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Clovis Culture

Clovis Culture

The first clear evidence of human activity in North America are spear heads like this. They are called Clovis points. These spear tips were used to hunt large game. The period of the Clovis people coincides with the extinction of mammoths, giant sloth, camels and giant bison in North America. The extinction of these animals was caused by a combination of human hunting and climate change.
Clovis spear point c. 11,000 B.C.E., found Arizona, flint, 2.98 x 8.5 x 0.7 cm
Clovis Spear Point, c. 11,000 B.C.E., flint, 2.98 x 8.5 x 0.7 cm, found Arizona © Trustees of the British Museum

How did humans reach America?

North America was one of the last continents in the world to be settled by humans after about 15,000 BC. During the last Ice Age, water, which previously flowed off the land into the sea, was frozen up in vast ice sheets and glaciers so sea levels dropped. This exposed a land bridge that enabled humans to migrate through Siberia to Alaska. These early Americans were highly adaptable and Clovis points have been found throughout North America. It is remarkable that over such a vast area, the distinctive characteristics of the points hardly vary.
Typical Clovis points, like the example above, have parallel to slightly convex edges which narrow to a point. This shape is produced by chipping small, parallel flakes off both sides of a stone blade. Following this, the point is thinned on both sides by the removal of flakes which leave a central groove or "flute." These flutes are the principal feature of Clovis or "fluted" points. They originate from the base which then has a concave outline and end about one-third along the length. The grooves produced by the removal of the flutes allow the point to be fitted to a wooden shaft of a spear.
The people who made Clovis points spread out across America looking for food and did not stay anywhere for long, although they did return to places where resources were plentiful.
Clovis points are sometimes found with the bones of mammoths, mastodons, sloth and giant bison. As the climate changed at the end of the last Ice Age, the habitats on which these animals depended started to disappear. Their extinction was inevitable but Clovis hunting on dwindling numbers probably contributed to their disappearance.
Although there are arguments in favor of pre-Clovis migrations to America, it is the "Paleo-Indian" Clovis people who can be most certainly identified as the probable ancestors of later Native North American peoples and cultures.
© Trustees of the British Museum
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Additional resources:
B. Fagan, Ancient North America (London, 2005).
G. Haynes, The Early Settlement of North America: The Clovis Era (Cambridge, 2002).
G. Haynes (ed.), American Megafaunal Extinctions at the End of the Pleistocene (New York, 2009).
D. Meltzer, First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America (Berkeley, 2009).
S. Mithen, After the Ice: A Global Human History 20000-5000 BC (London, 2003).

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    In the first paragraph we read that "...The extinction of these animals was caused by a combination of human hunting and climate change."

    Does that mean that climate change is something that has been going on for many thousands or years? Perhaps predating human intervention? What does this mean relating to modern climate change and the claims of human caused "global warming"?
    (7 votes)
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user Vicki Bamman
    In the last paragraph, it says: "The "Moundbuilder Myth" eased nineteenth-century guilt at the rapidly disappearing Indian population." What is the source for that statement? Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, concerted efforts were made to wipe out Indian populations and cultures. As the descendant of an "emancipated Indian" -- one who was "saved" from her Indian heritage, given a new identity, made to forget even the name of her tribe -- I doubt that there was much, if any, guilt felt. That the European settlers who replaced the Indians felt that they were part of a natural progression is quite likely, but I've seen no evidence of guilt in that era. In the modern era, yes. But not 100+ years ago.
    (5 votes)
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  • aqualine seedling style avatar for user Dereck Lopez
    Did these people do the same thing when they
    Made arrows for bows?
    (4 votes)
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  • male robot johnny style avatar for user nolan
    how did they get across the ice
    (3 votes)
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    • starky sapling style avatar for user Shaunak Joshi
      NO CLUE ABOUT THE ICE. But, weren't they intellectually capable of building something like the Europeans? Just because you live in a particular continent doesn't mean you aren't as intellectually or physically capable as the people of another continent.
      (2 votes)
  • winston baby style avatar for user girmaido
    Why did the people who made the clovis points spread out America
    (3 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Dakota Spencer
    how did they get them to stick to the shaft of the arrow or the spear
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot donald style avatar for user Justin Burr
    Has any other evidence been found about the Clovis? Or is all we have spearheads?
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot johnny style avatar for user adrian54
    if you do conting tens the anweser is 90
    (2 votes)
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  • primosaur sapling style avatar for user Omar Butler
    Where did "Clovis" come from and how did it come to America and who discovered it and why
    (2 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user Shaunak Joshi
    Why didn't native American cultures develop machines like the Europeans did?
    (2 votes)
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