The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Native American culture that first appears in the archaeological record of North America around 13,500 years ago, at the end of the last ice age.
The culture is named for artifacts found near Clovis, New Mexico, where the first evidence of this tool complex was excavated in 1932. Earlier evidence included a mammoth skeleton with a spear-point in its ribs, found by a cowboy in 1926 near Folsom, New Mexico. Clovis sites have since been identified throughout all of the contiguous United States, as well as Mexico and Central America.
The Clovis people, also known as Paleo-Indians, are generally regarded as the the first human inhabitants of the New World, and ancestors of all the indigenous cultures of North and South America. However, this view has been recently contested by various archaeological finds which are claimed to be much older.
There are a number of controversial sites vying for the position of the earliest site in the region. The best evidence, however, suggests that a society of hunters and gatherers known as Clovis People were the first to settle in the Southwest, probably sometime before 9,500 B.C. The Clovis People were so named after the New Mexico town, site of the first discovery in 1932, near Clovis, N.M.
Since the mid 20th century, the standard theory among archaelogists has been that the Clovis people were the first inhabitants of the Americas. The primary support of the theory was that no solid evidence of pre-Clovis human inhabitation has been found. According to the standard accepted theory, the Clovis people crossed the Beringia land bridge over the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska during the period of lowered sea levels during the ice age, then made their way southward through an ice-free corridor east of the Rocky Mountains in present-day western Canada as the glaciers retreated.
The culture lasted for about a half a millennium, from about 11,200 to 10,900 years ago. People of the Clovis culture were successful, efficient big-game hunters and foragers. Judging from sites on the North American Great Plains, the Clovis people were skilled hunters of huge animals, especially Ice Age mammoths and mastodons.
It is generally accepted that Clovis people hunted mammoth: sites abound where Clovis points are found mixed in with mammoth remains. Whether they drove the mammoth to extinction via overhunting them - the so-called Pleistocene overkill hypothesis - is still an open, and controversial, question, keeping in mind that Archaeology is purely a theoretical endeavor.
A single animal could provide meat for weeks on end, and if dried, for much of the winter, also. Not that the people used all the meat they butchered. Bison carcasses were more heavily utilized and less was left at the kill sites. Presumably, the hides, tusks, bones, and pelts were used to make household possessions, subsistence tools, for shelter, even clothing.
Clovis Tools and Points
Clovis tool kits were highly effective, lightweight, and portable, as befits people who were constantly on the move. Their stone technology was based on precious, fine-grained rock that came from widely separated outcrops, ones that were exploited for thousands of years by later people. Their most famous, celebrated, and distinctive part of their toolkit were their fluted projectile points.
A hallmark of Clovis culture is the use of a distinctively-shaped fluted rock spear point, known as the Clovis point. The Clovis point is distinctively bifacial and fluted on both sides, a feature that possibly allowed the point to be mounted onto a spear in a way so that the point would snap off on impact. Archaeologists do not agree on whether the widespread presence of these artifacts indicates the proliferation of a single people, or the adoption of a superior technology by non-Clovis people.
The typical Clovis point is leaf shaped, with parallel or slightly convex sides and a concave base. The edges of the basal portions are ground somewhat, probably to prevent the edge from severing the hafting cord. Clovis points range in length from 1 1/2 to 5 inches (4 to 13 centimetres) and are heavy and fluted, though the fluting rarely exceeds half the length. Some eastern variants of Clovis, called Ohio, Cumberland, or Suwannee, depending on their origin, are somewhat fish tailed and also narrower relative to length.
Exactly how these points were hafted is unknown, but the men probably carried a series of them mounted in wooden or bone foreshafts that worked loose from the spear shaft once the head was buried in its quarry. The Clovis people became successful hunters, often killing mammoth, mastodons, huge bison, horses and camels throughout the great plains of North America and into northern Mexico.
Also associated with Clovis are such implements as bone tools, hammerstones, scrapers, and unfluted projectile points. Besides projectile points, the Clovis people used bifacially trimmed points and other woodworking and butchering artifacts, as well as flakes used simply as sharp-edged, convenient tools in their struck-off form.
The Clovis People were also botanists well-versed in the use of plants for food and equipment. They were geologistswith a keen ability to seek out the best sources of New World flint for their finely crafted points and tools, and of ochre for use as a red pigment.
Clovis settled successfully into a broad range of environments. And after half a century of research, questions and disagreements still surround this short-lived, but extremely widespread North American culture.