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Earth Notes: Clovis Points

Francis Smiley

Skilled nomadic hunters in North America developed "high-tech" weaponry early on. They made a unique new projectile point style to attach to spears and throwing sticks about 13,500 years ago. 

Most projectile points—or arrowheads—were made by striking flakes off only the sides of a stone. But Clovis toolmakers struck thin flakes or “flutes” from the bottom of the point along its axis, and about a third of the way to the tip.

These strong, reusable points were very thin at the base, making them easier to attach to hunting spears. Attached to a spear was a hooked stick called an atlatl that vastly increased throwing power.

Clovis points may have been one of the first all-American inventions—and likely helped these people colonize the continent.

But by 12,000 years ago, big animals like mammoths and saber-tooth cats had gone extinct. Giant bison and smaller game were left. With them came the Folsom people. They developed “even more spectacular” fluting techniques, says archaeologist Francis Smiley, who has researched stone tools for 40 years, and directs the Northern Arizona University Lithics Lab.

Folsom points were fluted all the way from base to tip, and were as thin as 2 millimeters. Modern flintknappers are hard-pressed to match such skill. 

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