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Projectile tips from various cultures of the southeastern United States in the Paleo-Indian and early Archaic periods

The first human inhabitants of America who settled the continent at the end of the last glacial period (known as Wisconsin glaciation in North America ) are called paleo-Indians . The exact sequence of colonization of America is controversial and the subject of research. According to current scientific doctrine, the first people reached the continent via the Beringia land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, which still existed at the time . The beginning was around 11,000 BC until the turn of the millennium. Adopted. It was disputed whether the first people of Alaska penetrated the continent on the Pacific coast or inland through the so-called ice - free corridor between the Laurentide Ice Sheet and the glaciers of the Coast Mountains in what is now the Yukon Territory , Canada. Human DNA finds in the Paisley Caves , Oregon , made in the 21st century and published, suggest a coastal migration route. Their age was determined to be 14,300 years Before Present , which would push the beginning of settlement further into the past, but confirm the theories about the direction of settlement movement. Individual finds in Monte Verde (Chile) or Meadowcroft (Pennsylvania), some with much older dates, can postpone the beginning of settlement even further or must be classified as measuring errors.


The term Paleo-Indians ( Paleoindians ) was founded in 1957 by Hannah Marie Wormington in her book One Ancient in North America coined to refer to the first inhabitants of the Americas. She described the Paleo-Indians as "people who hunted extinct species today, who inhabited western North America more than 6,000 years ago, and who made the fluted hand axes of the eastern United States." She was referring to what is known as the Quaternary extinction wave of the At the end of the Ice Age the megafauna of the American continent consisting of mammoths and the American mastodon , deer elk , Canis dirus and various giant sloths such as Eremotherium and Paramylodon disappeared. To what extent the hunting by the first humans of the continent was the cause of the extinction is still a matter of dispute.

The term was immediately taken up in the specialist literature, albeit viewed critically, as the cultures of North America known at that time of this period differed greatly in terms of region and time. Other authors suggested lithic stage or big game hunting tradition . Since the mid-1970s, the term has gained acceptance despite all the difficulties of delimitation.


Confirmed pre-Clovis localities

The paleo-Indian era begins with the colonization of the American continent. In the 1920s, a find from Folsom and one from Clovis in 1935 were investigated in which Indian arrowheads were recognized in the bones of extinct animal species. Using the animal bones, the finds could roughly be dated and they gave the first clues for the development of the Native Americans. Until the late 20th century, the Clovis culture was believed to be the earliest Native American culture, and research tried to determine whether it was brought from Asia or originated in America. The dating techniques of the late 20th century identified isolated traces of settlement that were clearly older than Clovis, and by the turn of the millennium the belief was established that pre-Clovis ( pre-Clovis ) humans had existed in America.

In 2011, the Buttermilk Creek Complex , Texas, made the oldest finds of artifacts in America to date . The found-bearing layer was dated to an age between 15,500 and 13,200 years Before Present using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) . In addition to around 50 elaborate stone tools, hundreds of small chips and thousands of fragments from the manufacture of the devices were found. The projectile points are recognizable as the forerunners of the Clovis points, which proves that the technology of the characteristic stone tools was developed in America and not already brought from Asia. In the Paisley Caves , Oregon, human DNA and tool marks have also been identified and dated well before Clovis. Finds of mammoth skeletons in Tultepec , Mexico , which are interpreted as a hunting site with artificial pitfalls, indicate that complex hunting techniques for large game were already widespread around 15,000 years ago.

Clovis culture

The first large-scale American culture was the Clovis culture (also known as the Llano culture ), named after the eponymous site in Clovis , New Mexico . It can be dated to around 11,000 to 10,800 Before Present and is characterized by characteristic projectile points made of flint and chert with a fluted base and surface retouching on both sides. The people moved in small family groups as hunters and gatherers through North and Central America from Alaska to Panama , an area that was partially still marked by the melting ice masses. South of Panama, the Clovis tips were replaced by the fishtail tips assumed at the same time. They are not grooved, but rather have an indentation near the lower end, which falls out again at the end and is thus reminiscent of a fish tail.

Folsom culture

It was followed by the Folsom culture (rarely also Lindenmeier culture ), also named after a site in New Mexico. They took about 10900-10200 before our time and is characterized by a greater range of prey, the hunter, probably in response to the extinction of the still marked by the ice age megafauna . The spearheads of the time were much smaller and flatter than those of the previous culture.

Late Paleo-Indian cultures

The following cultures differed regionally. They have in common that the projectile tips were usually no longer grooved and they were again larger than those of the Folsom culture. They include the Dalton culture and the San Patrice culture in south-east North America and the Plano culture (also known as Plainview culture ) in the south-west and present-day Mexico .

End and transition

The Paleo-Indian period typically ends around 8000 BC. BC, followed by the Archaic period , which is characterized by the beginning elements of settling down and the beginnings of ceramics . The limit at 8000 BC Applies to the east of North America and Mesoamerica . In the north of South America , parts of the Caribbean and in the Great Plains of North America, developments do not begin until later. In the west of North America, after Clovis, there is no longer any clear epoch boundary, the individual cultures run parallel in individual regions, including small-scale regions, or there are large regional interruptions in the finds. In Central America and most of South America, comparability with the rest of the continent ends around the end of the Folsom culture.

See also


  • Brian M. Fagan : Ancient North America . London and New York, Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1991, ISBN 0-500-27606-4 (also German: The early North America - Archeology of a continent , translated by Wolfgang Müller, Verlag CH Beck Munich 1993, ISBN 3-406-37245- 7 )
  • Wolfgang Haberland: American archeology . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt, 1991, ISBN 3-534-07839-X

Individual evidence

  1. a b George C. Frison: Paleoindian . In: Guy Gibon (Ed.): Archeology of Prehistoric Native America . New York & London, Garland Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0-8153-0725-X , p. 620f
  2. ^ Lizzie Wade: Most archaeologists think the first Americans arrived by boat. Now, they're beginning to prove it . In: Science-Mag, August 10, 2017
  3. Michael R. Waters, Steven L. Forman et al .: The Buttermilk Creek Complex and the Origins of Clovis at the Debra L. Friedkin Site, Texas (PDF; 990 kB) . In: Science, Volume 331, March 25, 2011, pages 1599-1603
  4. M. Thomas P. Gilbert, L. Jeninks et al .: DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America . In: Science , May 9, 2008, Volume 320, Pages 786-789, doi : 10.1126 / science.1154116
  5. ^ Bryan Hockett, Dennis L. Jenkins: Identifying Stone Tool Cut Marks and the Pre-Clovis Occupation of the Paisley Caves . In: American Antiquity, Volume 78, Number 4 (October 2013), pages 762-778
  6. Spiegel online: Archaeologists discover 15,000 year old mammoth mass grave , November 7, 2019
  7. M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Dennis L. Jenkins et al .: DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America. In: Science , Vol. 320. no. 5877, pages 786-789 - doi : 10.1126 / science.1154116