Anzick Clovis Site - Clovis Period Burial in Montana, USA

Clovis-Aged Burial in American Northwest

Anzick Artifacts
A nearly complete projectile point of dendritic chert, a mid-interval biface of translucent quartz, displaying relatively heavy red ochre residue and an "end-beveled" osseous rod, also exhibiting red. Sarah L. Anzick

Summary

The Anzick site is a human burial which occurred approximately 13,000 years ago, part of the late Clovis culture, Paleoindian hunter-gatherers who were among the earliest colonizers of the western hemisphere. The burial in Montana was of a two-year-old boy, buried beneath an entire Clovis period stone tool kit, from rough cores to finished projectile points. DNA analysis of a fragment of the boy's bones revealed that he was closely related to Native American people of Central and South America, rather than those of the Canadian and Arctic, supporting the multiple waves theory of colonization.

Evidence and Background

The Anzick site, sometimes called the Wilsall-Arthur site and designated as Smithsonian 24PA506, is a human burial site dated to the Clovis period, ~10,680 RCYBP. Anzick is located in a sandstone outcrop on Flathead Creek, approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers) south of the town of Wilsall in southwestern Montana in the northwestern United States.

Buried deeply beneath a talus deposit, the site was likely part of an ancient collapsed rockshelter. Overlying deposits contained a profusion of bison bones, possibly representing a buffalo jump, where animals were stampeded off a cliff and then butchered. The Anzick burial was discovered in 1969 by two construction workers, who collected human remains from two individuals and approximately 90 stone tools, including eight complete fluted Clovis projectile points, 70 large bifaces and at least six complete and partial atlatl foreshafts made from mammal bones.

The finders reported that all of the objects were coated in a thick layer of red ocher, a common burial practice for Clovis and other Pleistocene hunter-gatherers.

DNA Studies

In 2014, a DNA study of the human remains from Anzick was reported in Nature (see Rasmussen et al.). Bone fragments from the Clovis period burial were subjected to DNA analysis, and the results found that the Anzick child was a boy, and he (and thus Clovis people in general) is closely related to Native American groups from Central and South America, but not to later migrations of Canadian and Arctic groups.

Archaeologists have long argued that the Americas were colonized in several waves of populations crossing the Bering Strait from Asia, the most recent being that of Arctic and Canadian groups; this study supports that. The research (to an extent) contradicts the Solutrean hypothesis, a suggestion that Clovis derives from Upper Paleolithic European migrations into the Americas. No connection to European Upper Paleolithic genetics was identified within the Anzick child's remains, and so the research lends strong support for the Asian origin of the American colonization.

One remarkable aspect of the 2014 Anzick study is the direct participation and support of several local Native American tribes in the research, a purposeful choice made by lead researcher Eske Willerslev, and a marked difference in approach and results from the Kennewick Man studies of nearly 20 years ago.

Features at Anzick

Excavations and interviews with the original finders in 1999 revealed that the bifaces and projectile points had been stacked tightly within a small pit measuring 3x3 feet (.9x.9 meters) and buried between about 8 ft (2.4 m) of talus slope. Beneath the stone tools was the burial of an infant aged 1-2 years of age and represented by 28 cranial fragments, the left clavicle and three ribs, all stained with red ochre.

The human remains were dated by AMS radiocarbon dating to 10,800 RCYBP, calibrated to 12,894 calendar years ago (cal BP).

A second set of human remains, consisting of the bleached, partial cranium of a 6-8-year-old child, were also found by the original discoverers: this cranium among all the other objects was not stained by red ochre. Radiocarbon dates on this cranium revealed that the older child was from the American Archaic, 8600 RCYBP, and scholars believe it was from an intrusive burial unrelated to the Clovis burial.

Two complete and several partial bone implements made from the long bones of an unidentified mammal were recovered from Anzick, representing between four and six complete tools. The tools have similar maximum widths (15.5-20 millimeters, .6-.8 inches) and thicknesses (11.1-14.6 mm, .4-.6 in), and each has a beveled end within the range of 9-18 degrees.

The two measurable lengths are 227 and 280 mm (9.9 and 11 in). The beveled ends are cross-hatched and smeared with a black resin, perhaps a hafting agent or glue, a typical decorative/construction method for bone tools used as atlatl or spear foreshafts.

Lithic Technology

The assemblage of stone tools recovered from the Anzick (Wilke et al) by the original finders and the subsequent excavations included ~112 (sources vary) stone tools, including large bifacial flake cores, smaller bifaces, Clovis point blanks and preforms, and polished and beveled cylindrical bone tools. The collection at Anzick includes all reduction stages of Clovis technology, from large cores of prepared stone tools to finished Clovis points, making Anzick unique.

The assemblage represents a diverse collection of high quality, (probably un-heat-treated) microcrystalline chert used to make the tools, predominantly chalcedony (66%), but lesser amounts of moss agate (32%), phosporia chert and porcellanite. The largest point in the collection is 15.3 centimeters (6 inches) long and some of the preforms measure between 20-22 cm (7.8-8.6 in), quite long for Clovis points, although most are more typically sized. The majority of stone tools fragments exhibit use wear, abrasions or edge damage which must have occurred during use, suggesting this was definitely a working toolkit, and not simply artifacts made for the burial. See Jones for detailed lithic analysis.

Archaeology

Anzick was accidentally discovered by construction workers in 1968  and professionally excavated by Dee C.

Taylor (then at the University of Montana) in 1968, and in 1971 by Larry Lahren (Montana State) and Robson Bonnichsen (University of Alberta), and by Lahren again in 1999.

Sources

  • Beck C, and Jones GT. 2010. Clovis and Western Stemmed: Population Migration and the Meeting of Two Technologies in the Intermountain West. American Antiquity 75(1):81-116.
  • Jones JS. 1996. The Anzick Site: Analysis of a Clovis Burial Assemblage. Corvallis: Oregon State University.
  • Owsley DW, and Hunt DR. 2001. Clovis and Early Archaic Period Crania from the Anzick Site (24PA506), Park County, Montana. Plains Anthropologist 46(176):115-124.
  • Rasmussen M, Anzick SL, Waters MR, Skoglund P, DeGiorgio M, Stafford Jr TW, Rasmussen S, Moltke I, Albrechtsen A, Doyle SM et al. 2014. The genome of a Late Pleistocene human from a Clovis burial site in western Montana. Nature 506:225-229.
  • Stafford TWJ. 1994. Accelerator C-14 dating of human fossil skeletons: Assessing accuracy and results on New World specimens. In: Bonnichsen R, and Steele DG, editors. Method and Theory for Investigating the Peopling of the Americas. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University. p 45-55.
  • Wilke PJ, Flenniken JJ, and Ozbun TL. 1991. Clovis Technology at the Anzick Site, Montana. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 13(2):242-272.