ATH 242-01

ATH 242_project due today, exam review

The Peopling of the Americas

The BIG QUESTION of American Archaeology in AD 2008: When did human beings enter the Americas?

The Debate:

  • Clovis people were the first people to enter the Americas around 15,000 BP by crossing through Beringia
    • The traditional view of archaeologists
  • Pre-Clovis people entered at some earlier point than 15,000 BP. They may not have come by way of Beringia
    • The newer, more controversial view

Some Possible Explanations

  • Crossing through Beringia into Alaska
  • A sea route along the coast
  • crossing from Europe on pack-ice


  • Land bridge connecting Asia and Alaska
  • treeless tundra with a few lakes
  • passable as late as 11,000 BP

Ice-free corridor

  • open as early as 14,000 BP
  • Brutally cold
  • Biologically sterile
  • blocked occasionally by meltwater lakes

The Pleistocene/Holocene

  • The Pleistocene Epoch
  • AKA the Ice Age
  • we are concerned with the last period of glaciation, the Wisconsin stage

Pleistocene fauna/flora

  • fauna included many now-extinct species
    • mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, peccaries, true horses, sabertooth carnivores, large wolves, giant armadillos, giant bison, camels

Peopling of the Americas

  • what evidence is available?
  • the archaeological record
  • biological evidence: Sinodonty; mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
  • linguistic evidence: 3 separate migrations into the Americas

Are there pre-Clovis people?

  • few sites are old enough to provide us with solid data
  • many pre-Clovis sites have problems with their dating, either context or composition
  • preservation on sites of this age is usually restricted to stone tools only
  • there are no diagnostic artifacts for pre-Clovis

Meadowcroft Rockshelter

  • Small overhang near Pittsburgh PA
  • over 70 dates
  • dating may be affected by coal in area
  • 11 distinct levels of occupation
  • may be as old as 17k-16k BP

Monte Verde

  • Chile, South America
  • peat deposit by a small stream
  • flaked artifacts dated between 14k BP – 13.6k BP


  • favored prey differed geographically and temporally
  • gathering provides calories, hunting provides protein
  • small, highly mobile bands (25-50 people)
  • egalitarian social relationships
  • low population density

types of PaleoIndian sites

  • Kill sites: few artifacts, made from local material
  • manufacturing sites (raw material procurement) – workshops and quarries
  • base camp sites – habitations (hearths, structures) lots of artifacts, exotic raw materials
  • cache sites – mortuary or subsistence related; local and exotic materials

Clovis PaleoIndian culture

  • 13.5k BP – 12.9k BP
  • primary diagnostic artifact is Clovis point
  • widely dispersed
  • spread quickly as successful adaptation

Clovis technology

  • thrusting, but most effective with atl-atl
  • 7-12cm long, as big as 30cm long
  • flakes taken off across entire face
  • requires skill and high quality raw material
  • break easily but easily salvaged

Other Clovis tools

  • gravers
  • endscrapers and sidescrapers
  • blades
  • bone needles, awls, beveled shafts

Megafauna – overhunting?

later PaleoIndians in West

  • Clovis ends at 12.9k BP, but was followed by similar regional complexes
  • climate continued to warm
  • by 11k BP, grassland dominates the Western United States
  • grasslands favor grazing animals, such as bison, which were hunted extensively

Folsom site

  • New Mexico
  • 32 bison, 2 doz. Folsom points
  • bison trapped in deep valley and butchered
  • other tools are rare and crude


  • Colorado
  • 8500 BP
  • 157 bison stampeded over cliff into dry gully
  • 75% of bison butchered
  • large kill sites rare
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