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Paleoindian Period


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Painting entitled "The Storyteller, 11003 B.C." (Painted by Martin Pate).
The Storyteller, 11,003 B.C. (Southeast Archeological Center - National Park Service).

Southeastern Prehistory

Paleoindian Period

Overview
Early Paleoindian | Middle Paleoindian | Late Paleoindian
Further Reading | National Park Units

To learn more about the dates used in this website, click on one of the two links below:

Click here for an explanation of radiocarbon dating.

For a table showing the relationship between actual years ago and radiocarbon years (rcbp), CLICK HERE .
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Overview

MORE ON THE WEB:

The Initial Human Occupation of the Southeast
(Part of an updated study on Paleoindians in the Southeast by David Anderson of the Southeast Archeological Center)
Map of Important Paleoindian Sites and Major River Drainages in the Southeast
Projectile point types from the Paleoindian to the Early Archaic
(53.1 KB gif image)
A North American Paleoindian Projectile Point Database
(David G. Anderson and Michael K. Faught)
The Allendale Paleoindian Investigations
(Investigations conducted by Albert C. Goodyear)
The Paleoindian Period
(Part of the the Florida Division of Historical Resources cultural outline)

The current view of the Paleoindian period envisions bands of hunters entering the North American continent around 17,000 years ago (15,000 rcbp) by crossing a land bridge that connected eastern Siberia with Alaska. The land bridge was created during the Late Pleistocene by continent-sized glaciers, which, when created, drew water from the oceans' lowering sea levels by some 120 meters. It would appear that these same glaciers prevented these immigrants from expanding into the rest of the North American continent until about 16,000 years ago (14,000 rcbp).

The best diagnostic archeological evidence for these early Paleoindian bands are long, fluted chipped stone projectile (likely spear) points. These early points are named "Clovis" after the Clovis, New Mexico archeological site where the point type was first recognized in association with Late Pleistocene fauna. Within only a few hundred years after 14,000 years ago (12,000 rcbp), the Paleoindians appear to have occupied most of the North American continent and the Southeast.

Since 1960, archeological studies of the river basin projects, as well as statewide studies of Paleoindian point finds and site distributions in the Southeast, have led to refinements in the sequencing of point types and attempts to reconstruct Paleoindian cultural activities. Excavations at Paleoindian sites, better dating techniques, and study of the distribution of Paleoindian point types and the Late Pleistocene environment have led archeologists to develop new models for Paleoindian occupation in the Southeast now broken down into three subperiods between 13,450 and 11,450 years ago (11,500 and 10,000 rcbp).

Early Paleoindian
13,450 to 12,900 Years Ago
(11,500 to 10,800 rcbp)

A Clovis point.
Clovis Point (Adapted from "The Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast" page 405)
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The first subperiod, Early Paleoindian, is characterized by Clovis or Clovis-like large fluted stone points. It is believed that the distribution of these points throughout all the environmental zones in the Southeast represents the initial exploration and colonization of the region. Great mobility of the Paleoindians of this subperiod is suggested by the finding of stone tools and debitage traded or transported by these small bands over hundreds of kilometers from their quarry source. The Southeast, at this time, consisted of three broad environmental zones, running west to east. They were cool-climate boreal forests, temperate oak-hickory-pine forests, and subtropical sandy scrub. The last area was confined to the Florida peninsula and the coastal plain in the Southeast, which extended several kilometers outward from its present location due to the lower sea level. Megafauna of the Late Pleistocene was found in these three environmental zones.

 

Middle Paleoindian
12,900 to 12,500 Years Ago
(10,800 to 10,500 rcbp)

MORE ON THE WEB:

Northern Clans, Northern Traces: Journeys in the Ancient Circumpolar World
(Site discussing Kennewick Man, Coastal Migration, and other recent topics in the study of Paleoindians)
Projectile point types from the Early to Middle Paleoindian.
(30.5 KB gif image)

The second subperiod, the Middle Paleoindian, is characterized by a number of fluted and unfluted points, both larger and smaller than Clovis points. The point types of this subperiod in the Southeast are Cumberland, Redstone, Suwannee, Beaver Lake, Quad, Coldwater, and Simpson. This subperiod is viewed as a time when the population was adapting to optimum environmental resource zones instead of randomly moving throughout the Southeast. Concentration on specific zones and resources may account for the variation in the stone points of this subperiod.

 

Late Paleoindian
12,500 to 11,450 Years Ago
(10,500 to 10,000 rcbp)

Unfluted Dalton points.
Unfluted Dalton Points (Adapted from "Fort Benning: The Land and the People" pages 10-11).

Fluted Dalton points.
Fluted Dalton Points (Adapted from "Fort Benning: The Land and the People" pages 10-11).

MORE ON THE WEB:

Terminal Paleoindian Occupations in the Southeast
(Part of an updated study on Paleoindians in the Southeast by David Anderson of the Southeast Archeological Center)

The last subperiod, the Late Paleoindian, is characterized by Dalton and other side-notched-style points. The replacement of fluted point forms by nonfluted points is believed to reflect a change in the adaptive strategy, away from hunting Late Pleistocene megafauna toward a more generalized hunting of small, modern game, such as deer, and a collecting subsistence strategy within the southern pine forests as they replaced the boreal forests.

Chert deposits may have attracted Paleoindian groups of this subperiod to specific locales in order to replenish their stone tools. Such a tendency may have constrained these groups to a specific landscape, setting the stage for the intensive regional specialization that characterized the succeeding Archaic Period. It is possible that large Paleoindian sites in the Southeast are permanent or semipermanent base camps from which resources of specific territories were exploited. Trade or transportation of stone tools appear to decrease as Late Paleoindian groups relied on local materials for their needs.

 

Further Reading

MORE ON THE WEB:

The Earliest Americans: Southeast - Anderson 2001
(Updated study on Paleoindians in the Southeast by David Anderson of the Southeast Archeological Center)
Beneath These Waters
(Popular history of the Savannah River region, including information on Paleoindians)


Aucilla River Prehistory Project

 

Anderson, David G., and Kenneth E. Sassaman, eds.
•1996 The Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Boldurian, Anthony T., and John L. Cotter
•1999 Clovis Revisited: New Perspectives on Paleoindian Adaptations from Blackwater Draw, New Mexico. University Museum Monograph 103, The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Dillehay, T.
•1989 Monte Verde, A Late Pleistocene Settlement in Chile, Vol. 1, Palaeoenvironment and Site Context. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
•1997 Monte Verde: A Late Pleistocene Settlement in Chile, Vol. 2, The Archaeological Context and Interpretation. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Fox, John W., Calvin B. Smith and Kenneth T. Wilkins
•1992 Proboscidean and Paleoindian Interactions. Baylor University Press, Waco.

Meltzer, D.J.
•1993 Search for the First Americans. Smithsonian Books, Washington, D.C.

Morse, Dan F., ed.
•1997 Sloan: A Paleoindian Dalton Cemetery In Arkansas. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Straus, L.G., B.V. Eriksen, J.M. Erlandson & D.R. Yesner, eds.
•1996 Humans at the End of the Ice Age : The Archaeology of the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition (Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology). Plenum, New York.

 

National Park Units

Evidence of Paleoindian period occupations has been found in the following National Park Units (Click on links for more information about American Indian occupations in these parks):


Return to the Natural Setting | Move on to the Archaic