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Clovis tools may have been developed to hunt the last of the North American megafauna. Source: Daniel /Adobe Stock

Short Lived Clovis Tools May Have Killed Off North American Megafauna


While they were not the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, the Clovis people had an extremely significant prehistoric culture that was distinctive and widespread across what is now North America. Clovis tools and weapons, including the iconic Clovis spear point, are easily recognized by almost every North American archaeological student. But new research reveals that Clovis tool manufacturing only existed for about 300 years and fell by the wayside at the same time as the last of the North American megafauna went extinct.

The Clovis culture gets its name from Clovis, New Mexico, where the distinctive stone tools were first identified in 1929. For a long time, researchers believed the Clovis people were the first group of people to make the journey at the end of the last Ice Age into what is now North America, and the age of this culture has been a continued topic of debate. Clovis points are made in jasper, chert, obsidian, and other brittle stones that could be chipped into sharp edged weapons with spear-shaped tips.

Clovis points in the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist collection. (Billwhittaker/CC BY SA 3.0)

Clovis points in the Iowa Office of the State Archaeologist collection . (Billwhittaker/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

But the results of new analysis on bones and other artifacts reveal that Clovis tools were only being made for about 300 years, from 13,050 to 12,750 years ago. This new research comes from Michael Waters, a Clovis expert, Anthropology professor, and director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M, who teamed up with Texas A&M anthropologist David Carlson, and Thomas Stafford of Stafford Research in Colorado.

The Demise of Clovis Tools and North American Megafauna

ScienceDaily reports that the research team used radiocarbon dating on bone, charcoal, and carbonized plant remains which they obtained from 10 known Clovis sites . Samples were analyzed from South Dakota, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Montana, and two sites in Oklahoma and Wyoming. The results show that the well-known Clovis points and other Clovis tools were only being made for 300 years. Waters sa ys that the researchers are uncertain “how or why Clovis technology emerged and why it disappeared so quickly.”

Map of the location of dated Clovis sites. (Waters, M.R., Stafford, T.W. Jr. and Carlson, D. L. /Science Advances)

Map of the location of dated Clovis sites. ( Waters, M.R., Stafford , T.W. Jr. and Carlson, D. L. / Science Advances )

However, Waters also notes a possible relationship between the Clovis tools and the demise of North American megafauna in a Texas A&M press release . He says:

“It is intriguing to note that Clovis people first appears 300 years before the demise of the last of the megafauna that once roamed North America during a time of great climatic and environmental change. The disappearance of Clovis from the archaeological record at 12,750 years ago is coincident with the extinction of mammoth and mastodon, the last of the megafauna. Perhaps Clovis weaponry was developed to hunt the last of these large beasts.”

Clovis weapons may have been developed to hunt the last of the North American megafauna. (Daniel /Adobe Stock)

Clovis weapons may have been developed to hunt the last of the North American megafauna. ( Daniel /Adobe Stock)

This observation does not mean that the people who made Clovis weapons and tools necessarily died when the megafauna went extinct, it is also possible that they adapted to new hunting methods and created new toolkits to survive in a different environment.

Questioning the Clovis-First Theory

The traditional view about the peopling of the Americas says that during the late Pleistocene period Paleo-Indian people crossed from what is now known as north-east Asia into Alaska via the Beringia land-bridge. The first inhabitants were said to have made this epic journey between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago.

The mark of these people is the aforementioned stone tool known as the ‘Clovis point’ – which archaeologists saw as the sign of people who hunted megafauna. From the 1930s until the 1970s, the Clovis-first theory was the theory about the peopling of the Americas. But then researchers began to make discoveries that were older than they were “supposed to be”, clearly questioning the Clovis-first theory . Thus, the timing and method(s) of the first migration into the Americas became a source of great controversy.

The Texas A&M press release recognizes that the short age range given by this new study for the Clovis culture “does not provide sufficient time for people to colonize both North and South America.” However Waters note s that “Clovis still remains important because it is so distinctive and widespread across North America.”

Prehistoric Toolkits Varied in the Americas

The new study, which is published in the current issue of Science Advances , explains that the revised age for Clovis tools shows it was one of at least three contemporary toolkits “in the Western Hemisphere during the terminal Pleistocene.” Waters says that “Clovis with its distinctive fluted lanceolate spear point, typically found in the Plains and eastern United States, is contemporaneous with stemmed point-making people in the Western United States and the earliest spear points , called Fishtail points, in South America.”

Clovis tools were one of at least three contemporary toolkits in the Western Hemisphere during the terminal Pleistocene. (W.Scott McGill /Adobe Stock)

Clovis tools were one of at least three contemporary toolkits in the Western Hemisphere during the terminal Pleistocene. (W.Scott McGill /Adobe Stock)

Even though the Clovis wasn’t the first or only stone tool making group of people living in the region at the time, this culture had a significant impact when they were alive and when archaeologists found signs of their existence thousands of years later. The exact origins and demise of this widespread prehistoric culture are still uncertain , so studies like the current one can provide important clues in solving the riddles.

Top Image: Clovis tools may have been developed to hunt the last of the North American megafauna. Source: Daniel /Adobe Stock

By Alicia McDermott



Its interesting that Graham Hancock has a theory and accumulating evidence of a cataclysmic comet impact on the North American continent around 12,800 years ago. That's very close to the dates talked about here for the disappearance of the Clovis people and the megafauna. If the comet impact is proven it would explain why both disappeared at the same time.

Hello Alicia,

The Clovis spear used in killing of the last Megafauna sounds a lot like what Ian Malcolm said in the Movie Jurassic Park; Nature selected the Megafaunas for extinction.

Accept in this case Man Selected the Faunas for extinction.

It's interesting that the people made use of the spear no longer than 300 year's, that tells me those faunas must have died out within those 300 year's of course I realize I'm probably wrong.

There was something else that caught my eye in this article, I read a book for class about The Hopi Nations. This Book pointed out that the Hopi talk about their ancestors immerging from out of the Earth from a Cave or Caves rather than the Land Bridge.

I've read other articles by archeologist and anthropologist dismiss this claim but, then a few months back I watched re-runs of Unsolved Mysteries an in one of the episodes it was a family in a legal fight about underground water under Las Vegas.

The patriarch got wind from Native Americans reciting their Oral History about such an underground water resource. The thing is The Earth has sealed up this Water source; so what's my interest with this specific Unsolved Mystery episode?

Apparently it was once a great Cave filled to overflowing with Water but, the continual story of this Cave with the Water Source from The Native Americans is that was where they came up from the Earth that is how they came to the America's through The Earth.

One more thing about Las Vegas Satellite imagery shows the vast amount waters under Vegas thanks to impart NASA.

I realize that it isn't the begin All end All proof of what The Hopis has repeatedly said in their Oral History but, it's a start.

So I guess in conclusion I wondered if both happened like a chain reaction at the same time?

One my favorite classic T.V. Shows is Perry Mason.

In this one show Mason said that often people can come up with the same idea at the same time; but, it all comes down to who gets the idea out first.

I guess with History that makes since with the group of Paleo-Indians that crossed the Land Bridge and then maybe the other groups emerged from Caves in to this side of the Earth.

This was a thought provoking article Alicia thank you for sharing so until next time Goodbye!

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. She is the Chief Editor of Ancient Origins Magazine. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia... Read More

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