The oldest evidence of human activity in the Americas consists of animal remains in proximity to campfires and stone projectile points. This evidence indicates that around 12,000 years ago, hunters chased now-extinct mega-fauna: bison and elephant, about the high plains of what is now the south-central United States.
The first scientifically dated paleolithic projectile points in North America were found in a kill site discovered by a cowboy named George McJunkin in a gulch near Folsom, New Mexico. McJunkin noticed that a large quantity of unusual bones was exposed by flooding. He reported the site to an arrowhead collector in Raton, New Mexico who in turn contacted the curator of the Museum of Natural History in Denver. In 1926, the “bone pit” was systematically excavated, revealing numerous very-high quality stone spear points. Spear points of the type found near Folsom are called “Folsom” points, and reflect the epitome of paleolithic flint-knapping technique, around 9,000 years ago.
In the 1930’s, even older projectile points were uncovered, called “Clovis” points, because the first examples were uncovered in a quarry in Black Water Draw near Clovis, New Mexico. Projectile points from the “Clovis” period, 11,000 to 12,000 years before the present, have since been discovered all over the southern United States and Mexico.
Some arguably pre-Clovis, leaf-shaped projectile points were discovered in 1937 in a cave on the eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains, near present-day Albuquerque. The antiquity of “Sandia Man”, however, is the subject of considerable controversy. The Clovis-period evidence remains the earliest, firmly established evidence of human activity in the Americas.
Projectile points are the primary evidence of paleolithic Americans. Few human remains this old have been found. The genetic relationship to modern-day Native Americans cannot be verified, and where they came from and how they got to North America is still unknown.
While first discovered here in New Mexico, the distinctive “Clovis”-type point has since been uncovered in greater abundance in the southeastern United States. This suggests that the original archeological discoveries in New Mexico reflect trash left by these hunters at the western edge of the hunting range for the great bison and elephant.