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People of the Colorado Plateau
Paleoindian and Archaic Peoples
Anasazi
Archaeological Treasures
Archaeoastronomy
Prehistoric Farmers
Population Change
Paleoenvironment
The Anasazi "collapse"
Pueblo Peoples
Hopi
Zuni
Fremont
Athabaskans
Western Apache
Navajo (Diné)
Ute
Southern Paiute
Pais
Spanish Exploration
Mormon Pioneers
Anglo Settlement

peoplebutton.gif (1940 bytes)Paleoindian and Archaic Peoples

Author: Scott A. Elias. 1997. Adapted from The Ice-age History of Southwestern National Parks. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

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Clovis Point

The bulk of archaeological evidence points to the Clovis culture as the earliest group of Paleoindians to occupy the North American regions south of the continental ice sheets of the last glaciation. The oldest Clovis artifacts have been radiocarbon dated about 11,500 yr B.P.

The style of projectile points that characterized Clovis culture persisted at most for a few hundred years; they were replaced by another type of point, characteristic of the Folsom culture. Both cultures are thought to have been big-game hunters, who left little evidence of their occupation, other than a few scattered campfire hearths and butchering sites.

Archaeologists believe that Clovis hunters rarely used the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. Big game animals were more easily hunted on wide-open plains regions. Clovis kill and camp sites were most often located near water, such as small steams or springs. Perhaps Clovis hunters ambushed their prey as the animals approached these watering places.

Folsom people apparently did use the Colorado Plateau, but proof of their occupation there has been difficult to find. Most evidence consists of individual Folsom points found on the surface. No buried Folsom sites have been excavated on the plateau. Archaeologists have surveyed most of the region, because of the great attraction of Anasazi sites, so Folsom sites must truly be rare here or they would have been discovered in greater abundance.

Folsom and Clovis peoples had very little impact on the land. Apparently they built no permanent structures and remained only a few days or weeks in any one place.

By about 8000 yr B.P., people of the Archaic culture were utilizing most of the Colorado Plateau. These hunter-gatherers did not settle down in villages, but probably followed the movements of small game animals and gathered food plants through the seasons of the year. Archaic sites are common, though there have been few thorough archaeological studies of Archaic sites on the plateau.

By Archaic times, many of the big game animals that roamed the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin regions throughout the late Pleistocene had become extinct. Some researchers believe that it was the Clovis and Folsom peoples who were responsible for the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna. If this is true, the hunters of the Archaic Period somehow managed to adapt to this loss of a major food resource, and their populations grew as they spread throughout the region in the early Holocene.

Most of the archaeologists' attention has been drawn to either the earliest human cultures to invade this region (Clovis and Folsom peoples) or the subsequent Anasazi culture. This is unfortunate, because the Archaic culture dominated this region for about 6000 years. Perhaps the Archaic peoples were the first inhabitants of this region to live in "harmony" with their environment. They did not destroy the natural resources of the region through six centuries of continuous occupation.

Resources:

Agenbroad, L. D. 1990. Before the Anasazi: Early Man on the Colorado Plateau. Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.

Cassells, S. 1990. The Archaeology of Colorado. Johnson Books, Boulder, CO.

Cordell, L. S. 1984. Prehistory of the Southwest. Academic Press, New York, NY.

Elias, S. A. 1997. The Ice-age History of Southwestern National Parks. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

Fagan, B. 1987. The Great Journey: The Peopling of Ancient America. Thames and Hudson, Ltd., London.

Fiedel, S. J. 1992. Prehistory of the Americas. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England; New York.

Frison, G. C. 1991. Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains. Academic Press, New York, NY.

Jennings, J. 1964. Prehistoric Man in the New World. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Jennings, J. 1968. Prehistory of North America. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Jennings, J. 1978. Prehistory of Utah and the Eastern Great Basin. University of Utah Anthropological Papers No. 98, Provo, UT.

Jennings, J. 1980. Cowboy Cave. University of Utah Anthropological Papers No. 104, Provo, UT.

Kohler, T. A. 1992. Prehistoric human impact on the environment in upland North American Southwest. Population and Environment. 13: 255–268.

Lister, F. C., and R. H. Lister. 1994. Those Who Came Before: Southwestern Archaeology in the National Park System. Southwest Parks & Monuments Association, Tucson, AZ.

Martin, P. S., and R. G. Klein, editors. 1984. Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Meltzer, D. 1993. Search for the First Americans. St. Remy Press, Montreal.

Samuels, M. L. and Betancourt, J. L. 1982. Modeling the long-term effects of fuelwood harvest on pinon-juniper woodlands. Environmental Management 6: 505-515.

Schobinger, J. 1994. The First Americans. William B. Eirdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI.