Clovis Points and the Ice Free Corridor

Did you know that some of the earliest inhabitants of what is now Alberta were here over 12,000 years ago? Evidence of these people is found in the form of fluted projectile points, like the one shown in the image above. Fluted projectile points are lanceolate (no stem or notching) and have large flakes struck from the center of the base to form a flute or channel.

One style of fluted projectile point is attributed to a culture known as the Clovis people. Clovis spear points were first discovered in Clovis, New Mexico, but are found all across North America. These points were long thought to represent the earliest people in the Americas; however, more recent research has refuted this.

A Clovis point found in Alberta that is made from Knife River Flint, a type of stone found in North Dakota. Photo Credit: Royal Alberta Museum.

Left: Ice sheets covering Alberta, 13,500 years ago. Right: Ice sheets covering Alberta, 12,000 years ago. The location of known fluted point locations and densities are also plotted.

Since Alberta was covered by massive ice sheets until about 13,000-14,000 years ago, there were limits to human occupation in this area of North America. Though Clovis may not represent the first people in the Americas, the makers of these remarkable fluted projectiles, and other Paleoindian projectile points, are the earliest known people in Alberta. Alberta is one of the most interesting locations when thinking about early peopling of the Americas because this is where the “ice-free” corridor was located. This corridor represents the first area in Western Canada to be freed from the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets. With retreat of the ice, this corridor allowed movement from south to north, and north to south, of animals and people from eastern Beringia (what is now Alaska/northern Yukon) to and from the rest of America. It has been shown that by 12,000 years ago there was a dominant herb/shrub steppe environment present in Alberta that supported an abundance of animals including mammoth, horse, camel, elk, Bison antiquus, caribou and muskoxen. At the Wally’s Beach site in southern Alberta there is direct evidence of Clovis peoples hunting some of these animals. Radiocarbon dating of Wally’s Beach and other sites with Clovis points show that people were producing these points approximately 12,000 years ago.

Clovis points found at the Wally’s Beach site in Southern Alberta. Photo Credit: Western Canadian Fluted Point Database.

Clovis points, and other early fluted projectile points, are relatively rare in Alberta but they are some of the most exciting finds because they bring us one step closer to understanding the earliest human occupation of our province and the role that the ice-free corridor played in the peopling of the Americas.

If you’ve found a fluted projectile point (or other artifacts), please report your find! You can help us tell the story of the earliest people in Alberta.

Written By: Courtney Lakevold, Archaeological Information Coordinator

References:

Meyer, D., A.B. Beaudoin and L.J. Amundson

2011 Human Ecology of the Canadian Prairie Ecozone ca. 9000 BP – The Paleo-Indian Period. In Human Ecology of the Canadian Prairie Ecozone 11,000 to 300 BP, edited by B.A. Nicholson, pp. 5-52. Canadian Plains Research Centre, University of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Bubel, S., J. McMurchy, D. Lloyd

2012 Record In Stone: Familiar Projectile Points From Alberta, Fourth Edition. Archaeological Society of Alberta, Lethbridge Centre, Lethbridge, Alberta.

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