Paleolithic Peoples

Southwest Archaeology


PaleoIndian Period (before 12000 B.C. to 5500 B.C.)

Human occupation in the Americas may extend far back in time. The Monte Verde site in Chile has produced AMS 14C samples that date to 12,500 bp. At the Topper site on the Savannah River near Allendale, South Carolina charcoal among human artifacts has beenfound that is at least 50,000 years old. Other pre-Clovis sites have been found recently in South America. See the discussion on Origins for more information on pre Clovis finds.

The earliest human occupation period discovered in archaeological research in the Four Corners region is the Paleoindian period. The PaleoIndian period in North and Central America extends from approximately 12,000 B.C. to 5,500 B.C. 

The description of PaleoIndian peoples given in the literature is of highly mobile hunters and gatherers who lived in small bands. From the surviving technology it appears that the PaleoIndian economies were largely oriented toward hunting late Pleistocene mega-fauna (mammoth, Bison Antiqus, Camel, Horse, Giant Sloth).

Their principal hunting tool was a thrusting, or hand thrown type spear equipped with a distinctive, fluted, lanceolate projectile point. (Irwin-Williams 1973, Irwin-Williams and Haynes 1970).

Clovis Poins excavated by Emil Haury

Clovis point from the Gault Site in C Texas

Clovis point from the Gault Site in C Texas

Clovis points from the The Wenatchee site

    Folsom point from AMNH 1928 excavations
length 56.2mm (AMNH 20.2.5865)

Folsom points on display at Capulin Volcano National Monument, NM (CAVO-115 & CAVO-116) longer specimen is 56.4 mm

The period is subdivided into early and late phases. Projectile points of the earliest phase include Clovis and Folsom. The later phase is distinguished by a variety of non-fluted, shouldered, and stemmed projectile point forms that possess morphological characteristics not found on later types.

Few Paleoindian components have been identified in the Southern Colorado River Basin, As the map from David Underwood shows belowl There are a several paleoIndian sites in the Dolores and Yellowjacket areas that do not appear on the map.

The scarcity of archaeological remains dating to this period would make even small finds that could be firmly identified as Paleoindian potentially very important.

However Excavations at places such as the the Galt site in central Texas give evidence that Clovis PaleoIndian Culture was more like the later Archaic hunting and gathering cultures than was previously thought. PaleoIndian peoples clearly were also consuming less glamerous foods such as turtles, shell fish and tubers. Their focus may not have been solely on hunting large animals.

The highest concentrations of PaleoIndian sites have been found in two settings. The first setting is along the margins of playas, small ephemeral lakes that hold water for short periods during the rainy season (Judge 1973). The second setting is along ridge lines paralleling large drainages where, again, water might be available (Vivian 1990). Sites are known from the Puerco Basin, the Chuska valley along the Arizona-New Mexico border, and the Chaco Plateau (Vivian 1990). Most sites consist of isolated projectile points.

Variations in the ways these points were manufactured, specifically reliance on fluting and lateral thinning, have allowed archaeologists to separate the PaleoIndian period into three time-sequent complexes. Nonfluted Clovis points typify the earliest complex. Later, fluted points signal the appearance of the Folsom complex. Finally, points typified by extreme lateral thinning are indicative of the Plano complex. Rarely are bone and wooden tools preserved.

Paleoenvironmental reconstructions using plant pollen suggest that drought conditions prevailed over much of the San Juan Basin between 8000 and 6500 B.C. Consistent with this reconstruction, evidence of Plano complex occupations is generally lacking for the region as a whole.

PaleoIndian components account for less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the components in the planning area. Despite numerous archaeological surveys and excavations in the planning area, the scarcity of diagnostic artifacts and assemblages currently documented point to a very limited use of the San Juan Basin during the PaleoIndian period.







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