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Athena Review,Vol.3, no.2: Peopling of the Americas


Clovis, Folsom, and Late Paleoindian Cultures: Some Basic Traits


Michael Collins, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin


Clovis: Clovis is the name given to a prehistoric cultural manifestation found widely across North America and dating to the waning three centuries of the last glacial interval (ca. 11,200 to 10,900 radiocarbon years ago or RCYA; 12,900-12,550 calendar years ago). Ice still covered most of what is now Canada and lowered sea level expanded the coastal margins, especially along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shorelines. Clovis sites are found from the southern margin of the continental ice sheets to Central America, from the Atlantic to the Pacific in virtually every kind of environment that existed at the time. Defining traits are large, fluted spearpoints (fig.1), a highly distinctive way of flaking large bifacial point preforms and knives, prismatic blades (fig.2), and pointed rods of bone or ivory. Clovis artifacts, especially points, are often found in association with bones of mammoths, but caches of stone tools and campsites with a variety of tools and debris are all characteristic.

[Fig.1 (left): Clovis point from the Gault site in central Texas (Gault Archeological Project).]

[Fig.2 (right): Prismatic blades and core from the Gault site in central Texas (Gault Archeological Project).]

[Clovis site references: ADAMS Sanders 1990; AGATE BASIN Frison and Stanford 1982; AUBREY Ferring 2001; BLACKWATER DRAW J. Hester 1972; Holliday 1997; Boldurian and Cotter 1999; CARSON-CONN-SHORT Broster and Norton 1993; COLBY Frison and Todd 1986; DENT Figgins 1933; Wormington 1957; DOMEBO Holliday 1997; Leonhardy 1966; EL BAJÍO Sanchez n.d.; GAULT Collins 1998, 1999; Collins and Brown 2000; HORN SHELTER 2 Holliday 1997; Redder 1985; Watt 1978; KINCAID Collins 1990; Collins et al. 1989; Hester et al. 1985; Holliday 1997; LANGE/FERGUSON Hannus 1989; LEHNER Haury, Sayles, and Wasley 1959; LEWISVILLE Holliday 1997; Stanford 1982, 1983; LUBBOCK LAKE Holliday 1997; Johnson 1987; MIAMI Holliday 1997; Holliday et al. 1994; Sellards 1938, 1952; MURRAY SPRINGS Haynes 1993; Hemmings 1970; NACO Haury 1953; OWL CAVE Miller 1989; SHEAMAN Frison 1982; THUNDERBIRD Gardner 1974; WILSON-LEONARD Collins 1998.]

Folsom: Folsom is the name given to the prehistoric culture that succeeded Clovis in the Plains, Prairies, and parts of the southwestern region of North America. Radiocarbon dates for this archaeological manifestation primarily fall  within the interval of 10,900 to 10,200 BP. Folsom sites frequently consist of small, highly distinctive, fluted spearpoints found among the bones of bison (fig.3,4). Other characteristic stone tools are large and very thin knives and  well-made hide scrapers. This was a specialized, nomadic bison hunting adaptation. [Folsom site references: Amick 1999; Boldurian and Cotter 1999; Wilmsen and Roberts 1978; Frison and Bradley 1980.]

[Fig.3 (left): Folsom point (left) found with bones of giant bison at Folsom, New Mexico (American Museum of Natural History).]

[Fig.4 (right): Clovis (a) and Folsom (b) points from Blackwater Draw, New Mexico (after Boldurian and Cotter, 1999).]

Late Paleoindian: Following Folsom along the southern periphery of the Great Plains where the Gault site is located is a succession of regional archaeological “cultures,” each identified by a diagnostic style of projectile point. Dates for most of these style intervals are not well established, but as a group they fall within the interval of ca. 10,000 to 9,000 RCYA. Such names as Wilson, Golondrina/Barber, Angostura, and St. Mary’s Hall have been attached to the projectile points, but at present, not much is known about the lifeways of the people who left these materials behind [Collins 1995, 1998].

[Fig.5: Scottsbluff (a,b) and Golondrina (c,d) spearpoints from the Late Paleoindian period at the Gault site (photo: Gault Archeological Project).]


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