The Early Paleoindian Period
by Julie Morrow
© Copyright 1996 The University of Iowa. All rights reserved.
The Early Paleoindian Period lasted about
1,000 years from 11,500 to about 10,500 years ago. This period is marked
by the first human entry into the New World presumably from Asia via the
Bering land bridge,and the end of the last Ice Age. The environmental
changes that occurred at the end of the last Ice Age brought about major
shifts in the distribution and associations of animals and plants. The
climate began warming, sea level rose, and vegetation changed. These environmental
shifts are believed to have been the major cause of the mammalian extinctions
at the end of the last Ice Age.
During the Early Paleoindian period in Iowa, there were two cultural
traditions or complexes defined by their diagnostic flaked-stone projectile
point/knives with distinctive manufacturing sequences. The older tradition
is called the Clovis cultural complex. It lasted from about 11,500 to
about 10, 800 B. P. Following, and perhaps overlapping, the Clovis complex
was the Folsom complex which presumably developed from Clovis, which
lasted from about 10,900 to roughly 10, 400 years ago. These dates derive
from Clovis and Folsom sites in the western United States from which
material such as wood charcoal, and bone has been been dated using the
radiocarbon dating method. So far, no Folsom or Clovis sites in Iowa
have yet been dated using this method. Based on occurrences of diagnostic
artifacts, the Clovis complex was widely distributed across North America,
while the Folsom complex appears to have been distributed primarily
across the Plains.
The removal of a distinctive flake from the base of well-made lanceolate
shaped projectile point preforms, known as "fluting" is one important
hallmark of Early Paleoindian stone tool technology. Both Clovis and
points are fluted, but they differ in size, shape, flaking
pattern, and the manner in which they were fluted. Some fluted points
were probably also used as cutting tools, but their principal function
was as projectiles.
Occurrences of fluted points made of exotic raw materials far from
their source area suggest that Early Paleoindians groups were highly
mobile and had large territories or range sizes. Their mobility characterized
by frequent and long distance movements. A number of different types
of Clovis and Folsom sites have been identified, including brief camps
or habitation sites, quarry workhops, storage caches, burials, kills,
camp/kill, and possibly, aggregation sites. In Iowa, Early Paleoindian
sites tend to be found near streams or rivers, and are particularly
abundant in confluence areas and in areas of high quality chert or flint.
To date, over 200 Clovis and Folsom points have been recorded as part
of a regional fluted point survey (Morrow and Morrow 1994). A map of these finds indicates fluted point concentrations in eastern
and southwestern Iowa.
The only Early Paleoindian site in Iowa that has been excavated is
the Rummels-Maske site (Anderson and Tiffany 1971). Excavated by the
Office of the State Archaeologist in 1966, the site on an upland ridge
near a tributary of the Cedar River in eastern Iowa. The 20 complete
and fragmentary finished Clovis points recovered from the site appear
to represent a cache.
Early Paleoindians have been referred to as "big game hunters" because
of the widespread co- occurrence of fluted points and extinct animals
on the Plains. But evidence from a number of Clovis kill and camp sites
such as Kimmswick in eastern Missouri, Aubrey in Texas, Hiscock in New
York, and Shawnee-Minnisink in Pennsylvania, shows that the diet of
Clovis peoples also may have included deer, fish, berries, and small
mammals as well. Despite this evidence for a more generalized diet,
many archaeologists maintain that the Early Paleoindian subsistence
economy emphasized large game such as mammoth, mastodon, caribou, and
extinct forms of bison. An extinct form of bison seems to have been
the main dish in Folsom times.
Many Clovis stone tools were made from large bifaces and prepared
blade cores. Bifaces appear to have been multifunctional, serving as
cores for the production of flakes which could be made into tools as
possible cutting and/or chopping implements, and as preforms which could
be manufactured into bifacial projectiles or cutting tools. Large conical,
polyhedral, or prismatic blade cores also served as sources for flake
blanks for large unifacial tools. Blades were sometimes struck from
both ends of the core, from flat and ground striking platforms. Clovis
blades were fashioned into end scrapers, side scrapers, graver/perforators
and numerous other tools including some with multiple functions. Perishable
tools and other objects made of bone, antler, and ivory (some of which
are engraved or incised) are also known from Early Paleoindian sites.
Technological similarities between Early Paleoindian and Upper Paleolithic
bone and stone artifacts attest to the Old World roots of the Clovis
|Anderson, A.D., and J.A. Tiffany|
| ||1972 Rummels-Maske: A Clovis Find-Spot in Iowa. Plains Anthropologist 17:55-59.|
|Bonnichsen, R., and K. Turnmire (editors)|
| ||1992 Clovis Origins. Clovis: Origins and Adaptations, edited by R. Bonnichsen and K.Turnmire,
pp. 309-329. Center for the Study of the First Americans, Oregon State University, Corvallis.|
|Morrow, Toby A., and Juliet E. Morrow|
| ||1994 A Preliminary Survey of Fluted Points in Iowa. Current Research in the Pleistocene.
|Stanford, D. J. and J. S. Day (editors)|
| ||1992 Ice Age Hunters of the Rockies. Denver Museum of Natural History and University Press
of Colorado, Niwot.|
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