For those who play with rocks for a living...

What is a Clovis point?

It is a type of spear point created through a process known as bifacial pressure flaking. To get an idea of what a Clovis point looks like, picture in your mind, the familiar image of an arrowhead (forget that there are actually several forms). Now, take away the side notches, make the sides excurvate (curve outward), and make it somewhere in the neighborhood of 50mm - 74mm in length. Voila! You have done it, now you know what a Clovis looks like. The name Clovis comes from the location of the site were the first Clovis points were found, in Clovis, New Mexico (eastern part of the state, bordering Texas). They are generaly composed of flint or chert. Also, they are fluted, which means that they have a pointy-ish line running down the middle of them. Their base is concave, facilitating the process of hafting them to spears.

Who used them? How were they used?

Archaeologists believe that Clovis points are among the oldest projectile points used by the Paleo-indian peoples of North America, dating to the Early Paleo Period (15,000 B.P. - 9,000 B.P.). Clovis points were wedged into notches at the ends of spears and then hafted with cord (likely made with animal gut or plant materials). The finished spears could then be thrown at large game, or, for the more exceptional hunter, launched with a device known as an atlatl. It is a tube with a spur at one end (or something else to catch on the spear), and an opening and hand grip at the other end. The spear is loaded into the open end and catches on the spur. Holding onto the atlatl the entire time, the hunter may throw the spear with a slingshot like effect. In effect, the purpose of the atlatl is to lengthen the arm of the spearthrower, thus, increasing the power of the throw.

Further Thoughts

During this past semester, whilst in the midst of our lithics unit, our archaeology T.A. told us a little anecdote about Clovis points. Apparently, a few years back a farmer in the area of our our school (University of Missouri - Columbia) found a Clovis point in one of his fields. He was quite excited about his find and prepared it to be donated to the MU Museum of Archaeology. When the museum curator received the artifact, however, he was perturbed to find that it had been defiled. The farmer later admitted to busting out his Dremmel to grind side notches into the Clovis, "because it didn't look like how an arrowhead is supposed to."


Archaeology Classnotes 10/18