Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture

For decades the Clovis culture has been our anchor to understanding the peopling of the New World. It has been a touchstone for archaeologists, a rare “truth” and comfort regarding the unknowable archaeological past. They have recognized who was first in the Americas and whence they came. Even so, the interest in just how they came to be and where they came from has driven Clovis research, which has resulted in questions challenging even our very basic beliefs. What is the evidence that has started to shake the foundations of this long-accepted theory? Could it be that there were people in the Americas before Clovis?

The amount of evidence for Clovis has grown at a relatively fast rate since the first discovery of this archaeological culture. Clovis points have been found throughout most of continental North America, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the plains of Alberta, Canada, into northern South America. The wealth of data provided by the excavation and analysis of Clovis sites is giving us a new understanding of Clovis culture. Although Clovis hunters killed now extinct ice age animals, a conservative view of radiocarbon dates indicates that these people first appeared in the New World some 13,000 years ago, and in less than 200 years they had explored, exploited, and inhabited the two continents of the Americas. By comparison, the historic European residence in the Americas began barely 500 years ago. If the actual tenure of Clovis is only 200 years, they achieved the most rapid terrestrial expansion and extensive colonization in the history of pre-literate people.