Renewed Investigations at the Folsom Palaeoindian Type Site

By Meltzer, David J. | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Renewed Investigations at the Folsom Palaeoindian Type Site


Meltzer, David J., Antiquity


The Folsom site (New Mexico, USA) is justly famous as the place where in 1927 four decades of sometimes bitter controversy came to an end, when it was finally demonstrated humans had been in the New World since the Pleistocene (Meltzer 1993). Folsom became the type site for the Palaeoindian period and distinctive fluted projectile point that bears its name (see Hofman 1999). Yet, as the excavations done in the 1920s by the Colorado (now Denver) and American Museums of Natural History focused initially on the recovery of Bison antiquus skeletons suitable for museum display, and latterly on documenting the association of projectile points with those bison remains, many fundamental questions of interest about the site's stratigraphic, environmental and archaeological context were left unanswered (and often not asked).

To rectify that situation, a long-term field project was begun in 1997, sponsored by the Quest Archaeological Research Fund and under permit from the State of New Mexico. Our initial expectations were modest, made so by the knowledge that the last year of major excavations on site (1928) were extensive and ostensibly got `around the Indians buffalo hunt' (as Peter Kaisen, the field foreman, reported in August of that year). While there is no question much of the site was removed by the earlier work, it was unexpected and gratifying to discover that the site is much larger than was realized in the 1920s, and that considerable material of archaeological interest remains.

Folsom is located in the shadow of Johnson Mesa in northeastern New Mexico (FIGURES 1 & 2), and straddles Wild Horse Arroyo -- which heads on the mesa, and downstream feeds into the Dry Cimarron River. Much of the work in the 1920s concentrated on the south bank of the arroyo, and that is where our most intensive excavations have taken place. All together, over the last three field seasons, a relatively small area, ~17 sq. m, of the bonebed on the south bank has been carefully examined, and yielded a concentration of bison remains, including several remarkably well-preserved crania (FIGURE 3), along with post-cranial elements (particularly vertebrae, mandibles, and distal limb elements). The recovery pattern is similar to that in the 1920s, based on work with the museum collections by Meltzer and Lawrence Todd (unpublished). Noticeable by their scarcity are meat-rich long bones, suggesting these higher-yield parts were transported out of the kill area -- though whether they were taken off site, or remain on site in an as-yet-to-be discovered adjoining habitation, remains to be determined. …

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