state below Alaska. These distinctive stone points appear suddenly in the archaeological record about 13,000 years ago and were first discovered near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1930s. Looking like spearheads, Clovis points were usually attached to a long dart shaft and launched with an atlatl. They were used for hunting large animals, often being found with, or even embedded in, the bones of mammoths. They have a unique grooved or fluted shape that is remarkably uniform throughout the vast area over which they are found, suggesting that they were made by a pioneering culture. The grooves helped secure the points to shafts, and also caused victims to bleed more profusely. The points were made of high-quality, sometimes semiprecious, stones like chert, quartz, obsidian, flint and hematite and often shattered once inside their victims, maximizing damage. They form the basis of a light and highly mobile tool kit, with off-cuts from their manufacture being used for a variety of other tools. For example, final shaping of a point created razor-sharp flakes needed for butchering animals and scraping hides, while earlier shaping produced knives and hide scrapers."
* Jones 2007 p57
"The design of the Clovis points precludes bringing down the mammoth with force, which would have required larger points like the harpoon points used against whales. Simply, they were too short and too fragile to be the sole killing force against a mammoth. The bone mass and massive muscles with which elephants move tons of body weight, combined with the constricted musculature of an animal under attack, would shatter the delicate fluted points in the animal, and perhaps this was intended. A number of early accounts indicate that some Indian groups designed poison arrowheads to shatter or disengage from the shaft within the victim's body. ...
"The possible origin of Clovis populations also supports the poison-use hypothesis. No one knowns for sure where the Clovis people came from, but experts presume northeast Asia, which suggests they traveled through arrow-poisoning cultures into the New World."
* Oakes 2003 p136
"Atlatls are stick- or board-shaped wooden and bone spear-throwers used by early Americans. They were put to deadly effect by the first Americans, who used them to launch high-speed darts, tipped with stone Clovis points, at New World megafauna.
"Atlatls are easy to use and allow weapons to be thrown with more power than conventional spears, because they give the thrower's arm extra leverage. The stone-tipped dart lies alongside the atlatl, with the dart base fitting in a hooked notch at one end. The pair are gripped in one hand and thrown with a whipping action. As the dart is released, the atlatl bends and then springs back into shape providing extra propulsion. This more than doubles the force that could be provided just by throwing the spear.
"Equipped with this deadly weapon, early Americans could puncture the tough hides of mammoths and other monsters to inflict mortal wounds from a safe distance. They may also have used the weapon against each other."
"No physical remains of Clovis costume survive, so reconstructions use inferential evidence. Reconstructive artists always portray Clovis costume in one of three ways, all of which are persuasive in context:
1.Heavy winter clothing of tailored garments topped with heavy fur coats, which the Clovis would have worn crossing the icy terrain of Beringia and the Laurentide passage. This reconstruction resembles Arctic clothing generally, and there's little reason to question the basic look. The human figures in the Columbian Mammoth Tableau displayed in the lobby of the Sam Noble Museum wear this.
2. Light buckskin shirt and leggings, which the Clovis would have adopted as they moved south into temperate climates. This look approximates the type of traditional pre-contact clothing found among a wide section of native North Americans, so again the reconstruction is reasonable. The mannequin in the Sam Noble Museum's Hall of the People of Oklahoma wears this.
3. A stripped down costume consisting only of leather loincloth flaps, for warm climates. Again, simple loincloths were used by Native Americans in tropical and desert ecosystems, so this reconstruction also makes sense."