Pre-Clovis Sites

The Pre-Clovis culture, also spelled Preclovis and sometimes PreClovis, is the name given by archaeologists to the people who colonized the American continents before the Clovis big-game hunters. The existence of Pre-Clovis sites has been widely discounted up until the past fifteen years or so, although evidence has slowly been growing and much of the archaeological community support these and other sites of the time period.

Ayer Pond (Washington, USA)

Ayer Pond is a bison butchery site, discovered by workmen in 2003 on Orcas Island off the mainland US coast in Washington state. Direct-dating of the bison was conducted using AMS techniques to approximately 13,700 calendar years ago (cal BP). No stone tools were found, but the bone was excellently preserved, and evidence of a few cutmarks suggested to American archaeologist Stephen M. Kenady and colleagues that the adult male Bison antiquus had been butchered.  

Bluefish Caves (Yukon Territory)

Bluefish Caves site includes three small karstic cavities, discovered in the 1970s but recently redated. The earliest established occupation  occurred as early as 24,000 cal BP. Artifacts include about 100 stone specimens, with tools such as a microblade core, burins and burin spalls, similar to Dyuktai tradition in Siberia.

A total of 36,000 animal bones were found in the caves, mostly reindeer, moose, horse, Dall sheep, mammoth, and bison. Wolves, lions, and foxes were the main agents for the bone accumulation, but human occupants were responsible for cut marks on at least fifteen specimens. Those were submitted for AMS raciocarbon dating and found to range between 12,000 and 24,000 cal BP. 

Cactus Hill is an important Clovis period site located on the Nottaway River of Virginia, with a possible pre-Clovis site below it, dated to between 18,000 and 22,000 cal BP. The PreClovis site may have been redeposited, and the stone tools are somewhat problematic.

Two projectile points from what are thought to be Pre-Clovis levels are named Cactus Hill points. The Cactus Hill points are small points, made from a blade or flake, and pressure flaked. They have slightly concave bases​ and parallel to slightly curved side margins.

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

The Debra L. Friedkin site is a redeposited site, located on a fluvial terrace close to the famous Clovis and pre-Clovis Gault site. The site includes occupation debris beginning in the Pre-Clovis period of some 14-16,000 years ago through the Archaic period of 7600 years ago.

Artifacts from the Pre-Clovis levels include lanceolate-like preforms, discoidal cords, blades, and bladelets, as well as a variety of notches, gravers, and scrapers, which excavators suggest are ancestral to Clovis. 

12,000 Year Old Textiles from Guitarerro Cave in Peru
Both sides of a fragment of a woven mat or basket container from Guitarrero Cave. Black grimy residue and wear from use is visible. © Edward A. Jolie and Phil R. Geib

Guitarrero Cave is a rock shelter high in the Andes mountains (2580 meters above sea level) in the Ancash region of Peru, where human occupations date to approximately 12,100 years ago (cal BP). Fortuitous preservation has allowed researchers to collect textiles from the cave, two occupations of which are dated to the Pre-Clovis component.

Stone artifacts from the earliest levels are made up of flakes, scrapers, and a tanged triangular-bladed projectile point. Also found were the remains of deer and small game such as rodents, rabbits, and birds. The second, younger occupation includes finely processed fibers, cordage, and textiles, as well as triangular, lanceolate, and contracting-stem points.  ​

Manis Mastodon (Washington State, USA)

3-D Reconstruction of the Bone Point in Manis Mastodon Rib
3-D Reconstruction of the Bone Point in Manis Mastodon Rib. Image courtesy of Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University

The Manis Mastodon site is a site in Washington State on the Pacific Coast of North America. There, about 13,800 years ago, Pre-Clovis hunter-gatherers killed an extinct elephant and, presumably, had bits of it for dinner.

The mastodon, typed as Mammut americanum) as found in the sediments at the base of a kettle pond; some bones were spirally fractured, multiple flakes were removed from one long bone fragment, and other bones showed cut marks. The only other artifact from the site was a foreign osseous object, interpreted as a bone or antler point, embedded in one of the mastodon's ribs. 

Meadowcroft Rockshelter (Pennsylvania, USA)

Entrance to Meadowcroft Rockshelter
Entrance to Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Lee Paxton

If Monte Verde was the first site seriously considered as Pre-Clovis, than Meadowcroft Rockshelter is the site which should have been seriously considered. Discovered on a tributary stream of the Ohio River in southwestern Pennsylvania, Meadowcroft dates to at least 14,500 years ago and shows a technology which is decidedly different from traditional Clovis.

Among the artifacts recovered from the site was a wall fragment from a basket with simple plaited elements, dated to 12,800-11,300 RCYBP. There is also a single element of intentionally cut birch-like bark which is similar to the later plaited objects, but direct-dated to 19,600 RCYBP. 

Monte Verde (Chile)

Tent Foundation, Monte Verde II
View of the excavated log foundation of a long residential tent-like structure at Monte Verde II where seaweeds were recovered from hearths, pits and a floor. Image courtesy of Tom D. Dillehay

Monte Verde is arguably the first Pre-Clovis site to be taken seriously by the majority of the archaeological community. The archaeological evidence shows a small group of huts were built on the shoreline in far southern Chile, about 15,000 years ago. 

Evidence recovered at the remarkably-well preserved site included wood tent remains and hut foundations, hearths, wooden tools, animal bones and hide, plants, numerous stone tools, and even footprints.

Paisley Caves (Oregon, USA)

Students at Paisley Caves (Oregon)
Students overlooking the spot where the 14,000 year old coprolites with human DNA were found in Cave 5, Paisley Caves (Oregon). Northern Great Basin Prehistory Project at the Paisley Caves

Paisley is the name of a handful of caves within the interior of the American state of Oregon in the Pacific northwest. Field school investigations at this site in 2007 identified a rock-lined hearth, human coprolites and a midden dated to between 12,750 and 14,290 calendar years before the present.

Artifacts recovered from the site included large mammal remains, stone tools and culturally modified bones. Analysis of the coprolites indicate that the Preclovis occupants consumed large, medium, and small mammals, birds and plant resources. 

The Topper site is in the Savannah River floodplain of the Atlantic coast of South Carolina. The site is multicomponent, meaning that human occupations later than Pre-Clovis have been identified, but the Pre-Clovis component, which underlies the later occupations, ranges in date between 15,000 and 50,000 years ago. 

The Topper artifact assemblage includes a smashed core and a microlithic industry, which excavator Albert Goodyear believes were small unifacial tools that were used to work wood and other organics. However, the human origin of the artifacts has not been convincingly established. 

Santa Elina (Brazil)

Santa Elina is a rock shelter in the Serra mountains of Brazil. The oldest levels date to approximately 27,000 cal BP and include around 200 Glossotherium bones and some 300 stone artifacts. Although the bones were too poorly preserved to show cutmoarks, two perforated and shaped bone ornaments were recovered. 

Stone tools include retouched cores and a microlithic industry including three small, well-worked siliceous blade cores; as well as about 300 stone debitage.

Upward Sun River Mouth Site (Alaska, USA)

Excavating at Xaasaa Na’ in August 2010
Excavating at Xaasaa Na’ in August 2010. Image courtesy of Ben A. Potter

The Upward Sun River site has four archaeological occupations, the oldest of which is a Preclovis site with a hearth and animal bones were reported to have been dated to 13,200-8,000 cal BP. 

Most of subsequent research at USRS has been focused on the later burial of two infants, both dated to ~11,500 cal BP, interred in a burial pit with organic and lithic grave goods.

Sources

Adovasio, J. M., et al. "Perishable Fiber Artifacts and Paleoindians: New Implications." North American Archaeologist 35.4 (2014): 331-52. Print.

Bourgeon, Lauriane, Ariane Burke, and Thomas Higham. "Earliest Human Presence in North America Dated to the Last Glacial Maximum: New Radiocarbon Dates from Bluefish Caves, Canada." PLOS ONE 12.1 (2017): e0169486. Print.

Dillehay, Tom D., et al. "Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine, and the Peopling of South America." Science 320.5877 (2008): 784-86. Print.

Jolie, Edward A., et al. "Cordage, Textiles, and the Late Pleistocene Peopling of the Andes." Current Anthropology 52.2 (2011): 285-96. Print.

Kenady, Stephen M., et al. "Late Pleistocene Butchered Bison Antiquus from Ayer Pond, Orcas Island, Pacific Northwest: Age Confirmation and Taphonomy." Quaternary International 233.2 (2011): 130-41. Print.

Potter, Ben A., et al. "New Insights into Eastern Beringian Mortuary Behavior: A Terminal Pleistocene Double Infant Burial at Upward Sun River." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.48 (2014): 17060-5. Print.

Shillito, Lisa-Marie, et al. "New Research at Paisley Caves: Applying New Integrated Analytical Approaches to Understanding Stratigraphy, Taphonomy, and Site Formation Processes." PaleoAmerica 4.1 (2018): 82-86. Print.

Vialou, Denis, et al. "Peopling South America's Centre: The Late Pleistocene Site of Santa Elina." Antiquity 91.358 (2017): 865-84. Print.

Wagner, Daniel P. "Cactus Hill, Virginia." Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Ed. Gilbert, Allan S. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2017. 95-95. Print.

Waters, Michael R. , et al. "The Buttermilk Creek Complex and the Origins of Clovis at the Debra L. Friedkin Site, Texas." Science 331 (2011): 1599-603. Print.

Waters, Michael R., et al. "Geoarchaeological Investigations at the Topper and Big Pine Tree Sites, Allendale County, South Carolina." Journal of Archaeological Science 36.7 (2009): 1300-11. Print.

Waters, Michael R. , et al. "Pre-Clovis Mastodon Hunting 13,800 Years Ago at the Manis Site, Washington." Science 334.6054 (2011): 351-53. Print.