Clovis first - last - or not at all?

In dealing with the on-going Clovis origins controversy in any form, one is always struck by the dedication (even ferocity) with which the various proponents of differing viewpoints cling to their ideas.  As one who was a graduate archeology student at Eastern New Mexico Univ. in the 70's and literally surrounded by the Clovis material and Blackwater Draw itself, it has always been difficult to escape becoming intellectually involved in the various arguments about this pre-eminent topic in American archeology.  In choosing to take it on, even from a fictional point of view, it is necessary to immerse oneself in a massive amount of past and recent data, much of which only adds more confusion to the on-going debate.


This was never more clear than at the Fall 2006 Clovis in the Southeast conference at the university of S. Carolina, held mainly to highlight Dr. Al Goodyear's amazing speculations on the early dates at the Topper Site on the Savannah River where he has been excavating for several years.  For the first time, many of the parties and the artifacts themselves were brought together to review the state of the debate. Not surprisingly, Dennis Stanford was the key speaker, detailing his evidence for the "Solutrean Solution" for the early and European origins of the basic Clovis technology.  The evidence that has been amassed on behalf of this side of the debate is becoming greater and starting to have the effect of sheer weight and logic that is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook.


The basic problem of the Clovis first adherents has always been the remarkably short period of time around which all the Clovis carbon dates cluster--less than a thousand years over nearly two continents.  To continue to hold on to the belief that this indicates an Asian origin and one-time migration (either through an increasingly imaginary ice free corridor or along the coast of Alaska) of peoples who brought the wherewithal for the fluted point with them from Siberia is virtually an impossible idea to keep clinging to.  There is no technological antecedent for the fluted, overshot, flaking technique from that direction, and no evidence that such a rapid expansion of a small band of hunters, even over an empty continent teeming with willing ice age animals to kill, could have spread so quickly.  If these adherents seem somewhat willing to give up the single origins from Asia idea, they are mainly reluctant still to ascribe the technology to anything but a home grown invention.

There has been a long held feeling among many amateurs (as well as archeologists who kept these views to themselves for the most part in the 70's and 80's) that there was an earlier underlying pre-Clovis culture that existed in the Americas for thousands of years, perhaps, prior to the arrival of Clovis technolgy--whatever its source may have been.  Amateurs such as the writer Louis Brennan held as early as the 1960's that this underlying culture did not possess diagnostic artifacts (something the Solutrean origins folks point out) and that it may have existed as far back as 40,000 years. This amazing time frame pushed Brennan's and other speculators' views into the lunatic fringe category in those Clovis first days of early C14 times.  But now professionals such as Dr. Al Goodyear have the temerity to at least suggest such timeframes based on speculative dates at Topper.  Certainly, 20,000 plus first occupation dates are becoming increasingly easier to accept.  However, in so doing this makes it more difficult to cling to the Clovis first concept in the face of the new well-documented Solutrean origins ideas of Stanford, Bradley and others.


Once the threshold for early, pre-clovis technology dates are amassed and accepted, dealing with the Solutrean origins of that technology is easier to swallow for the doubters such as Metzger, Tankersley, and others.  Stanford has convincingly debunked the Ice Age Atlantic barrier obstacle, and transitional finds at Calico and elsewhere along the eastern seaboard (Topper included) will continue to make it easier to begin to look east instead of west for the origins of Clovis technology.  The massive amount of Clovis material, as well as the much earlier transition away from it in the east has always been a difficulty for the Clovis firsters to account for, or so it would continue to seem.

In the end, it may become a question of whether the whole concept of Clovis is even a valid concept to cling to, regardless of how the directional or timeframe origin arguments turn-out--if they can ever be resolved to most people's satisfaction.  More focus now needs to be on the actual people who were here prior to the explosion of the Clovis technology type, as well as the many regional variants that transitioned so quickly out of it in the different areas of the country (Folsom, Plano, Thebes, etc.) particularly in the Midwest, where pre-existing cultures seem to have been flourishing and intermingling at very early times.  Unfortunately, this is also the region where deep sites and long-range dates are most difficult to obtain (Meadowcroft being a notable exception which proves the rule here, I believe).

In choosing to deal with this controversy in the first novel of my six part  People of the Stone series on prehistoric America, THE STONE BREAKERS, I have chosen to attack the controversy with an open-mind, but with the weight of the new evidence fully in hand.  As an archeologist who worked several multi-component sites with Clovis technology present in the Ohio Valley some years past, it has always been my belief that far more was going on there--if not elsewhere--as these early paleo-Indian cultures mixed with what could only have been longer existing peoples.  No other solution, I believe, accounts for the multiplicity of types and regional variants which exploded out of the end of the ice age, or even before.  The fluted point seed, once planted by whomever, quickly developed its own impetus and spread, and those who stayed behind the spread of the original idea rapidly adapted it to their own uses, often for what became a very short period, indeed.  In all likelihood, these different peoples would never have considered naming themselves after an idea--certainly not another culture--that swept over and past them in what might have been a matter of one turning of their seasons. 

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