A new study suggests that tools made by the Clovis people – some of North America’s earliest inhabitants – were made only during a 300-year period.
The Clovis culture is a prehistoric culture named for distinct stone tools – found near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s – including scrapers, drills, blades, and distinctive leaf-shaped, fluted spear points called Clovis points.
The Clovis people occupied North America during the end of the last Ice Age. There is much debate surrounding the age of the Clovis. But according to the new analysis, which used the radiocarbon dating method to date bone, charcoal and carbonized plant remains from 10 Clovis sites in South Dakota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Montana, Oklahoma and Wyoming, the people made and used the iconic Clovis spear-point and other tools for only 300 years, from 13,050 to 12,750 years ago.
We still do not know how or why Clovis technology emerged and why it disappeared so quickly.
It is intriguing to note that Clovis people first appear 300 years before the demise of the last of the megafauna that once roamed North America during a time of great climatic and environmental change. The disappearance of Clovis from the archaeological record at 12,750 years ago is coincident with the extinction of mammoth and mastodon, the last of the megafauna. Perhaps Clovis weaponry was developed to hunt the last of these large beasts.
Waters said that until recently, Clovis was thought to represent the initial group of indigenous people to enter the Americas and that people carrying Clovis weapons and tools spread quickly across the continent and then moved swiftly all the way to the southern tip of South America. However, he said, a short age range for Clovis does not provide sufficient time for people to colonize both North and South America. Furthermore, Waters added:
Strong archaeological evidence amassed over the last few decades shows that people were in the Americas thousands of years before Clovis, but Clovis still remains important because it is so distinctive and widespread across North America.
Waters said the revised age for Clovis tools reveals that
Clovis with its distinctive fluted lanceolate spear point, typically found in the Plains and eastern United States, is contemporaneous with stemmed point-making people in the Western United States and the earliest spear points, called Fishtail points, in South America.
Having an accurate age for Clovis shows that people using different toolkits were well settled into multiple areas of North and South America by 13,000 years ago and had developed their own adaptation to these various environments.
Bottom line: A 2020 study says that the Clovis people only made stone tools during a brief 300-year period from 13,050 to 12,750 years ago, according to new research.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as an EarthSky.org Editor, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She and her husband live in Tennessee, where they enjoy guitar playing and singing. They have 2 grown sons.