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Athena Review, Vol.2, no.3 

Book Reviews: Clovis Revisited

by Anthony T. Boldurian and John L. Cotter (1999)

Clovis Revisited: New Perspectives on Paleoindian Adaptations from Blackwater Draw, New Mexico by Anthony T. Boldurian and John L. Cotter. University Museum Monograph 103, The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1999. 145 pp. with 43 b/w photos, 22 line drawings, 4 maps, and 14 tables. ISBN 0- 92-417167-7 (hardcover $40, paperback $25).

The Clovis Fluted Point horizon is the single most widely recognized cultural stage in both North and South America. The extreme age (11,200 to 10,900 radiocarbon years before present [RCYBP]) of the distinctive Clovis spear points, and the romantic notion of Clovis hunters facing gigantic mammoths with these spears in life or death situations undoubtedly contributes to our fascination and easy recognition of this culture wherever it is encountered. It was surprising, therefore, to learn in reading this monograph that many of the artifacts in the early collections from the Blackwater Draw Locality near Clovis, New Mexico had never been adequately studied or reported. The Clovis Revisited volume seeks to redress this obvious oversight and, by employing modern methods and theories, bring us closer to understanding the cultural and environmental dynamics of the Clovis and Folsom fluted point horizons.

The first chapter of this volume describes Edgar B. Howard's Early Man Project in the American Southwest (1933-1937) which resulted in the scientific discovery of the Blackwater Draw Clovis site locations. These sites remain the foundation of our current understanding of these early cultural horizons. This introductory chapter establishes the state of knowledge about Clovis and Folsom as it was in the early 1930s, the point at which Howard began his research in New Mexico. It is a good review of the physical and historical setting in which Howard conducted his research. The authors introduce the cast of characters involved in Howard's various expeditions in an "earthy" fashion that gives the reader the sense of how it felt to be one of those Early Man hunters on the Llano Estacado, the Staked Plains.

[Fig.1: Clovis fluted projectile point from Blackwater Draw, New Mexico (Boldurian and Cotter 1999).]

Late Pleistocene Environments and Human Ecology of the Southern Plains: A Summary and Perspective, the second chapter, establishes the environmental and ecological settings of the region during Clovis times and the transitional period (11,000 to 10,800 BP) leading into the subsequent Folsom period. Paleoclimatic indicators suggest that cool moist conditions prevailed on the Llano Estacado at the beginning of Clovis about 11,500 BP. Flowing streams and marshes crossed and dotted the plains providing a savanna-like environment within which Clovis peoples apparently hunted and/or scavenged mammoth and other late Pleistocene megafauna. By 11,000 BP the region may have begun to experience severe drought and dessication, concentrating large herbivores along fewer primary water courses (Haynes 1991, 1995). Certainly, by 10,900 BP the water table had dropped significantly, spring flow was dramatically reduced, and wind erosion increased (Haynes 1995; Holliday 1997). While there is some evidence of continued cool, moist conditions on the Staked Plains (Holliday 1997), it seems clear that the region would no longer support a viable population of mammoths. By 10,800 BP only Folsom points are found in association with predominantly bison and other mammals managing to adapt to the changing conditions of the holocene.

Chapters 3 and 4 are the core of the Clovis Revisited volume, in that they present the artifact types of the previously unanalyzed and unreported Clovis and Folsom assemblages in Howards' collections. All cultural materials, right down to unmodified stone flakes, are morphologically and technologically described in these chapters. Of perhaps greatest importance, at least to the professional archaeologist, are the detailed descriptions of the context within which key artifacts were recovered. These descriptions are aided by photos and maps showing the location of artifacts in relation to faunal remains, mammoth in particular. This is vital information to professional archaeologists and certainly one of the key attributes of this volume which will make it attractive to them. It is this attention to contextual detail which allows the authors to conclude that Clovis people were mammoth hunters, not just mammoth scavengers.

In Chapter 5, Analytical Comparisons, the authors continue their documentation of the variation expressed in Clovis, Folsom, and other Paleoindian assemblages. Detailed analyses and experimental replication of bone and stone tools are compared with ethnographic data to develop reasonable hypotheses concerning Clovis and later weapons and hunting techniques. An interesting proposal in this chapter explores the possibility that heavy bone cylinders, tapered at one end and beveled at the other, which are often found in Clovis kill sites are actually spear foreshafts.

Chapter 6, Concluding Observations, provides a fairly comprehensive review of Clovis and Folsom ecology, environments, possible relationships of Clovis technology to Old World Solutrean technology, and an update on where Clovis fits in relation to other early sites like Monte Verde (cf. Meltzer 1997), Meadowcroft Rockshelter (Adovasio and Carlisle 1982), and Cactus Hill (McAvoy and McAvoy 1997). Clovis and Folsom tool assemblages and relationships are comparatively discussed. Recent discoveries of human remains and the implications of osteological and DNA research being conducted on them are discussed in light of what they tell us about the initial colonization of the Americas. Much of this chapter is a wide ranging--from Europe to the Eastern United States, Alaska to South America--discussion meant to stimulate thought and controversy in the hopes of triggering more research related to the issues of the Early Human occupation of North America.

I was pleased with the scientific and theoretical approaches of this monograph. I found some of the historical detail to be somewhat trite, for instance recording comments overheard at the Symposium on Early Man in 1937, and the discussion of the purchase of dishes for Mrs. Jones, the caretakers' wife at the Eastern New Mexico State Park where the crew stayed in 1937, but that may be a personal bias related to my profession. Others, historians and lay persons in particular, might find such bylines small gems of insight into personal relationships which provide background data to the setting of the period, far less distracting than illuminating.

I heartily recommend the Clovis Revisited volume to anyone wanting a quick "baptism" into Clovis-Folsom topics. It contains good discourse about current issues and the application of modern theories to their investigation. Of interest and assistance to both professionals and lay persons are the excellent photos, line drawn illustrations, and descriptions of Clovis and Folsom artifacts. I am pleased to have this reference volume in my library and will recommend it to my friends and students alike.

Reviewed by Dennis L. Jenkins, Research Associate/ Field School Co-Director/ Supervisor; State Museum of Anthropology/ Department of Anthropology 1224- University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1224.

[For the complete, illustrated article, see the printed edition of Athena Review, 2,3.]

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