Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Clovis Complex (in Alberta and Saskatchewan)

























David Meyer, Alwynne B. Beaudoin and Leslie J. Amundson
Human Ecology of the Canadian Prairie Ecozone ca. 9000BP: 
     The Paleo-Indian Period
in Human Ecology of the Canadian Prairie Ecozone 11,000 to 300 BP
     edited by B. A. Nicholson
Canadian Plains Research Center Press, 2011, page 10-11.

Clovis Complex


Clovis is the first widely recognized archaeological complex of North America south of the Laurentide ice sheet, including the northern plains, and has been dated to ca. 11,300-10,900 BP (Holliday 2000: 265).  Using AMS dates on highly purified materials, Waters and Stafford (2007) propose that Clovis spans a much shorter interval, ca. 11,050 to 10,800 BP.  (but see Haynes et al. 2007: 320).  Clovis across North America is distinguished by well-crafted fluted or basally-thinned projectile points.  This technology is also known for the presence of bone or ivory rods (Lahren and Bonnichsen 1974; Stanford 1990, 1996).  These rods are believed to have formed part of the foreshafts of spears or, more likely, atlatl darts (Hutchings 1997; Dixon 1999: 153).  In some parts of North America, people of Clovis culture also produced blades, which were struck from prepared cylindrical cores (Beck and Jones 2010: 88-93; Green 1963; LeBlanc and Wright 1990).  A number of tools were made on these blades.  On the American plains it is now known that these people "had a generalized foraging economy that utilized a wide variety of resources" (Stanford 1999: 326), including large, late Pleistocene fauna (see also, Grayson and Meltzer 2002: 349). Presumably, the same subsistence economy was present in the Canadian Prairie Ecozone.

It is apparent that by 11,200 BP the newly established plant and animal communities of the Canadian Prairie Ecozone had become sufficiently productive to support human hunters and gatherers - peoples of the Clovis culture (see also Beaudoin and Oetelaar 2003: 199).  Several surface-collected Clovis points have been found in Alberta (e.g. Gillespie 2002; Gryba 1985, 1988, 2001; Ives 2006), Saskatchewan (e.g. Kehoe 1966, Dyck 1983; Hall 2009; Pendree 1981; Pettipas 1975), and Manitoba (e.g. Pettipas 1969, 1970; Buchner and Pettipas 1990: 54).  As well, a bone rod similar to those known from Clovis assemblages has been found near Grenfell, in southeastern Saskatchewan (Wilmeth 1968).

In situ Clovis occupations have not been encountered on the Canadian Plains (but see Kooyman et al. 2006).  This is probably because of a sparse population, which produced a limited archaeological signature, and because the landscape was still in flux, given the lingering presence of buried ice blocks and slowly thawing permafrost (Mandryk 1996; Yansa 2006).  This likely led to the disturbance of many Clovis occupations and, in some cases, deep burial (Ives 2006: 25; Wilson and Burns 1999: 234, in Gillespie 2002: 158).  Given the very different landscape configuration at that time, we can expect Clovis (and other Llano) sites to have a different landscape signature and distribution to those of the Middle and Late Prehistoric, further reducing the likelihood of site discovery.

Anderson and Gillam (2000) have argued that Clovis populations were involved in rapid expansion across the continent, leapfrogging over some regions.  Given Anderson and Gillam's (2000) model, Ives (2006: 19, 27) has suggested that Clovis occupations of Alberta may have "leapfrogged" into this part of North America and become relatively isolated from people to the south - considering the few Clovis points found in adjacent Montana and the fact that the points in Alberta tend to be made of local materials.  The Saskatchewan population may well have been part of this relatively isolated northern group.

During Clovis times, most of the Greater Forks region was inundated by an early stage of Glacial Lake Saskatchewan and the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers formed a large delta that extended into the western end of the lake (Christiansen et al. 1995: 346).  For over half a century, the possibility of Clovis occupations in the lands bordering the southern shore of Glacial Lake Saskatchewan has been of intense interest to Thomas Smith (1964, 1967, 1972), an accomplished avocational archaeologist and resident of the region.  However, with two possible exceptions (Wilson and Smith sites, see below), Clovis points have not been found in the Great Forks region [of central Saskatchewan].

Presumably, the landscape was still in the early stages of recovery following deglaciation, and animals populations were not large enough to attract much human attention.  Indeed, given the proximity of a large, cold glacial lake and cold katabatic winds blowing off the ice sheet immediately to the north, the environment may have been dominated by caribou, with some muskoxen - perhaps not of great interest to hunters accustomed to hunting Late Pleistocene species of the more productive steppe lands to the immediate south.

[Blog update, 2015:  Since this publication, the find of horse and camel bones, attributed to the Clovis Culture, at St. Mary's Reservoir in Southern Alberta, has lent further evidence to an early presence in Southern Alberta of the Clovis Culture.  See:  Horse and camel hunting by prehistoric humans in North America, Vol. 18 Spring 2015, Popular Archaeology (Link)]

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