Pre-Columbian Archaeology of North America

Archaeology of North
Week 4:
The Peopling of the New World:
Classic Interpretations: Clovis, Folsom,
Pleistocene extinctions
Pre-1930s Explanations
 No evidence for pre-Holocene occupation
 Hrdlička
 Folsom
 Clovis
Environment of
Pleistocene America
 Two major glacier groupings:
 Greenland Glacier
 Cordillerian Glacier
 Extended quite far south (c. 40° N)
 Great Lakes completely ice-covered
 Only exist in present form for less than 8,000
Global ice coverage
c. 18,000 years ago
Global ice coverage
c. 12,000 years ago
 Predominance of
spruce [smrk]
 Poplar [topol] also
 Steppe = short-grass
 Megafauna
 During the Pleistocene, large fauna are
found throughout the world, with species
being much larger than their modern
 Giant kangaroos in Australia
 Wooly rhinoceros in Europe
Major herbivore species
 Mammoths – 3 main species
 Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi)
 Jefferson’s mammoth (Mammuthus jeffersoni)
 Wooly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius)
American Mastodon (Mammut americanum)
Ground sloths
 Jefferson’s and Columbian mammoths are descendants of M.
 Arrived from Asia c. 1.8 mya
 Wooly mammoths arrived less than 500 kya
 Adults
 3-4 m at shoulder
 5500-7300 kg
 Flat, plate-like teeth
 Grazers
 Long, curving tusks
 Longest measures 4.9 m
 Longest of any member of the elephant family
 Pygmy mammoths (Mammuthus exilis)
 Found on Channel Islands off southern coast of California
 Likely evolved from Columbian mammoth c. 20 kya
 1.2-2.4 m at shoulder
Columbian (left) and
Jefferson’s (right) Mammoths
American Mastodon
 Mammut americanum
 Existed in N. America
from 3.75 mya to 10 kya
 Adults:
 2-3 m at shoulder
 3500-5400 kg
 Cone-like teeth
 Browsers
 Bison antiquus
 15-20% larger than the
modern American
bison/buffalo (Bison
 220 cm at top of hump,
1300 kg
 Considered ancestral
 Similar behavior
patter/range as modern
 All species of horse
evolved in the Americas
and spread across the
Bering land bridge to the
rest of the world
 Western Horse (Equus
 Primary Pleistocene
species in N. America
 Superficial resemblance to
modern Zebras
Ground Sloths
 Four species
 Found throughout North and
South America
 Much larger than modern
relatives (2 and 3 toed sloths)
 2.5-3 to 6 m in length
 Up to 4000 kg
 Browser-used hook-like claws
to pull down branches, etc.
 Pictured is Harlan’s Ground
Sloth (Paramylodon harlani)
Major carnivore species
Saber-toothed cat
American lion
Dire wolf
Short-faced bear
Saber-toothed Cat
 Smilodon fatalis
 Mistakenly referred to as
a “saber-toothed tiger”
 Canines up to 18 cm
 About the size of a
modern lion
 More massive/ muscular
with only a short tail
 Ambush hunter
American Lion
 Panthera atrox
 Largest member of
the cat family in N.
America (largest cat
species ever)
 Weighed up to 400
 modern lions max:
150 kg
Dire Wolf
 Canis dirus
 Closely related to the
modern timber/gray wolf
(Canis lupus)
 1.5 m long, 50 kg
 Major differences:
 Shorter legs
 Much larger teeth
 May have had
adaptation similar to
modern hyenas
 Bone a major element of
the diet
Short-faced Bear
 Arctodus simus
 Largest carnivore in the
 1.5 m at the shoulder
 Stood over 3.3 m
 Weighed up to 800 kg
 The short-faced bear's
size in comparison to the
modern day grizzly
(front) and polar bear
 Most probably
Bering Land Bridge
 Created during glacial periods
 Declining sea levels as water is locked up in continental
a. 60-50,000 years ago (Early Wisconsin advance)
b. 44-41,000 years ago (First Mid-Wisconsin advance)
c. 32-29,000 years ago (Second Mid-Wisconsin advance)
d. 23-13,000 years ago (Late Wisconsin advance)
e. 11-10,000 years ago (Valderan advance)
f. 8-7,000 years ago (Cochrane advance)
 Sea level decline by 100 m
 1600 km wide
 Vegetation:
 Grassy tundra
 Polar desert
 Movement of animals and people
 Ice-free corridor between two glacial masses
 When?
 Presumed to have existed no earlier than 13 kya
Migration Routes
Paleo-Indian Chronology
 Clovis
 12 to 11 kya
 Folsom
 11 to 10 kya
 Late Paleo-Indian/Plano Cultures
 10 to 8.5 kya
 All are characterized by relatively large
(50-80 mm) points
Clovis Culture
 Defined on the basis of the Clovis point
 Large, bifacially lanceolate, flaked point
 Characteristic flute on base
 4-13 cm in length
 Found across North and Central America
 All environmental zones
 Toolkit
 stone tools: knives, prismatic blades, bifacial preforms
 Bone/ivory rods (22 to 28 cm in length, 2 to 3 cm in width)
 Function unknown (foreshafts, runners, ceremonial function)
 Atlatl
 Migratory big-game hunters
 Related to Eurasian big game hunting tradition (?)
 Most sites were interpreted as killing sites/butchering stations
 Bias
 Residential features rare at these sites
 Known habitation sites are generally interpreted as short-term,
open-air camp sites
Bone/Ivory Tools
 From the
(Aztec) word
for “spear
 Made from
bone, ivory or
 Served to
increase force,
accuracy and
distance of
thrown spear
Folsom Culture
 Defined on the basis of the Folsom point
 Bifacially flaked point
 Smaller and thinner than Clovis points
 Deeper flute
 More usually associated with the bones of bison
 Shift from broad spectrum big-game hunting to focus on bison
 Olsen-Chubbuck site
 More restricted to plains/prairie regions
 May have had larger communities, engaged in larger
communal hunting
 Camp sites known with up to ten tent rings represented
 More intensive occupation
Folsom Points
Paleo-Indian Occupation in
the Rio Grande Valley
Late Paleo-Indian Period
 Generally referred to as Plano Cultures
 First recognized on the Great Plains
 Wider range of point styles
 Agate, Basin, Hell Gap, Alberta, Scottsbluff/Eden.
 Shift in hafting technology
 Both lanceolate (eastern N. A.) and stemmed points (western
 A hunter's tool kit (mostly points, knives, scrapers) .
 Nomadic
 First evidence of regular seasonal rounds
 Communal hunting
 Regular use of “bison jumps”
 Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
 Used for at least 6000 years
 Southern Alberta (Canada)
 UNESCO World Heritage Site
Comparison of PaleoIndian Points
Environmental Changes
 The period beginning about 10 kya is marked by
drastic environmental changes in North America
 This resulted in a number of changes affecting the
human and animal populations
 Rising sea levels
 Submerged coastal plains
 Opening up of northern areas of the continent to habitation
 Changes in rainfall and other climactic patterns
 Leads to the extinction of most of the megafauna in the Americas
 Resulting shift in hunting patterns, shifting to smaller game
 How much of a shift is unclear because earlier archaeological
research often ignored evidence of smaller mammals in favor of a
focus on megafauna.
Megafaunal Extinction
 135 species, including two-thirds of big mammals (over 45 kg)
went extinct within a very short period (400 years?)
 Environmental Change
Warming of the environment
Shifting patterns of rainfall
Melting of glaciers
Resulted in change in ecosystems
 Human hunting
 First proposed by Paul S. Martin in 1973
 “The Discovery of America” Science 179
 A small group of hunters from Asia entered North America and having
no competition rapidly expanded killing off the large megafauna which
were not able to withstand this new hunting pressure.
 Slow rates of reproduction
 Question not only for the Americas
 Australasia, South America, Europe
 Humans had already been in these locations for tens of thousands of
years, if not more
Model of extinctions
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