Guide to the Pre-Clovis - Founding Population of the Americas

Who Were the First People Who Arrived in the American Continents?

Artifacts from the Pre-Clovis Occupation at Debra L. Friedkin Site
Artifacts from the Pre-Clovis Occupation at Debra L. Friedkin Site. courtesy Michael R. Waters

Pre-Clovis culture is a term used by archaeologists to refer to the founding populations of the Americas. The reason they are called pre-Clovis, rather than some more specific term, is that the culture remained controversial for some 20 years after their first discovery.

Up until the identification of pre-Clovis, the first absolutely agreed-upon culture in the Americas was a Paleoindian culture called Clovis, after the type site discovered in New Mexico in the 1920s.

Sites identified as Clovis dated no more than ~11,200 years ago, and the sites reflected a fairly uniform living strategy, that of predation on now-extinct megafauna, including mammoths, mastodons, wild horses, and bison.

There was always a small contingent of the Americanist scholars who supported claims of sites of ages dating between 15,000 to as much 100,000 years ago: but these were few, and the evidence was deeply flawed.

Winds of Change

However, beginning in the 1970s or so, sites predating Clovis began to be discovered in North America (such as Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Cactus Hill), and South America (Monte Verde). These sites, now called Pre-Clovis, were a few thousand years older than Clovis, and they seemed to identify a broader-range lifestyle, more approaching Archaic period hunter-gatherers. Evidence for any pre-Clovis sites remained widely discounted among mainstream archaeologists until about 1999 when a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico called Clovis and Beyond was held presenting some of the emerging evidence.

One fairly recent discovery appears to link the Western Stemmed Tradition, a stemmed point stone tool complex in the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau to Pre-Clovis and the Pacific Coast Migration Model. Excavations at Paisley Cave in Oregon have recovered radiocarbon dates and DNA from human coprolites which predate Clovis.

Pre-Clovis Lifestyles

Archaeological evidence from Pre-Clovis sites continues to grow. Much of what these sites indicate supports a broad-based combination of hunting, gathering, and fishing. Evidence for the use of bone tools, and for the use of nets and fabrics has been discovered. Some sites seem to suggest that pre-Clovis people sometimes lived in clusters of huts. Much of the evidence seems to suggest a marine lifestyle, at least along the coastlines; although some sites within the interior show a partial reliance on megafauna.

Some of the research today centers on pathways into the Americas. Most archaeologists still favor the Bering Strait crossing from northeastern Asia: climatic events of that era restricted entry into Beringia and out of Beringia and into the North American continent. Certainly, the timing of the founding populations of North American can no longer fit the Ice-Free Corridor model.

PreClovis Sites

All of these sites have been characterized as having pre-clovis components, although some are more accepted than others.

Pre-Clovis Archaeological Sites


A Preclovis/Clovis Bibliography has been assembled for this project.

Also, see specific references from each of the site descriptions for PreClovis sites is also available.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Guide to the Pre-Clovis - Founding Population of the Americas." ThoughtCo, Feb. 19, 2017, Hirst, K. Kris. (2017, February 19). Guide to the Pre-Clovis - Founding Population of the Americas. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Guide to the Pre-Clovis - Founding Population of the Americas." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2018).