Clovis: On the Edge of a New Understanding

Clovis: On the Edge of a New Understanding

Clovis: On the Edge of a New Understanding

Clovis: On the Edge of a New Understanding


New research and the discovery of multiple archaeological sites predating the established age of Clovis (13,000 years ago) provide evidence that the Americas were first colonized at least one thousand to two thousand years before Clovis. These revelations indicate to researchers that the peopling of the Americas was perhaps a more complex process than previously thought.The Clovis culture remains the benchmark for chronological, technological, and adaptive comparisons in research on peopling of the Americas.In "Clovis: On the Edge of a New Understanding," volume editors Ashley Smallwood and Thomas Jennings bring together the work of many researchers actively studying the Clovis complex. The contributing authors presented earlier versions of these chapters at the Clovis: Current Perspectives on Chronology, Technology, and Adaptations symposium held at the 2011 Society for American Archaeology meetings in Sacramento, California.In seventeen chapters, the researchers provide their current perspectives of the Clovis archaeological record as they address the question: What is and what is not Clovis?


By Ashley M. Smallwood

Edgar B. Howard’s visit to the Blackwater Draw site in Clovis, New Mexico in 1932 marked the beginning of decades of archaeological work In the spring of 1933, Howard’s excavation crew found fluted lanceolate points, distinct from points found at the Folsom site, in direct association with the remains of extinct elephant and bison (Figgins 1933; Howard 1933, 524). Since this initial discovery, the definition and characterization of the Clovis techno-complex have been developing and expanding.

Early Discoveries and Definitions of Clovis

Clovis became recognized for its characteristic bifacial point, a type defined by Wormington (1957, 263) as a lanceolate-shaped point with flutes that originate at the base and extend no more than halfway up to the tip. With the discovery of additional Clovis sites throughout the Plains, Sellards (1952) offered a broader definition of the Clovis complex, which he termed the “Llano complex.” The proposed Llano toolkit included Clovis points, bone implements, hammer stones, smaller non-fluted points, and scrapers. Other hints of important technological traits were also emerging. In 1963, Green (1963) was the first to link blade production to Clovis people, and he highlighted the importance of a unique behavior known as “caching.” Yet, early Clovis technological studies focused on discoveries and descriptions of finished Clovis points.

Early definitions of the timing of the Clovis period hinged on the deposition and association of Clovis points with the remains of extinct Pleistocene megafauna. At Blackwater Draw, Clovis points were found in situ, stratigraphically below deposits with Folsom points, proving the antiquity of the Clovis archaeological record (Sellards 1952). The earliest explanation of the process of Clovis migration into North America was based on the geological evidence of a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska (Meltzer 2009). Based on the work of Canadian geologists, Howard and Antevs predicted that the first Clovis colonizers entered North America sometime between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago over the Bering Strait and through an ice-free corridor into the Great Plains (Meltzer 2009). In 1964, C. Vance Haynes (1964, 1411) reported the first radiocarbon ages from five stratigraphically secure Clovis sites in the Plains and Southwest. His evaluation reduced this time range to between 11,500 and 11,000 radiocarbon years before present.

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