Type:  Clovis Point

Location: Keokuk, Iowa



MoST ID: 4326

Pedestal Link: https://une.pedestal3d.com/r/v2M3qB-vKg

Model Author:  Emma Watt

This Clovis point from Lee County, Iowa, is made from Burlington Chert.  The point was broken by a ‘reverse-hinge’ termination in an attempt to flute the base.  The Clovis phase of the Paleoindian period in North America dates to ca. 12,750-13,400 BP.

Visit the online Museum of Stone Tools to learn more about spear and dart points.

See the annotations for technological details about this stone tool.

This artefact is a the base of a Clovis point from North America that failed when the flintknapper attempted to remove the flute, or channel flake.  Clovis points were fluted by striking a flake up the length of the biface as one of the last steps in manufacture.  On this artefact, the opposite face was successfully fluted.  The trick for the flintknapper, then, was to repeat this success on the reverse face, on an appreciably thinner biface.  The flute was initiated successfully but instead of propagating under the mass at the biface’s centre, the crack dove through the point and lopped off the distal end.  This is a relatively common type of failure when fluting Clovis and Folsom points.

Many modern knappers place a block under the tip of the point during fluting to apply compression support and help prevent overstruck terminations, but they still can occur.  Analysis has shown that Folsom knappers deliberately rounded and dulled the tip of the biface prior to fluting so it could better withstand the compression support.  The difficulties involved in fluting—and the fact that it was strictly unnecessary to do this—has prompted some archaeologists to propose that the risky process was imbued with social meaning.

Clovis points are the hallmark of the Paleoindian period.  It was once thought that Clovis was the technology carried by the first people to enter North America, but occupation is now known to have occurred several thousand years earlier than Clovis in both North and South America.  Clovis technology must have developed out of these earlier pre-Clovis technologies within North America, and the nature of this technological transition is the subject of ongoing research.  Clovis was contemporary with people using different technologies in North and South America.  This includes the Western Stemmed Tradition of the Great Basin, and people who manufactured Fishtail points in South America.  Clovis points were used to hunt large game—they were discovered in association with extinct mammoths and Bison antiquus in a site at Blackwater Draw in New Mexico—but they were likely used to hunt smaller game as well, and perhaps functioned as knives.  Exceptionally large versions of Clovis points have been found buried in caches, mostly in the Western United States.  One famous example is the Clovis cache from East Wenatchee, Washington.

The bifacial thinning methods used to make Clovis points are among the most technically sophisticated world-wide.  The earliest stages of flaking for some Clovis technologies involved edge-to-edge percussion flaking, called the ‘overshot’ or ‘outrepasse’ technique.  The technique used in the North American Paleoindian period has been compared to a similar technique used during the Solutrean period in Europe to make large bifaces like those seen in the Volgu cache from France.  Some archaeologists argue that this suggests a historical connection between these two populations, but overshot flaking occurs in other biface thinning technologies and was likely invented independently in various times and places world-wide.

The characteristic feature of a Clovis point is the way the base of the biface is thinned by striking a flake lengthwise up both faces.  The shape of the face created in the preceding bifacial thinning stages partly determines the length and width of these flakes.  The scars created by this are called ‘flutes’, and the flakes that result are called ‘channel flakes’.  Fluting is a tricky process because it is easy to break a biface by delivering a forceful blow at the biface’s end.  Also, if the striking platform is not positioned precisely, the resulting flake can be too shallow or, conversely, the flake can dive through the biface removing the distal end (a variant of an ‘overstruck’, ‘overshot’, or ‘plunging’ termination).  After the Clovis period, during the Late Paleoindian phase, fluting was elaborated so that the flutes extended from the base all the way through to the point’s tip.  For instance, the fluting on Folsom points eliminated most of the preceding scars on both faces, and created an exceptionally thin point.  In contrast, the full-length flutes on Cumberland points often failed to markedly thin the biface.  Fluting by this time—and perhaps during the Clovis period as well—may have been done for ritual purposes as much as functional ones, although this continues to be a hotly-debated topic.