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Tracing the Footsteps of Time: The Seven Stages of Pre-Clovis to Clovis Cultures in the Americas

Spanning over 21,000 years, Dr. Michael B. Collins (Texas State University) identifies seven unique archaeological groups, painting a vivid picture of our ancient past and its evolution leading to the pivotal Clovis culture.

My notes on the presentation “Clovis: The Mid-Point in the Cultural History of the Americas” by Dr. Michael B. Collins (Texas State University).

According to Michael B. Collins, ancient archaeological sites can be divided into seven groups based on technological types present in the archaeological record.

The first of these is the Cinmar site (20,000 BP) with “Laurel Leaf Bifaces.” These Solutrean style bifaces are about 6”-10” in length and recovered from several underwater depths. Some finds came from the ground but were heavily eroded.

  • In 1854, the first “Solutrean” biface came from Hampton, Virginia.
  • A biface from Epps Island, Virginia, came from an excavated context (though there were younger deposits in older soil)
  • A biface that looked truly Solutrean came from a surface find in Grady Collins, Maine; this biface was made from French flint – a material difficult to acquire by Paleoindians during its time of manufacture. The only reason anyone knew that is was French flint is because a group of historical archaeologists (whom had experience with gun flint) identified it and interpreted that someone from Europe brought it along during colonization.
  • The final biface of this category is another Solutrean style found in a basement during a construction project.

The second group (21,000-14,000 years ago) was named Unfluted, Lanceolate Points.

  • At Cactus Hill, Virginia, prismatic blades (20,000-18,000 BP) were found under an overlying Clovis deposit that consisted 25% of local quartz (12,800 years ago).
  • Clovis artifacts were also found along an unconformity at the top of Bollling-Allerod layer Miles Point, Maryland. There is no archaeology above or in that soil at this site: below the layer lies a thin layer of artifacts such as quartzite, points, and a handstone. In a windblown environment – rocks do not move.

Flaked Mammoth Bone (20,000-14,000 years ago) was the third group. Basically this category encircles sites with no stone or other artifacts.

  • All these sites share evidence of high impact fractures to the dense leg bones found in mammoth contexts.
  • Most of these sites are also in high windblown contexts and there is strong evidence of human exploitation of mammoths.
  • Lovewell, Kansas, and La Sena, Nebraska (21,000 years ago) have cultural materials with high impact fractures and flaking of dense bone.

Moving across the United States of America from the east coast toward the west, next up is the Modified Proboscidean Bone with Artifacts and/or Features group (17,000-14,000 years ago). These sites are set apart from other groups because of impacted or cut mastodon remains with associated stone and bone artifacts.

  • A rib bone was discovered in a bog at Manis Mammoth, Virginia, (14,000 years ago) with an unusual feature: an embedded bone projectile point.
  • Mammoth bones at Schaefer Mammoth Site, Wisconsin, (14,000 years ago) were found disarticulated and in stacks.
  • A bone with cut marks was also found at Mudlake Mammoth site, Wisconsin (16,000 years ago).
  • At Sanderson Site, Lea County, New Mexico, an ulna and vertebra were found together. These bones were preserved in casts and all the surrounding area was screened. Why was everything screened? People often sharpen tools at sites and carry their tools away. Fine screens can pull put the resharpened flakes. Between the bones a sand filled hole was discovered. It turns out that this hole was probably created by a stake since there are nobs in the hole to support the hypothesis. A viable means of meat preservation is staking meat at the bottom of a water source; this is called cold water meat caching.

The Gault and Freidkin Sites (15,000-13,000 years ago) create the fifth group. There are stratified components beneath the Clovis layer and cultural material below the Clovis layer share many Clovis technological traits. Blades, a variety of thick and narrow bifaces, small prismatic blade tools, and three notched projectile point fragments were uncovered.

Half of the Clovis material collected to date was discovered at the Gault site.

  • The intriguing part of this excavation is the older-than-Clovis (OTC) gold dirt followed:
    • an Upper OTC layer with blades similar to those of Clovis
    • and then the Lower OTClayer with a point stem, a thin heavily resharpened biface, a broken preform, and a large scraper (ca. 13,800 years ago).
  • There was also a stone “pavement” (a 2m by 2m flat square with an outlying toss zone) in part of the site with sticky yellow clay.
  • There were 16 prismatic blade sections all with evidence of cutting plants – a non-Clovis tradition. This layer was also isolated by a sterile gap above and below this pavement layer.

The Old Cordilleran is the sixth group (14,500 to 9,000 years ago) with long, thick narrow points and bifaces with no macro blades. The point technology seems to be shared with Siberia. Some sites included in this group are: Mesa Complex, On Your Knees Cave, Haskett, Paisley Cave, El Jobo, and Monte Verde.

The Paleocoastal is the final group (ca. 13,000 years ago). The artifacts are contemporary with Clovis but are not from the Clovis “culture”.

According to Dr. Collins, the seven groups are almost in chronological order from East to West: 21,000 to 13,000 CYBP. Clovis is at the midpoint of cultural history in the Americas.

For more insights and in-depth discussion, check out Dr. Michael B. Collins' interview on NPR, shedding light on the journey of America's first inhabitants.

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