The Clovis People

Around 13,500 years ago, early humans arrived in North America. They were distinguished by their unique tool-making style, along with a potent ability to hunt large game. Yet evidence shows these people disappeared completely after a fews hundred years. Are these America’s first people, and why did they disappear?

 Thye are now called the Clovis people, since the first evidence of their existence was found in Clovis, New Mexico. Since then, artifacts associated with Clovis culture appear across much of the USA, as well as sites in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil. At one time, it was believed that the Clovis people were the ancestors of all indigenous peoples in the Americas, a claim which has been cast into doubt by the recent discoveries of older sites in various areas (especially Monte Verde and Meadowcroft Rockshelter).

 The Clovis are identified by their unique spear points. Each point is bifacial, providing a double-edged blade. Each side is also fluted, which may have allowed the point to be mounted on a spear so that the point would break off on impact. This simple yet effective tool allowed the Clovis peoples to hunt a variety of game, including the mighty mammoth. They also took advantage of over 125 other species of plants and animals.

 How the Clovis peoples arrived on this continent remains a mystery. For many years, it was believed that they crossed over from Siberia during the ice age, when much of the ocean’s water was tied up in sheets of ice. From there, they crossed east of the Rockies, to a relatively ice-free corridor which led them South.

 This theory has been contested. Scientists have studied the mitochondrial DNA of Native Americans and Siberians. Based on their research, it appears that Native Americans and Siberians diverged around 20,000 years ago. Some Native DNA is more similar to people in Western Asia and Europe than it is to Eastern Europeans. This has led at least one archaeologist to propose that the Clovis people came across the Atlantic Ocean via Greenland, hugging the ice pack as they travelled.

 However, they arrived, they were not meant to stay for long. Around 13,000 years ago, all traces of the Clovis people vanish. This occurred at the same time as a larger disappearance, that of the large land mammals. A massive die-off of all large animals, including the important mastodon, is still unexplained.

 Many theories have been postulated to explain this disappearance. Did these ancient people hunt all the gamre into extinction, causing widespread starvation? How did the climate change that occurred around this time affect the fate of the Clovis?

 One intriguing theory suggests that the Clovis may have been wiped out by a natural disaster, one that had far-reaching consequences. Around 12,900 years ago, an extraterrestrial object (likely a meteor) exploded in the atmosphere above the Great Lakes. A thin layer of ash spread across North America around the same time, though not across the entire country. Below this layer of ash, Clovis artifacts are found. Above it, in the more-recent deposits, the Clovis peoples have all disappeared. 

They came, they saw, they disappeared.

  • Hallmarks of their culture
  • Where did they settle once they arrived?
  • What are some theories on their disappearance?
    • Ate all the critters
    • Volcanic eruption
  • 13,325 – 12975 years ago.
  • Vanish 10,500 rcybp (close to 13,000 years ago) abruptly
    • Big game also vanishes