Clovis spear point
Arizona, USA, about 13,000 years old
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Clovis points are the best archaeological evidence for the earliest settlement of North America so far discovered.
These distinctive stone spear tips are found right across North America, south of the ice sheets that covered half of the continent during the last Ice Age. It is remarkable that over such a vast area, the distinctive characteristics of the points hardly vary.
Typical Clovis points, like this example, have parallel to slightly convex edges which narrow to a point. This shape is produced by chipping small, parallel flakes off both sides of a stone blade. Following this, the point is thinned on both sides by the removal of flakes which leave a central groove or ‘flute’. These flutes are the principle feature of Clovis or ‘fluted’ points. They originate from the base which then has a concave outline and end about one-third along the length. The grooves produced by the removal of the flutes allow the point to be fitted to a wooden shaft of a spear.
The people who made Clovis points possibly migrated across Beringia, the land bridge which once connected Siberia to Alaska. They spread out across America looking for food and did not stay anywhere for long, although they did return to places where resources were plentiful.
Clovis points are sometimes found with the bones of mammoths, mastodons, sloth and giant bison. As the climate changed at the end of the last Ice Age, the habitats on which these animals depended started to disappear. Their extinction was inevitable but Clovis hunting on dwindling numbers probably contributed to their disappearance.
Although there are arguments in favour of pre-Clovis migrations to America, it is the ‘Paleo-Indian’ Clovis people who can be most certainly identified as the probable ancestors of later Native North American peoples and cultures.