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Things You Need to Know About Clovis Culture

Akshay Chavan Mar 10, 2020
Clovis culture was widely regarded as the first human civilization to set foot in North America. They have been stereotyped as cave-dwelling hunters of giant mammoths. Historyplex will give you information on their origins, culture, discovery, as well as the other aspects of their life.

Did You Know?

The Clovis people hunted an ancestor of the modern elephant, which had four tusks! This creature has been named the 'gomphothere'.
Clovis culture is an ancient Paleo-Indian culture that was named after a town in New Mexico where proof of their existence was first discovered.
The most famous aspect of their culture is their distinctive sharp projectile tips, with a concave depression at the base, coupled with sharp edges, that have been named 'Clovis Points'.
For a long time, up till recently, these people were said to be the first that arrived in America. This was largely ascribed to the fact that no prehistoric human remains had been found prior to them.
The Clovis people lived in North America around 12,000 to 13,000 years ago, and had a very brief stint on Earth by all standards. Their sudden appearance and mysterious exit has captured everyone's imagination. The debate over their reputation as the 'father civilization of all America' had archaeologists take up cudgels against one another.
In fact, this subject had even become the bone of contention between US and Mexican experts. Recent studies have established beyond doubt that the Clovis people were ancestors of around 80% of the Native Americans.


✢ The first Clovis point was discovered by archaeologist Edgar B. Howard in Burnet Cave, New Mexico, in August 1931, along with charred bones of extinct bison. Then in 1932, an archaeological team excavating in Clovis, New Mexico, uncovered a mass of bones belonging to ancient mammals.
In the summer of 1933, Howard launched his field project at the town, and ended up discovering more mammoth bones. Mixed with the bones were more Clovis tips. Soon, the word spread that the first human civilization in America had been found, and the world's best archaeologists of the time were on their way to Clovis.
✢ Prior to this, projectile tips had already been found in 1926 by workers who were studying extinct bison remains, but they were smaller and were called Folsom points instead. These bison remains were found in 1908 by an African-American cowboy and ex-slave George McJunkin at a site later named the Folsom Site.
Till the discovery of the Clovis point in the 1930s, the Folsom culture was regarded as America's first human civilization.

✢ Since the initial discovery, more than 10,000 Clovis tips have been uncovered over the years, all over North America.

Origin of Clovis Culture

✢ There are various explanations given as to how the Clovis people arrived in North America. The first and the most widespread theory states that hunter-gatherers crossed over into Alaska from Siberia over the Beringia Land Bridge on the Bering Strait, which was exposed land at that time due to low sea levels. This theory is called the 'Clovis First' theory.
These people then migrated through the United Sates and settled in the Southwest. However, this explanation is widely criticized, as no artifacts of the Clovis people have been found anywhere near this strait. Even Edgar B. Howard had tried his luck at finding such points in archaeological collections from Siberia, but to no avail.
✢ Another hypothesis, called the Solutrean theory, states that the Clovis people were in fact European Ice Age dwellers, who came over to North America and brought their distinctive technology with them. The argument given to support this theory is that, there is a similarity between the spear tips of European Ice Age humans and that of the Clovis people.
✢ An alternative theory states that these people may have migrated from Southern North America. Human civilizations in these parts are older than the Clovis culture. Such examples include Monte Verde of Chile and Pedra Furada of Brazil, where older human sites have been found.
✢ Other explanations include migrations via the Pacific coastal route which was ice-free at the time, and across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Life of the Clovis People

✢ The Clovis people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, who took down large animals like mammoths, mastodons, horses, and tapirs. Extinct long-horned bison was the secondary food source. It has been said that they became big-game hunters with the onset of drought. Wastage of meat was common, with the exception of a bison kill.
The leather, horns, bones, and other parts of the animal were also used for making subsistence tools, shelter, clothing, and other household possessions. The Clovis people probably only killed animals that were already in a bad shape.
They were also foragers of plants, and fishing possibly played a role in their diet too. They are thought to have bred plants for certain needs.
✢ They were skillful users of flint, which was used for crafting their Clovis projectile tips. Their weaponry was quite modern, going by the standards of the time. When an animal was attacked with such a spear, the Clovis tips would detach, causing more damage to its organs. The hunter would then attach another Clovis tip to his spear and resume the attack.
✢ They made their dwellings from whatever materials were available, including animal hide. They were regular users of caves. It is thought that they lived in small isolated groups. They probably wore skin and leather clothing, which can be concluded by the discovery of bone needles. Elk teeth were used for decorative purposes.
✢ A few tools were made of bone, while stone was used to fashion the others. Flakes of flint were also used as 'end scrapers' for cleaning leather. Other tools for cutting and scraping meat, making holes, and slicing, have been found.
The Clovis used high quality stone, like chert and obsidian, and may have excavated them as far as hundreds of miles away from their dwellings.
✢ An excavated Clovis grave in Montana has shed some light on the religion and belief system of these people. Along with the bodies, grave goods were found buried in the pits.
Each of these had been covered with red ocher powder, indicating that like some European, Asian, and Aboriginal cultures, red ocher occupied a special place in the religion of the Clovis people as well. Furthermore, they may have cremated their dead, as was discovered in a site at Ontario, Canada, where around 200 charred stone tools were also discovered.


✢ Just like their origin, the disappearance of the Clovis people is shrouded in mystery. It has been found that the Clovis civilization lasted for a very short time, probably less than 500 years.
One reason given for this is that they may have killed off all the big game available. With their primary food source gone, they could not survive. It is also said that a cold phase in the earth's climate of the time may have caused mass extinction.
✢ Another theory says that a giant asteroid may have struck Canada where the Clovis people lived, causing forest fires to break out. The presence of a black organic 'mat' found at the Clovis sites is said to be proof of this.
✢ One of the commonly accepted explanations is that the Clovis people split up into smaller communities over time and spread out. They adapted to varied environmental factors and formed different cultures.
It is thought that their weapons with the famous Clovis points may have become useless over time, and they simply abandoned their technology, while designing newer ones.
The large number of discoveries of prehistoric sites since the 1970s has blown holes in the claim that the Clovis people were America's first humans. It has been concluded that other humans existed alongside them, or predated them by several hundred or even a thousand years.
Our interest in the Clovis culture lies in our innate tendency to assign firsts. First or not, they definitely played a major role in what we, as humans, are today.