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People of the Colorado Plateau
Paleoindian and Archaic Peoples
Archaeological Treasures
Prehistoric Farmers
Population Change
The Anasazi "collapse"
Pueblo Peoples
Western Apache
Navajo (Diné)
Southern Paiute
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.


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