Fluted Projectile Points: Their Age and Dispersion

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Science  25 Sep 1964:
Vol. 145, Issue 3639, pp. 1408-1413
DOI: 10.1126/science.145.3639.1408


The stratigraphic record shows Clovis projectile points to be restricted to sediments between 11,000 and 11,500 years old. Underlying deposits dating back 11,600 to 13,000 years are without evidence of human occupation. In the High Plains, overlying deposits dating back 10,000 to 11,000 years contain Folsom and Hell Gap artifacts and are without mammoth remains. The glacial history of Alaska, Canada, and the Great Lakes region indicates that, for the first time in at least 15,000 years, an ice-free, trans-Canadian corridor opened up approximately 12,000 years ago. Since Clovis points are distributed from coast to coast south of the Valders ice border, the abrupt appearance of Clovis artifacts in the stratigraphic record of the High Plains some 700 years later suggests that Clovis progenitors passed through Canada during Two Creeks time. If eastern fluted points (for example, Enterline) are older than Clovis points, the difference may be on the order of only a hundred or so years, not thousands.

The change from Clovis points to Folsom points in the High Plains may be related to a marked decline in the mammoth population after 11,000 years ago, but whether or not man was a prime factor in the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna is a moot question.

On the basis of new data and critical geological evaluation of dates obtained by the radiocarbon method a hypothesis has been offered to explain (i) the abrupt appearance of Clovis points in the stratigraphic record of the United States around 11,500 years ago, and (ii) the lack of a cultural continuum in the United States leading to fluted projectile points. Llano hunters, like the game they pursued, may have persisted longer in some areas of the continent (for example, Bull Brook) than in others, but if a Clovis site can be found for which good stratigraphic evidence supports a date earlier than the Two Creeks interstade, then correlation of this event to the opening of the trans-Canadian ice-free corridor is incorrect (see 41a). Such a misinterpretation of timing would not affect the explanation for the lack of Clovis progenitors in the United States. We must continue to look for an indigenous cultural continuum leading to Clovis points, but if such cannot be demonstrated in the conterminous United States, then it would appear that fluted projectile points were developed elsewhere. Clovis progenitors might best be sought in northern Alaska or the Mackenzie Valley.

The interpretations offered here are based on new data and critical geological evaluation of dates previously obtained by the radiocarbon method. How valid these interpretations are can be ascertained only through careful scrutiny of all man-mammoth associations found in the future, to assure precise relating of dates, fossils, and artifacts to the stratigraphic framework. We must pay closer attention to stratigraphic detail if we are to make the fullest use of radiocarbon dating.

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