Clovis points are the characteristically-fluted projectile points associated with the New World Clovis culture. They are present in dense concentrations across much of North America; in South America, they are largely restricted to the north of that continent. Clovis points date to the Early Paleoindian period, with all known points dating to the 600 years between roughly 13,500 to 12,800 calendar years ago. Clovis fluted points are named after the city of Clovis, New Mexico, where examples were first found in 1929 by Ridgely Whiteman.
A typical Clovis point is a medium to large lanceolate point. Sides are parallel to convex, and exhibit careful pressure flaking along the blade edge. The broadest area is near the midsection or toward the base. The base is distinctly concave with a characteristic flute or channel flake removed from one or, more commonly, both surfaces of the blade. The lower edges of the blade and base are ground to dull edges for hafting. Clovis points also tend to be thicker than the typically thin later-stage Folsom points.
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.
Clovis points are characterized by concave longitudinal shallow grooves called "flutes" 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 (of wood, bone, etc.) that would have been socketed onto the tip end of a spear or dart. Clovis points could also have been hafted as knives whose handles also served as removable foreshafts of a spear or dart. (This hypothesis is partly based on analogy with aboriginal harpoons that had tethered foreshafts Cotter 1937). There are numerous examples of post-Clovis era points that were hafted to foreshafts, but there is no direct evidence that Clovis people used this type of technological system.
Specimens are known to have been made of flint, chert, jasper, chalcedony and other stone of conchoidal fracture. Ivory and bone atlatl hooks of Clovis age have been archaeologically recovered. Known bone and ivory tools associated with Clovis archaeological deposits are not considered effective foreshafts for projectile weapons. The idea of Clovis foreshafts is commonly repeated in the technical literature despite the paucity of archaeological evidence. The assembled multiple piece spear or dart could have been thrown by hand or with the aid of an atlatl (spear thrower).
Age and cultural affiliations
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 of Europe have been noted, leading to the controversial Solutrean hypothesis, which states that the technology was introduced by hunters traversing the Atlantic ice-shelf and suggests that some of the first American humans were European.
Around 10,000 radiocarbon 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 Holocene. 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. Another opinion is that Upper Paleolithic peoples who, after migrating into North America from northeast Asia, reverted to inherited Clovis-style flaked-stone technology that had been in use prior to their entry into the Americas.
Clovis points were first discovered near 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. Clovis points have been found northwest of Dallas, Texas.
Clovis points, along with other stone and bone/ivory tools, have been identified in over two dozen artifact caches. These caches range from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and Northwest United States. While the Anzick cache is associated with a child burial, the majority of caches appear to represent anticipatory material storage at strategic locations on the Pleistocene landscape. In May 2008, 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. They 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.
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