Paleoindians: Ice Age Hunters in Arkansas and the Mid-South 11,500-8500 B.C.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 26, 2012
Clovis points are found in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Many Clovis sites also contain the remains of large Ice Age mammals, including mammoths and mastodons. Clovis sites are radiocarbon dated between 11,500 and 10,500 B.C.
Locations of initial Paleoindian staging areas in the Mid-South, by Jane Kellett (Arkansas Archeological Survey).
Paleoindians expansion from initial staging areas into adjacent regions, by Jane Kellett (Arkansas Archeological Survey).
Ancient peoples’ views of the world can sometimes be inferred by studying their artworks. Unfortunately, very few Paleoindian artworks have been found. A few pieces of bone, ivory, and stone found at several Paleoindian sites across North America are inscribed with geometric designs that are difficult if not impossible to interpret. A zigzag “lightning bolt” drawn with red ochre (a form of iron oxide) on the skull of a bison killed by late Paleoindian hunters in Oklahoma is interpreted by archeologist Lee Bement as evidence of hunting ritual. These tantalizing examples don’t shed a great deal of light on specific Paleoindian beliefs, but they demonstrate a capacity for symbolic communication that later Indian groups used extensively.
When Clovis people reached the Mid-South, upland areas in what is now Arkansas were covered by patches of tundra, grassland, and boreal forest. Bottomlands supported mixed deciduous forests. There were few edible plant foods, but large Ice Age mammals including mammoths and mastodons roamed grasslands and open woodlands and caribou grazed scattered tundra zones. This mixture of closely-spaced tundra, boreal forest, hardwood forest, and grassland habitats no longer exists anywhere in the world. Another unique feature of Ice Age environments is that there were no marked seasonal changes – it was mostly cold and wet the year-round. The Mississippi River flowed in multiple, braided channels within a vast expanse of gravel bars. Water from melting glaciers was too cold and turbulent to support fish or shellfish.
Mammoths and mastodons had regular patterns of movement keyed to their needs for food, water, and minerals such as salt. As these animals moved about their range, they left well-trodden paths, damaged vegetation, and identifiable dung. Clovis people tracked their whereabouts with considerable efficiency and planned encounters where the animals could be taken. The meat, hides, bone, and ivory all were used.
Many Ice Age species, including mammoths and mastodons, suffered extinction before 8000 B.C. Archeologists and paleontologists debate whether these extinctions were caused by climate change, human hunting, disease, or some combination of factors. Recent studies of the impacts of climate changes on vegetation suggest that the grassland and open woodland habitats favored by mammoths and mastodons shrank dramatically towards the end of the last Ice Age. As dwindling herds became increasingly confined to shrinking habitats, Clovis hunting could have been a significant tipping point on the path to extinction.
The elimination of mammoths and mastodons forced Clovis people to alter their hunting strategies. Deer, elk, and bison—already present when Paleoindians entered the Southeast—became the primary game animals. Deer and elk are solitary wanderers adapted to forest edge habitats so their pursuit required different tracking strategies and hunting techniques. As the Clovis people adapted, a new way of life emerged that archeologists call the Dalton Culture.
Anderson, David G. and Kenneth E. Sassaman (editors)
1996 The Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast. Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press.
Bement, Leland C.
1999 Bison Hunting at the Cooper Site: Where Lightening Bolts Drew Thundering Herds. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press.
Gillam, J. Chrisopher
1999 Paleoindian settlement in Northeastern Arkansas. In Arkansas Archeology: Essays in Honor of Dan and Phyllis Morse, edited by Robert C. Mainfort, Jr. and Marvin D. Jeter, pp. 99-119. Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press.
2002 The Early Settlement of North America: The Clovis Era. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Morrow, Juliet E.
2005 The Myth of Clovis, Part II: The Evolution of Paleoindian Projectile Point Styles. Central States Archaeological Journal52(2):79-82.
2006 Paleoindian Period. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.
Best Wishes, Dale D.