Ancient America: Vikings and Indians

More than a thousand years ago, the Norse—commonly called Vikings—had expanded their settlements west from Scandinavia into Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and North America. Both Ireland and Britain were, of course, occupied by farming peoples and the establishment of Norse settlements required the force of arms. Iceland was uninhabited (though some sources indicate that there may have been a handful of hermit Irish monks) and Greenland was sparsely populated by nomadic hunter-gatherers. In North America, the Norse encountered natives whom they called Skraelings who were not always friendly.

The Norse sagas describe a number of conflicts with Skraelings. The Norse word saga means both “what is said” and “story, tale, or history.” While the sagas have been written down, they were originally oral histories and their accuracy in describing historic events are hotly debated by scholars.

There was a time when many historians doubted that the Norse had explored North America, but archaeology has verified the existence of one permanent Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland and there is some evidence of other settlements and camps.

While the Norse are often stereotyped as fierce warriors who raided monasteries and towns, this was not how they saw themselves. The designation Viking refers to only one Norse activity: raiding. The Norse were also traders, farmers, shipbuilders, explorers, merchants, manufacturers, and statesmen. In his article in Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, William Fitzhugh writes:

“Despite their reputation as shipbuilders, sailors, and warriors, the Norse identified themselves as farmers rather than as fishermen, hunters, trappers, or traders, even though individual Vikings might spend considerable periods of the year engaged in these tasks.”

Cattle were an important food source which provided the Norse with dairy products including cheese, butter, and skyr. The cattle, which were relatively small—standing less than 48” at the shoulder—could be transported in their longships.


L’Anse aux Meadows, an archaeological site located in Newfoundland, was settled about 1000 CE and was occupied for only about a decade. At L’Anse aux Meadows, archaeologists have uncovered eight buildings which are grouped into three complexes. The structures indicate that this was not a temporary campsite, but a settlement which was occupied year-round. It is estimated that the settlement had a population of 70-90 people. While the sagas indicate that the Norse carried cattle with them, there are no indications that the Norse at L’Anse aux Meadows had cattle: there do not appear to have been any outbuildings, corrals, or animal pens. If the Norse had cattle with them, they must have been left in the open.

The Norse at L’Anse aux Meadows did some iron smelting at the site, probably to produce boat nails to be used in repairing their longships.

One of the intriguing clues from L’Anse aux Meadows is the presence of butternuts, a butternut burl that was cut with iron tools, and grapes at the site. Butternut trees, also called white walnut, have never grown in Newfoundland and the butternuts must have come from someplace farther south. The closest area for butternuts is the Saint Lawrence River Valley, just east of present-day Quebec City. Archaeologist Birgitta Wallace, in an article in Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, reports:

“The significance of the nuts is that they indicate that the people who lived at L’Anse aux Meadows made excursions to regions farther south. Butternuts grow in the same areas as wild grapes, so whoever picked the nuts must have come across grapevines as well. This was the first archaeological proof that the saga stories of the Norse encountering wild grapes are not myth but based on reality.”

Birgitta Wallace summarizes the archaeological data from L’Anse aux Meadows this way:

“Putting all the evidence together, we find that L’Anse aux Meadows was not a colonizing venture but a base at which a large group of people, perhaps three ship crews, stayed for a short time.”

The Sagas

At L’Anse aux Meadows there is little evidence of contract between the Norse and Native Americans. Turning from archaeology to the sagas, however, we see that the Norse did have some contact.

The Icelandic sagas are based on oral traditions. They are stories of events which took place in the period between 930 and 1030, an era known as söguöld (Age of the Sagas) in Icelandic history. The stories describe voyages, migrations, and feuds. The sagas focus on history, particularly genealogical and family history. Sometime after 1190, these stories were written down in Old Norse.

According to the sages, the Norse under Karlsefni, Snorri, and Bjarni, sailed south to the land they called Hop at the mouth of a river. Here they found wild wheat as well as grapes. They had been here a couple of weeks, allowing their cattle to graze freely, when nine canoes made of hides came into view. The Norse made peaceful contact with the Skraelings, who are described in the sagas as:

“They were short men, ill-looking, with their hair in disorderly fashion on their heads; they were large-eyed, and had broad cheeks.”

According to the sagas, the Norse constructed dwellings and remained at Hop through the winter. They let their cattle graze freely without keepers. In the spring, a large number of canoes appeared and a market was held in which the Norse traded cloth for furs. While the Skraelings wanted to trade for iron swords and lances, Karlsefni and Snorri did not allow it. At one point in the market, a bull belonging to Karlesefni ran out of the woods and bellowed loudly. The Skraelings viewed this as a threat and hurriedly left.

Three weeks later, a large group of Skraelings appeared and there was a battle with the Norse. In the initial attack, the Skraelings drove the Norse back, but Freydis, who was pregnant, picked up a sword from a dead Norse warrior, banged in on her naked breast, and counter-attacked, driving the Skraelings off. Following the battle, the Norse decided that this was not a good place to settle, so they moved on.

Karlsefni journeyed south with forty men for about two months. They reported seeing nothing but wilderness and returned home.


       What we know at the present time is that the Norse were in North America more than a thousand years ago. Their contacts with the Native Americans appear to have involved some limited trade and probably some violence. The sagas and the archaeological evidence at L’Anse aux Meadows show that they journeyed south of Newfoundland. What we don’t know is how far south they traveled—some writers feel that they sailed as far south as Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Archaeological data confirming their southern journeys is difficult to find as it would be in the form of temporary campsites with no permanent structures.

While the sagas provide us with some possible clues about what might be locations of Norse sites in North America, there is also some puzzling information. The archaeological data from L’Anse aux Meadows and the saga’s description of Hop, sound as though there should be a Norse site along the Saint Lawrence River. However, the saga indicates that the Skraelings used hide-covered canoes, which may indicate Inuit craft from farther north. At the time of later European contact in the Saint Lawrence area, Native Americans were using dugout canoes and bark-covered canoes, but not hide-covered canoes. This may indicate: (1) that Native watercraft in that part of North America changed during the six centuries between initial Norse contact and later European contact; or (2) the Norse saga was mistaken about the covering used on the canoes.


Ancient Mesoamerica: Maize (Corn)

When the Europeans began their invasion of the Americas, they found that the indigenous people of the continent, generally called American Indians, had a highly developed agricultural system. While American Indians raised a great many different crops, one of the important plants was maize (Zea mays), often called corn in American English. In addition to maize, American Indians had also domesticated numerous other plants, including beans, squash, chili peppers, avocados, cotton, and others.

With regard to the importance of maize in the Americas, Michael Coe and Rex Koontz, in their book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, write:

“Maize was and is the very basis of settled life in Mexico and, in fact, throughout the regions of the New World civilized in Pre-Columbian times.”

The archaeological record shows that corn was originally domesticated in Mexico and then diffused north into the eastern portion of what is now the United States and into the American Southwest. It also diffused south into South America.

In general, the process of plant domestication was neither random nor sudden. Early hunters and gatherers had to have an intimate knowledge of ecology. They understood the seasonal cycle of plants and for thousands of years had deliberately  altered the environment through processes such as burning to enhance the plants they found most useful. With regard to the process of domestication, Emily McClung de Tapia, in an essay on the origins of food production in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, reports:

“The origin of agriculture represents the culmination of a number of interrelated processes, socioeconomic as well as biological and ecological. For instance, some plants such as maize or certain species of beans underwent mutations, altering their genetic composition and rendering them more amenable for harvesting, subsequent storage, and, finally, human consumption.”

A domesticated plant is one which has become genetically altered through human intervention so that it has become dependent on human actions for its continued reproduction. It should be pointed out that humans also cultivate and care for plants which have not become domesticated. In the process of domestication, humans deliberately select for favorable mutations and genetic change.

The search for the origins of maize involves three basic questions: (1) what was the ancestral plant for maize; (2) when was it first domesticated; and (3) where was it domesticated. In general, the search for the origins of maize has focused on Mexico in the period after 7000 BCE. Initially, archaeologists hypothesized that a wild grass known as teosinte (Zea mexicana) was the progenitor of maize (Zea mays) and recent findings from molecular biology support this hypothesis.

Some of the earliest archaeological evidence of maize comes from the site of San Andrés on the Gulf Coast of Tabasco. At this site, evidence of maize in the form of phytoliths (tiny silicon particles contained in plants) dates to 4800 BCE. Michael Coe and Rex Koontz report:

“There are no known wild species of Zea native to coastal Tabasco, so these plants were introduced to the region, almost certainly by humans. At the same level the archaeologists found evidence of large-scale forest clearance of the type associated with maize cultivation in this area.”

In the highlands of Oaxaca, archaeologists found a maize cob in Guilá Naquitz cave which was dated to 4300 BCE.

The best-known evidence for the early domestication of maize comes from the Tehuacan Valley in Puebla. Originally, the cobs from caves in this valley were dated to about 5000 BCE, but more recent re-dating of the material suggests a date of only 3500 BCE.

The cobs found in both the Oaxaca and Tehuacan sites show that maize had already gone through significant evolution from teosinte. The data from these sites do not provide definitive answers to the questions about when and where maize was first domesticated. Michael Coe and Rex Koontz summarize the data this way:

“We have some way to go before we answer these questions, but the most important general fact remains: many thousands of years before Christ, the Indians of Mesoamerica had brought a very primitive, wild form of maize under their control.”

The development of agriculture had ramifications for social organization. While archaeologists used to talk about an agricultural revolution (called the Neolithic Revolution in Europe) which seem to imply rapid sociocultural change, the archaeological data today suggests a rather slow evolution. Gradually, the domesticated plants, such as maize in the Americas, became more important and with this came villages with permanent structures, storage facilities, and greater use of pottery. Looking at the archaeological data from Tehuacan, Emily McClung de Tapia writes:

“The transition to increased dependence upon cultivated food plants goes hand-in-hand with an increase in the region’s population together with increases in the duration of occupation of campsites.”

Ancient America: Some Aztec Gods

For the general public, the Aztecs (also known as the Mexica) are probably the best-known ancient American civilization. Like the Christians who later conquered much of the Americas, the Aztecs established their empire through religiously inspired military conquest.

The religion of the Aztecs, likes those of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, was polytheistic: that is, many different gods were worshiped. In comparing the Aztec pantheon of gods with those of the Greeks, archaeologist Brian Fagan, in his book The Aztecs, writes of the Aztec gods:

“They were related to one another, but in no systematic way as, say, many of the Greek deities were. Nor was there a hierarchy of gods and goddesses.”

As with religions elsewhere in the world, such as Christianity, the religion of the Aztecs incorporated the beliefs, ceremonies, and deities of earlier religions. Some of the deities were the patron deities of social, political, or economic groups; some were tribal deities. Brian Fagan reports:

“Even individual people might have their own special divine patrons, usually the deity associated with the day of their birth.”

With regard to the importance of the deities and religion to the daily lives of the Aztecs, Brian Fagan writes:

“The Mexica believed that they lived only through the grace of the gods, the deities who gave them sustenance, rain, and everything that flourished on earth. Almost every act, however trivial, was surrounded with a religious symbolism that is difficult for us to understand.”

Today, we don’t know exactly how many deities (gods and goddesses) were worshiped by the Aztecs. To confuse the issue for non-Aztec people, the deities often have several names reflecting their many aspects. In his book Aztec Thought and Culture: A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl Mind, Miguel León-Portilla writes:

“Quite often they are designated by a number of different names. In addition, the myths interweave, overlap, merge, and become tinted with local color.”

Listed below are a few of the better-known Aztec deities:

  • Ometeotl: this is an all-pervasive deity who is often portrayed as bisexual. In their book Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica Margaret Bunson and Stephen Bunson report:

“The god was a combination of the male and female generative forces, associated with fire and maize and also called the Old Sorcerer.”

  • Tezcatlipoca: this is a youthful, virile, and all-knowing deity who is associated with the four directions. This god is of Toltec origin. Tezcatlipoca was the patron of young warriors.
  • Quetzalcoatl: the feathered serpent is an ancient concept in Mesoamerica and certainly predates the rise of the Aztec. He has a major role in the religions and ceremonies of many different cultures. Quetzalcoatl is associated with divination, astronomy, and astrology.
  • Huitzilopochtli: called Hummingbird on the Left, this is the patron god of the Aztecs. Margaret Bunson and Stephen Bunson write:

“Huitzilopochtli appears in the earliest histories of the Aztec, as patron and protector on the long journey out of Aztlan to Tenochtitlan.”

Brian Fagan writes:

“A minor god elevated to greatness by imperial propagandists, Huitzilopochtli became the very personification of virile warriorhood, a young, brave god, who sought constant human sacrifices as his rightful due.”

Michael Coe and Rex Koontz, in their book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, describe Huitzilipochtli this way:

“…he was the tutelary divinity of the Aztec people; the terrible warrior god of the Sun, he needed the hearts and blood of sacrificed human warriors so that he would rise from the east each morning after a nightly trip through the Underworld.”

With regard to his prowess as a war god, Huitzilopochtli provided miraculous powers to the Aztecs which enabled them to defeat their enemies and expand their empire.

  • Xiuhtecutli: is the fire god and was associated with the coronation of rulers.
  • Tlaloc: is the god who controls the rain. Michael Coe and Rex Koontz report:

“One of the more horrifying Aztec practices was the sacrifice of small children on mountain tops to bring rain at the end of the dry season, in propitiation of Tlaloc. It was said that the more the children cried, the more the Rain God was pleased.”

The wife of Tlaloc is Chalchiuhtlicue (The Lady of the Jade Skirt) who is the goddess of water.

  • Chicomecoatl: is the goddess of the young maize plants. She is also associated with pulque, the intoxicating (i.e. alcoholic) beverage that is brewed from the maguey plant.
  • Teteoinnan: this goddess is the Earth Mother who was worshipped by doctors and midwives.
  • Xipe Totec: “Our Lord the Flayed One” is a fertility god who is portrayed as wearing a human skin. Michael Coe and Rex Koontz report:

“He was the god of spring and the renewal of the vegetation, impersonated by priests and those doing penance, wearing the skin of a flayed captive—the new skin symbolizing the ‘skin’ of vegetation which the earth puts on when the rains come.”

Ancient America: The Halliday Site in Illinois

The ancient city of Cahokia was originally founded about 600 CE and its time of greatest development appears to have been between 1050 and 1250. Conservative estimates say that Cahokia had a population of 10,000, but there are some who feel that its population may have been closer to 75,000.

The most spectacular feature of this city is Monk’s Mound which was completed in 1050. This earthen pyramid is 1,800 feet long, 710 feet wide, and 100 feet high. It covers 14 acres. The structure which was on top of the pyramid was 100 feet long and 50 feet high.

Cahokia served as the cultural, economic, and political center of a much larger area. It is generally seen at the center of Mississippian culture which extended from Florida in the south to Wisconsin in the north. Mississippian villages were generally built around large public courtyards.

At about the same time that the Mississippian people of Cahokia completed the construction of Monk’s Mound, another group of Indian people established a small village about ten miles southeast of Cahokia. Located in present-day Illinois, this village today is known as the Halliday site. The village contained 150 houses and storages sheds and was home to 200 to 300 people. The pottery styles in the village appear to be either old-fashioned or foreign to the region. The pottery resembles an earlier pottery type known to archaeologists as Varney Red Filmed, which had been made in southern Missouri at an earlier time period.

Interestingly enough, there are no male-oriented artifacts at the site. There are bone weaving tools, spindle whorls, and ample evidence of intensive farming, pottery production, and communal cooking. There are, however, no arrowheads or evidence of large game animals.

In his book Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi, anthropologist Timothy Pauketat reports:

“These upland villagers, living at the edge of the Illinois prairie, were eating small lizards, frogs, snakes, turtles, and rodents, as well as large amounts of corn, possibly more than anybody else in the area at the time—probably cooked as soup, judging from the residues found in pots. They were also eating their dogs, which was not a common practice at Cahokia.”

With regard to their diet, Timothy Pauketat notes:

“They ate more corn and less protein than is healthy for a person. What protein they did eat was far from choice bits of meat, and the existence of these near-peasant farmers was far from ideal, even for the time.”

Who were these people? Timothy Pauketat answers:

“They were immigrants, or the children of immigrants, from southeastern Missouri or northeastern Arkansas, and they were heavily into chunkey.”

Chunkey is a game which was commonly played by the Southeastern Indians, such as the Creeks. The game appears to have originated among the Mississippian peoples of Cahokia. Anthropologist Timothy Pauketat writes:

“The game called Chunkey appears to have played a significant role in organizing social and political life in Cahokia.”

The game involved the use of a stone discoid which was rolled on its edge across a packed-clay playing field. Timothy Pauketat describes what happens next:

“A few paces into the yard the players, at about the same time, chuck their playing sticks like huge darts after the rolling stone. Points were scored depending on how close to the stone the sticks—or, actually, a series of marks on leather bands on each stick—landed.”

At the time the Halliday site was established, the people at Cahokia had begun making some fine chunkey stones which replaced the older, thicker, community-owned stones.

Ancient America: Colorado Prior to 6000 BCE

The boundary lines that mark the current state of Colorado are artificial and were laid down by non-Indigenous people with no regard for the cultures of the American Indians who had occupied this territory for thousands of years. Within categories of American Indian culture areas Colorado includes portions of three: (1) the Southwest; (2) the Great Basin; and (3) the Great Plains. Listed below are some of the archaeological sites in Colorado which have been dated prior to 6,000 BCE.

Dutton and Selby sites: by 15,000 BCE, Indian people at the Dutton and Selby sites near the present-day town of Wray were hunting (or at least scavenging) camels, horses, and bison.

Lamb Spring: about 11,140 BCE, Indian people at the Lamb Spring site butchered a mammoth.

Mahaffy Cache: about 11,000 BCE, Indian people using Clovis technology left a cache of tools—8 bi-facially flaked knives, a chopping tool, and numerous flakes—at one of their sites. DNA analysis of the protein residue on the tools of the Mahaffy Cache revealed that they had been hunting bear, horse, wild sheep, and camel.

Jones-Miller site: by 9500 BCE, Indian people were using the Jones-Miller (5YM08) bison kill site.

By about 8000 BCE, Indian people at the Jones-Miller site (5YM08) appear to have domesticated dogs. They were also using Hell Gap points.

Lindenmeier site: by 9200 BCE, Indian people using Folsom technology were using the Lindenmeier site for processing bison. In her book The Prehistory of Colorado and Adjacent Areas, anthropologist Tammy Stone reports:

“It appears that the camp space was divided into different activity areas for manufacturing various items from bone, including jewelry. This site demonstrates that Folsom period peoples butchered and ate many different animals including, but not restricted to, bison, although we do not know in what proportions.”

Great Stemmed Basin complex: by 8700 BCE, Indian people were making long-stemmed points with random, collateral, or other flaking patterns. Archaeologists will later call this the Great Stemmed Basin complex.

Beads: by 8700 BCE, Indian people were making very small beads out of oil shale.

Bison hunting: about 8800 BCE, American Indian bison hunters were camping in a small, well-watered valley north of Fort Collins, Colorado. This site was visited on a regular basis by two semi-autonomous groups who cooperated in the bison hunts.

Agate Basin Complex: about 8800 BCE, the Agate Basin Complex appears in Colorado. Archaeologically, this complex appears to be an outgrowth of the Folsom tradition. The projectile points are very long and slender. The shapes range from lanceolate to leaf-shaped and occasionally the points are pointed at both ends.

Olsen-Chubbock site: about 8500 BCE, Indian hunters killed almost 200 buffalo at the Olsen-Chubbock site. The 150 fully butchered animals produced about 60,000 pounds of meat which is enough to feed 50 people for more than 3 months.

About 8200 BCE, Indian hunters using Plainview and Plano tool kits drove a herd of bison into a gully and killed about 200 animals. In his book Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart Fiedel describes it this way:

“A whole herd was apparently surrounded and driven into the steep, narrow arroyo. The animals struggled vainly to escape as others fell on top of them. Those that lay on top of the pile were finished off by the hunters, while the bison trapped beneath them were crushed to death.”

Only a few of the animals at the Olsen-Chubbuck site were butchered. The kill took place in the summer or early fall. It is estimated that 150 to 200 people took part in the hunt.

Hell Gap Complex: about 8500 NCE, the Hell Gap Complex begins. The Hell Gap projectile point appears to have developed out of the Agate Basin points. The Hell Gap points have constricted bases. Anthropologist Tammy Stone reports:

“The constricted base indicates that these points may have had socketed hafts, which is further supported by grinding on the base but not on the lower lateral edges.”

Plainview Complex: about 8200 BCE, the Plainview Complex appeared in Colorado. Archaeologically this complex is defined by lanceolate-shaped projectile points with parallel or slightly convex sides and concave bases.

Foothills-Mountain Complex: about 8000 BCE, the Foothills-Mountain Complex was developed out of a Great Basin adaptation. The leaf-shaped points were roughly made and have ground bases. The points were used in socketed hafts.

Burial: about 7700 BCE, an Indian woman 25-30 years old died and was buried in a flexed position near Gordon Creek. She was covered with red ochre before burial and was interred with her head oriented to the north. Buried with her were a grinding stone, a hammer stone, an end scraper, two small bi-faced stone blades, and three utilized flakes. In addition to the stone tools, the burial goods included two worked animal ribs and a perforated elk tooth. She was 4’11” tall.

Hourglass Cave: about 6620 BCE, the body of a man is buried in the Hourglass Cave.

Bison Hunt: about 6500 BCE, southeast of Kit Carsen, Colorado, hunters stampeded a large bison herd into a dry gully. The herd went off a steep edge and 157 were killed. Three-fourths of the bison were butchered and this meat would have provisioned 100 people for about a month.

Black Knoll Phase: about 6250 BCE, in Northwestern Colorado, the period which archaeologists call the Black Knoll Phase begins. Archaeologists Tammy Stone reports:

“The Black Knoll is characterized by increasing population, evident in the increased number of sites.”

Note: The information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.

Ancient America: Texas Prior to 5000 BCE

As a cultural area, the Southern Plains is bounded by the Arkansas River on the north, the Rocky Mountains on the west, the Mississippi River on the east, and the Balcones Escarpment on the south. The area presently known as Texas covers much of the Southern Plains. In general, this is a grassy area with forests found along the streams.

American Indians lived in Texas for many thousands of years prior to the European invasion. The period of time prior to 8,000 BCE is often called the Paleo-Indian Period and the era from 8,000 to 5,000 BCE is known as the Early Mobile Foraging Period. During these time periods, American Indian groups were primarily nomadic hunters. Since there were very few plant foods with nutritional value for humans, these early Indian groups depended largely on hunting for their subsistence. Archaeologist Susan Vehik, in her chapter in the Handbook of North American Indians, reports:

“Large and small animal resources were utilized prehistorically. Bison are commonly assumed to be the primary animal resource, but the Southern Plains experienced pronounced fluctuations in the size and distribution of bison herds.”

Susan Vehik also reports:

“Bison herds are a clumped and unpredictable resource compared to deer and other small animals that tend to be dispersed. This distinction has implications for the size and distribution of human social groups.”

About 5000 BCE, the Great Plains began to enter into a climate period known as the Altithermal which is a hot, dry episode that lasted for about 2,500 years. In the Southern Great Plains this marked the transition from the Early Mobile Foraging Period to the Late Mobile Foraging Period.

Briefly described below are some of the archaeological sites in Texas which date prior to 5000 BCE.

Paleo-Indian Period

During the Paleo-Indian Period, Indian people on the Plains were nomadic hunter-gatherers. With regard to the stone technology used on the Plains during the Paleo-Indian Period, Douglas Bamforth, in his entry on the Plains in the The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, reports:

“The Paleo-Indian period on the Plains is also well-known for the sophistication of its stoneworking: Projectile points in particular are extremely well-crafted, aesthetically pleasing, and difficult to produce, and Paleo-Indian flint knappers tended to manufacture them from very high-quality stone.”

Petronila Creek: by 16,000 BCE, Indian people were occupying a hunting and fishing camp on Petronila Creek. They were hunting mammoth, ground sloth, camel, horse, peccary, antelope, coyote, prairie dog, and alligator. They were fishing for catfish, gar, and other fish.

Levi Rockshelter: by about 11,750 BCE, Indian people were using the Levi Rockshelter.

Buttermilk Creek: by about 11,200 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Buttermilk Creek site.

Gault site: by 11,000 BCE, Indian people at the Gault site were making adzes for woodworking. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture, write:

“Small incised stones have been recovered from the Clovis level at the Gault Site in Central Texas. These stones are mostly thin limestone slabs that are natural in the area. The incising is mostly geometric designs, especially hatching and crosshatching, but at least two stones may be etched with animal representations.”

Lubbock Lake Landmark: by 11,000 BCE, Indian people were hunting mammoth as well as other mammals at the Lubbock Lake Landmark site.

Early Mobile Foraging Period

Stone Tools: by about 9650 BCE, Indian people near Aubry, Texas were making and re-sharpening stone tools similar to those which archaeologists classify as Clovis. Material for making the stone tools was not local. The source of the nearest tool material at the site was about 200 miles away.

Burial: about 9200 BCE, two Indian people—a middle-aged man and a girl of about 12—were buried together in the Horn Shelter Number 2 site. The man was buried on his left side with his head resting on a stack of turtle shells. The girl was buried so that she was nestled against his back. More than a hundred offerings were placed in the grave.

At the time of his death, the man was 35-44 years old, stood about 5’5” tall, and weighed 150 pounds. Overall, he was very muscular. His teeth were heavily worn, some were broken, and some were missing.

Both individuals had been subject to starvation and/or disease during childhood. Both appear to have had an infection at the time of death. According to anthropologist James Chatters, in his book Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans:

“This evidence of infection and frequent malnutrition may give us a hint about the cause of these people’s simultaneous deaths: infections made worse by starvation, perhaps during an unusually harsh winter.”

Hot Tubb: about 8900 BCE, Folsom buffalo hunters at the Hot Tubb site (41 CR 10) killed and processed at least six animals. In their report in the Plains Anthropologist, David Meltzer, John Seebach, and Ryan Byerly write:

“The heavy use and attrition indicated by the lithic remains—the intensive re-sharpening and recycling of both scrapers and projectile points—bespeaks a group(s) for whom stone, by the time they arrived at Hot Tubb, was in short supply.”

The stones being used for their tools was Edwards chert, from a site to the east. It is possible that the group was in route to acquire new stone when it stopped at Hot Tubb.

Midland: about 8900 BCE, Folsom people near present-day Midland were using small beads – 1.6 mm in diameter – made from bone as decorative items. According to JoAllyn Archambault of the Smithsonian Institution in her chapter in The Encyclopedia of North American Indians:

“The bone bead is as finely made as the best hishe beads (disk-shaped shell beads with a single hole in the middle) created by contemporary Indian bead makers using modern equipment.”

Buffalo Jump: by 8300 BCE, Indian people were stampeding buffalo over a 70-foot cliff. They were using both Folsom points and unfluted Plainview points.

Plainview: by 8200 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Plainview site on the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado. Lithic technology involved the use of prepared polyhedral cores and specialized flake production. Bifaces were rare and final point form was dependent on the form of the flakes struck from the core.

Hinds Cave: by 7400 BCE, Indian people at the Hinds Cave site were eating domesticated dog. They were probably also using dogs for hunting, for protection, and possibly for pets. The dog appears to be genetically similar to the later short-nosed dogs found in New Mexico.

Ryan’s site: by 7220 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Ryan’s site (41LU72) near present-day Shallowater. The stone tools used by the people at this site suggest either high mobility or extensive trade over long distances. The stone used for the tools included chert from central Texas (120 to 200 miles to the south and southeast), Alibates from the Canadian River area (120 miles to the north), and Tecovas jasper (60 miles north-northeast).

Buffalo Hunt: about 7170, Plainview hunters stampeded a herd of 100 buffalo into a gully and killed them. The hunters used atlatls tipped with Plainview points which were roughly similar to Clovis points except that they were not fluted.

Central Texas: by about 6000 BCE, Indian people in Central Texas adopted to changing environmental conditions by having a settlement/subsistence system which was characterized by small groups seasonally occupying widely dispersed camps.

Burials: by 5500 BCE, Indian people in the Edwards Plateau area were burying their dead by dropping or lowering them into sinkholes. Afterwards, they threw in rock to bury, or at least partially bury, the body. Burials tended to be egalitarian. According to archaeologist Leland Bement, in his book Hunter-Gatherer Mortuary Practices during the Central Texas Archaic:

“The presence of both sexes and all age-groups in the various deposits indicate that the burial facility was available to all members of the society and not limited to a certain segment.”

In general, Indian people of the Edwards Plateau area were healthy, robust, and free of diseases.

Ancient America: Idaho, 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE

The present-day state of Idaho is a totally arbitrary area defined by political concerns unrelated to American Indian history. With regard to American Indian cultures, Idaho straddles two distinct culture areas: (1) the Plateau in the north and (2) the Great Basin in the south. The climatic changes from 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE impacted the Indian people in these two areas differently. In the Plateau area, this period is called the Middle Period by archaeologists. Briefly described below are some of the archaeological sites which date to this era.

Owl Cave: by 6000 BCE, Indian people were using Owl Cave as a site for the systematic killing of buffalo. According to archaeologist B. Robert Butler in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“Apparently, each of the Owl Cave kills resulted from a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spear thrust into the body cavities, and then systematically butchered.”

The now extinct Bison antiquus is generally considered to be the ancestor to the modern Bison bison bison. This extinct species was 15% to 25% larger than the modern bison.

Centennial Mountains: by 6000 BCE, Indian people were hunting and gathering in the Centennial Mountains where they left behind hundreds of camp sites.

Quarry Sites: by 5800 BCE, Indian people were using a number of quarry sites along the upper Salmon and Pahsimeroi rivers. These are located at an elevation of 7,800 feet. Since not all stone can be used for making stone tools, sites where good stone can be easily obtained were very important.

Bernard Creek Rockshelter: by 5250 BCE, Indian people occupied the Bernard Creek Rockshelter in Hells Canyon.

Birch Creek: by 5200 BCE, Indian people were now living in the Birch Creek area. The climate at this time was arid and the lakes in the area had been reduced to intermittent marshes.

Kirkwood bar site: by 5100 BCE, Indian people were now living at the Kirkwood bar site in Hells Canyon.

DeMoss site: by 5000 BCE, Indian people had established a cemetery at the DeMoss site in the south-central portion of the state.

Root Plants: by 4400 BCE, the Indian people in the eastern Plateau Area (this would include what is today northern Idaho) were using root plants. Earth ovens were being used in processing these plant foods. By 3500 BCE, camas was in regular use in this area.

Village: by 4050 BCE, the Nez Perce established a village site on the Clearwater River. Economic activities at this time included salmon fishing.

Little Salmon River: about 4015 BCE, 22 people were buried at an Indian graveyard near the Little Salmon River.

Island Park Reservoir: by 4000 BCE, Indian people began to live in the Island Park Reservoir area.

Weiser River: about 3840 BCE, two women, and four children were buried in a mass grave near the mouth of the Weiser River.

Challis: by 3380 BCE, near present-day Challis, Indian people began using a buffalo jump to kill buffalo.

Burials: by 3200 BCE, in southwest Idaho, Indian people were buried with elaborate grave goods, including red ochre, olivella shells, large biface points, dog skulls, pipes, hematite crystals, and tools.

Corn Creek: by 3000 BCE, Indian people began living in the Corn Creek area.

Ancient America: Idaho Prior to 6000 BCE

Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE in North America as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game. At this time, the Plateau area—roughly the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Mountains, had emerged from the effects of glacial ice.

Writing about the Southern Plateau in the Handbook of North American Indians, Kenneth Ames, Don Dumond, Jerry Galm, and Rick Minor report:

“People appear to have moved frequently; there is no evidence of dwellings or structures of any kind during this period, as there is also no evidence of food storage. Hunter-gatherers under these conditions can be expected to have quite low population densities.”

In looking at the earliest history of American Indians in what is now the state of Idaho, there are two major cautions: (1) Idaho is a totally arbitrary area defined by much later political concerns unrelated to American Indian history, and (2) the archaeological record is far from complete. There are large temporal gaps in our understanding of this early time period. Briefly described below are some of the archaeological sites from this time period.

American Falls: about 28,000 BCE (Before Current Era), Indian people near the American Falls on the Snake River were killing bison. Note: this early date is controversial and not accepted by most archaeologists.

Wilson Butte Cave: by 13,000 BCE, Indian people began using the Wilson Butte Cave in southern Idaho as a shelter. They were using bifacially worked points and blades.

Intermountain Stemmed Point Tradition: by 11,500 BCE, a hunting camp was established by Indians using what archaeologists call the Intermountain Stemmed Point Tradition.

Hatwai: by about 10,900 BCE, Indian people were fishing with nets at the Hatwai site (10NP143).

Burial: about 10,600 BCE, a young woman (17-21 years of age) died near the Snake River in the south-central part of the state. She was buried with a large stemmed biface, an eyed needle, a badger baculum, and a bone artifact. She was 5’2” tall and had regularly faced hunger as she was growing up. Salmon had provided some of the protein (possibly 10%) in her diet. Her diet also included processed meat, such as pemmican.

Shoup Rockshelter: by 10,460 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Shoup Rockshelter near Salmon, Idaho.

Owl Cave: by 10,250 BCE, Indian people were occupying Owl Cave. By 8850 BCE, Indian people living at Owl Cave were butchering and eating mammoth.

By 6000, BCE, Indians were using Owl Cave as a site for the systematic killing of buffalo. According to archaeologist B. Robert Butler in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“Apparently, each of the Owl Cave kills resulted from a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spear thrust into the body cavities, and then systematically butchered.”

Cooper’s Ferry Site: about 10,050 BCE, a group of hunting people left a cache of tools in a circular pit at one of their regular camp sites along the lower Salmon River Canyon. The site is located on a small alluvial terrace about ten meters above the confluence of Rock Creek and the lower Salmon River. The tools included stone points and scrapers. Some of the tools had been used and then reworked to renew their cutting surfaces. Caching of equipment for future use was relatively common among nomadic peoples. In an article in American Antiquity, Loren Davis, Alex Nyers, and Samuel Willis write:

“In this manner, equipment manufactured for tasks that are specific to a particular time and place are stored in a designed holding facility. Equipment caches might also play a role as insurance or backup systems, where additional stores of tools are placed at strategic locations in the landscape as a low-cost, embedded aspect of moving in a landscape.”

They also write:

“Overall, the creation and use of equipment caches is intended to help solve problems of logistical mobility and improve efficiency in resource exploitation.”

By 10,020 BCE, Indian people at the Cooper’s Ferry site were using a variety of stemmed points, including those which archaeologists classify as Lind Coulee, Windust, and Cascade.

By 9400 BCE, Indian people with a Western Stemmed Tradition technology occupied the Cooper’s Ferry Site. Many archaeologists feel that the people who used the Western Stemmed Tradition technology were different from those who used Clovis technology.

By 9000 BCE, Indians from the Cooper’s Ferry Site were hunting in the Beaverhead Mountains. They were using Lind Coulee type spear points. Roy Carlson, in the Indian Art Traditions of the Northwest Coast, writes:

“The Lind Coulee Tradition is characterized by large stemmed projectile points, chipped stone crescents, and large steep scrapers.”

Bison and Veratic Rockshelters: by 8390 BCE Indian people at the Bison Rockshelter and the Veratic Rockshelter were using stone points which are pressure-flaked and fluted.

We’eptes Pa’axat: by 8200 BCE, Indian people were occupying the We’eptes Pa’axat (Five Eagles) site near present-day Lenore, Idaho. The site was being used intermittently for hunting and processing deer and mountain sheep as well as for manufacturing stone tools.

Redfish Overhang: by 8150 BCE, Indian people began to occupy the Redfish Overhang near Stanley, Idaho.

Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.

Ancient America: Nebraska Prior to 6000 BCE

Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE in North America as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game. Briefly described below are a few of the archaeological sites in Nebraska which date to before 6000 BCE.

La Sena Site: By 17,000 BCE, Indian people were butchering mammoth at the La Sena Site (25FT177) on the shore of Medicine Creek Reservoir in Frontier County. In a chapter in Medicine Creek: Seventy Years of Archaeological Investigations, archaeologists Steven Holen and David May write:

“We have suggested that humans were responsible for the high-velocity impact fractures on thick cortical bone and for the bone flaking.”

Jensen Site: By 11,000 BCE, Indian people were butchering mammoth at the Jensen site.

Allen Site: By 9000 BCE, Indian people had occupied the Allen site (25FT50). In his chapter in Medicine Creek: Seventy Years of Archaeological Investigations, archaeologist Douglas Bamforth reports:

“One striking aspect of the Allen site collection is the number of formal diversity of bone tools it contains.”

Among these tools are needles in varying thicknesses which suggest a variety of kinds of sewing. Animal remains include bison, deer, antelope, jackrabbit, cottontail, and prairie dog. In an article in Mammoth Trumpet, George Wisner reports:

“From the data emerges a portrait of small family groups, dating back as far as the Folsom age, tapping into a variety of resources in well-wooded and moist drainages.”

By about 6300 BCE, Indian people were using the Allen site as a summer camp. They were hunting bison, antelope, deer, rabbit, and birds. They were also eating fresh water mussels and fish. Their tool kit included concave based projectile points, scrapers, lanceolate and ovid bifaces, grinding and abrasive tools, drills, eyed bone needles, and awls.

Red Smoke Site: By 7000 BCE, Indian people occupied the Red Smoke site (25FT42). In her chapter in Medicine Creek: Seventy Years of Archaeological Investigations, archaeologist Ruthann Knudson reports:

“The site appears to reflect flaked stone reduction activities while people were camped at the site, which was adjacent to exposed jasper bedrock.”

The O. V. Clary Site: By 7000 BCE, Indian people had occupied the O. V. Clary site. Archaeologists classify the people who are using this site as Allen Complex foragers using lanceolate projectile points. The site appears to have been used as a residential base camp which was occupied continuously for 5-7 months from mid- to late-summer through late winter or early spring. The site was well-sheltered with easy access to water as well as to brush and wood for fuel and for tool construction.

The primary animal which the people were hunting at this time was the bison. In an article in American Antiquity, archaeologists Matthew Hill, David Rapson, Thomas Loebel, and David May report:

“Bison are interpreted as the focal prey for the duration of the occupation. These animals were likely taken singly during encounter-type hunting within Ash Hollow and the surrounding uplands.”

Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.


Ancient America: Wyoming 6000 BCE to 2500 BCE

About 8,000 years ago (6000 BCE), the American Indian cultures of the Northern Plains began undergoing a series of major changes. There was a decrease in dependence on big game hunting as the people engaged in a wide range of hunting and gathering patterns. This is a period which archaeologists call the Archaic Period (also called the Middle Precontact Period by some archaeologists).

At about 5000 BCE, the Great Plains began to enter into a climate period known as the Altithermal. This was a hot, dry episode that lasts for about 2,500 years. During this time, the bison had to shift their ranges and subsequently Indian people either moved with them or changed to other game. In his Columbia University Ph.D. Dissertion on the MacHaffie Site, Richard Forbis reports:

“During the Altithermal period, climatic conditions appear to have forced bison from the Plains to the northerly regions. Man does not seem to have occupied the Plains in the Altithermal period. Man did, however, occupy other areas of North America then.”

The lack of moisture during this period meant that the production of grasses needed to sustain bison herds was restricted. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:

“Humans adapted to the changing climate and decreasing bison by increasing the breadth of their diets, changing their technology, exploiting new resources, and living in different places.”

In his book Prehistory of the Americas, archaeologist Stuart Fiedel writes:

“It seems that the bison deserted much of the Plains; some of them may have taken refuge in stream valleys or peripheral foothill areas where the water shortage was less severe.”

In his book Indians in Yellowstone National Park, anthropologist Joel Janetski writes:

“It is characterized by a greater reliance on plant foods, especially small seeds, and the increased hunting of smaller animals, although the modern large animals—deer, mountain sheep, and bison—continued to be important.”

Briefly described below are some of the Wyoming sites between 6000 BCE and 2500 BCE.

Buffalo Kill: about 6000 BCE, near Casper, Wyoming, hunters used a parabolic sand dune with steep sides to capture a herd of about 100 bison during a hunt in late autumn. The bisons’ hooves sank into the loose sand and immobilized them, which allowed the hunters to move in and kill them at close range.

James Allen: by 5900 BCE, Indian people are occupying the James Allen site (48AB4). The stone used to make the tools found at the site are from a site a hundred mile or so to the north-northeast.

48JO303: by 5850 BCE, Indian people are now occupying sit 48JO303 in the southern Big Horn Mountains. The site is located at an elevation of 7000 feet and consists of a small group of rockshelters. One of these rockshelters, designated as Shelter Three, faces west onto a steep drainage. Don Grey, in a report in the Wyoming Archaeologist, writes:

“Shelter Three had about 300 square feet of floor space under an overhanging ledge, and opened onto a large flat area thirty to forty feet wide and a hundred feet long.”

The stone projectile points in the site include McKean-like materials.

Southsider Cave: by 5700 BCE, people were occupying the Southsider Cave (48BH364). The occupants dug two cache pits about 58 centimeters in diameter and about 45 centimeters deep. The cache pits, when uncovered by archaeologists, were filled with trash. According to George Frison, in an entry in the Handbook of North American Indians:

“However, in order to preserve a cache pit of this nature for reuse once it is emptied, it must be filled with something or the sides will collapse within a short period. The easiest way to preserve them was to fill them with trash, which was removed when the pit was reused.”

Mummy Cave: by 5680, Indian people were occupying Mummy Cave (48PA201) in northwestern Wyoming.

Trappers Point: by 5580 BCE, Indian hunters camping at Trappers Point were killing pronghorn antelope and other animals. The pronghorn were corralled, killed, and then butchered. All parts of the animals are used

Chittendon Bridge: by 5000 BCE, Indian people were using the Chittendon Bridge site east of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Gardner River in present-day Yellowstone National Park.

Deadman Wash: by about 4890 BCE, Indians were occupying the Deadman Wash Site (48SW1455) in southwest Wyoming.

Helen Lookingbill: by 4800 BCE, Indian people were using the Helen Lookingbill site (48FR308) which is located at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet the Absoroka Mountains. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes:

“Several bighorn sheep are represented at the site, but no bison. Local cherts were quarried at the site, suggesting a tethered settlement pattern around known resources in this rugged setting.”

Hawken: by 4340 BCE, the Hawken site (48CK303) in northeast Wyoming was used as a communal buffalo kill site. This was an arroyo trap. The bison were killed in the winter. The bison bones at the site are intermediate in size, between the extinct Bison antiquus and the modern Bison bison.

Fishing Bridge Point: By 3870 BCE, Indian people were using the Fishing Bridge Point site in present-day Yellowstone National Park. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes:

“The presence of Early Archaic sites on the Yellowstone Plateau shows that Early Archaic hunter-gatherers moved into the uplands, at least during the warmer months, to hunt animals and collect the plethora of plant resources available around the shores of Yellowstone Lake.”

Twin Creek Valley: about 3260 BCE, Indian people began using a camp site in the Twin Creek Valley. Among the tools they were using were obsidian projectile points from Malad, Idaho (about 135 km to the northwest).

Hogsback: by 3330 BCE, Indian people are now occupying a pithouse at the Hogsback site (48UT2516). The pithouse is of moderate size: slightly more than 4 meters by slightly less than 4 meters. The structure was repeatedly occupied as a seasonal camp for several years. Roasting pits at the site appear to be used for cooking meat. Archaeologist Summer Moore, reporting in the Wyoming Archaeologist, writes:

“Analysis of faunal remains from the site indicates animal use was primarily focused on the procurement and processing of large game animals such as pronghorn, although the significant proportion of rabbit-sized faunal remains also suggests small animals were captured, as well. Pronghorn antelope appear to have been transported to the site as whole carcasses, possibly suggesting a trapping location or otherwise advantageous hunting site was situated nearby.”

The site was occupied during the period which archaeologists call the Opal Phase in the Wyoming Basin. This phase is characterized by a decrease in mobility due to the availability of large game animals.

House Structure: by 3250 BCE, Indian people at site 48CO1712 in the Powder River Basin constructed a house. The people at this site were gathering wild plants, such as goosefoot, and hunting mule deer and pronghorns.

McKean: by 2590 BCE, Indian people were occupying the McKean site (48CK7) near the Belle Fouche River in northeastern Wyoming. They were hunting bison as well as deer, rabbit, and pronghorn.

Scoggin: about 2540 BCE, a small band of Indian hunters used the Scoggin site (48CR304) as a bison impoundment area. The impounded buffalo were killed by using a thrusting spear. This site is located in south central Wyoming near the North Platte River.

Dead Indian Creek: by 2500 BCE, Indian people were hunting deer between October and March near the Dead Indian Creek site (48PA551) in northwestern Wyoming. This suggests that this high elevation site was occupied during the winter. Features at the site suggest that the Indian people here had constructed a housepit. Anthropologists Peter Nabokov and Lawrence Loendorf, in their book Restoring a Presence: American Indians and Yellowstone National Park, report:

“They ate mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, processed collected seeds, possibly making flour to thicken soup or to bake a mealy, unleavened bread, and survived at elevations where winter temperatures can drop to life-threatening lows.”

Mule deer skull caps at the Dead Indian site were arranged with their antlers attached which suggests ceremonial treatment. While sheep were an important source of food, there is no evidence of ceremonial treatment for these animals.

Medithermal Period: about 2500 BCE, the Medithermal period began with temperatures declining to modern levels. With regard to the Plains area, Richard Forbis reports:

“The Medithermal marked a return of cooler temperatures. Probably its effect on the Plains was a reduction in the number, intensity, and duration of drought periods and a gradual westward and southward return of the grasslands. And with the grasslands, capable of supporting year-round grazing, bison reappeared in great numbers; man followed the buffalo. All bison of the Medithermal period appear to be modern species.”

Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.

Ancient America: Wyoming Before 6000 BCE

Although the region of North America known today as Wyoming first entered into the written Euro-American histories in the early nineteenth century with the exploits of fur traders, trappers, and non-Indian adventurers, Indian people had been living in the area for many millennia. Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game.

Yellowstone National Park:

While Indian people had utilized the resources and unique geological features of what is now Yellowstone National Park for thousands of years, when the fur traders first began describing the region to non-Indians, they were met with disbelief.

By 9600 BCE, Indian people were camping at Osprey Beach on Yellowstone Lake in present-day Yellowstone National Park.

By 8000 BCE, Indian people were living along the shores of Yellowstone Lake in present-day Yellowstone National Park. The stone tools which they were using resemble those of the complex which archaeologists call Cody (see below).

By 7400 BCE, Indian people using Cody Complex tools at the Osprey Beach site in present-day Yellowstone National Park were hunting a variety of game, including bear, deer, bighorn sheep, bison, and rabbit. They may have been exploiting the resources of Yellowstone Lake using boats.

Hell Gap:

By 9450 BCE, Indian people were beginning to occupy the Hell Gap site (48GO305) in southeastern Wyoming. They were making large, wide, un-stemmed, and lanceolate points with a long, slender tip and a wide, concave base.   In his entry on Hell Gape in A Dictionary of Archaeology, William Billeck writes:

“The Hell Gap site consists of a stratified series of short-term campsites where bison was the predominant animal represented.”

By 7600 BCE, the cultural tradition which archaeologists call the Hell Gap Complex moved into the Northern Plains. Hell Gap people were big game hunters with a primary emphasis on bison. In some areas, Hell Gap is associated with bison procurement using a parabolic dune entrapment method.


 Clovis culture, which is actually a stone tool technology complex, is one of the earliest well-documented archaeological cultures in North America. The signature artifact of the Clovis people is an atlatl point. The Clovis point is a finely made stone projective point with a characteristic flute which helps in attaching the point to an atlatl dart. Clovis points have lateral indentations (or flutes) which allow them to be efficiently tied to a shaft. The shafts were thrown with the aid of a throwing stick or atlatl. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture, report:

“Fluted projectile points are the most readily identifiable Clovis artifacts, but there are many other items that make up the Clovis inventory. Among these are tools made from blades and flakes struck from specialized cores, plus bi-facially flaked knives and adzes.”

With regard to Clovis in Wyoming, in 9330 BCE, Clovis hunters drove a mammoth into the muck of a bog where it became trapped. They killed it and butchered it, taking the meat to their hunting camp on higher ground.

By 9280 BCE, Clovis people were occupying the Union Pacific site.

By 9250 BCE, Clovis people were occupying the Colby site. The people stacked mammoth bones in what may have been a meat cache. The stone chopper which was used at the site had been made from granite which was not from the area.

By 9200 BCE, Clovis people were camping at the Sheaman site.


About 11,000 years ago, the climate changed: it became warmer (by about 13 degrees Fahrenheit) and drier. There was also an increase in the seasonal extremes: summers were warmer and winters were colder. For Indian people, this difference meant that their cultures had to change so that they could adapt to the new environment.

Folsom people are known for their fluted spear points which were smaller and more delicate than the Clovis points. Their flutes are also longer than Clovis. In his book Bones, Boats, and Bison: Archeology and the First Colonization of Western North America, Archaeologist James Dixon writes:

“The hallmark of Folsom culture is the Folsom projectile point, which is recognized throughout the Americas for its unique design, exceptional workmanship, and the high-quality raw materials from which they are manufactured.”

Geographically, Folsom culture spread eastward from the Rocky Mountains across the Great Plains. It extended from North Dakota to Mexico. It seems to have been centered, however, along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

With regard to Wyoming, by 8830 BCE, Folsom hunters were camping on the floodplain of an arroyo in Agate Basin. They trapped, killed and butchered eight buffalo. They lived in hide-covered structures which used bison ribs as tent pegs.

By 8750 BCE, Folsom people were occupying the Hanson site in the northern Bighorn Basin. The people were living in circular structures. The floors of the lodges were covered with a layer of sand. In his book Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains, George Frison reports:

“The site was apparently a campsite and suggests that many of the usual campsite activities were going on. The most obvious activity was flint knapping and the site provides evidence—from core reduction to tools and finished projectile points—of all the basic processes.”

Frison also reports:

“Projectile point manufacture involved bi-face reduction to a final stage characterized by a blunt, ground distal end and a concave base with a carefully prepared striking platform for channel flake removal.”

Careful striking would then remove the long flake and provide the point with the characteristic Folsom groove. Archaeologists have found evidence of many failures in the final production of Folsom points at this site.

In 7950 BCE, Indian people who were using Folsom tools are occupying the Rattlesnake Pass site (48CR4520).

Cody Complex:

The Cody complex is found in the Northern Great Plains area. In his entry on the Cody Complex in A Dictionary of Archaeology, William Billeck writes:

“The tool assemblage consists of projectile points, flake tools, scrapers, gravers, wedges, choppers, bi-faces, hammer stones, and bone tools that are often found in bison kill and processing sites.”

By 8500 BCE, Indian people from the Cody Complex were spending the warmer months in the Rocky Mountains. Here they repaired and manufactured tools which were used for hunting and for cleaning hides. In the winter, they moved to lower elevations. They were hunting bear, bighorn sheep, deer, and rabbit. According to anthropologist Carroll Riley, in Rio del Norte: People of the Upper Rio Grande From Earliest Times to the Pueblo Revolt:

“Cody stone technology suggests more diverse hunting of a variety of small game.”

By 7076 BCE, Indian people using Cody complex tools were using the Horner site. This was a buffalo kill site or a butchering area. The bison were killed in the fall using a corral at the river’s edge.

Agate Basin:

 By 8480 BCE, Indian people were using the Agate Basin site for buffalo hunting. Bison in groups of 10 to 20 animals were apparently driven into the arroyo bottom. The hunters would be stationed at strategic points above the animals in order to harvest them.

By 8000 BCE, the cultural complex which archaeologists call Agate Basin extended into the Northern Plains region. These Agate Basin people were big game hunters whose subsistence strategies included bison trapping. The Agate Basin points were long, narrow, unfluted lanceolate forms. The quality of the lithic work was very good. Archaeologist Sandra Morris, in her University of Montana M.A. Professional Paper Prehistoric Cultural Resources of the Whitetail Pipestone Area, Jefferson County, Montana: An Overview and Implications for Cultural Resource Managers, reports:

“The Agate Basin projectile point morphology is distinct: the form is a long and narrow leaf shape, with no notches.”

Agate Basin appears to be a continuation of Goshen and Folsom in which bison is the economic mainstay.

By 8000 BCE, Indian people at the Agate Basin site had a dog-wolf hybrid.

Two Moon Shelter:

By 8060 BCE, Indian people were using the Two Moon Shelter (48BH1827) in the Bighorn Mountains. In an article in Mammoth Trumpet, Floyd Largent explains:

“A rockshelter is basically a rocky overhang that lacks an extensive interior cave system.”

The Two Moon rockshelter has a protected interior of about 45 square meters with another 30 square meters of flat area just outside of the dripline.

Medicine Creek Lodge Site:

By 7500 BCE, Indian people are now occupying the Medicine Lodge Creek site (48BH499) on the western flanks of the Bighorn Mountains. The site is located at an elevation of 4,800 feet. Indian people at the Medicine Creek Lodge site were hunting small mammals -–mostly bushy-tail wood rats commonly known as packrats (Neotoma cineria). They were also hunting some deer, mountain sheep, and buffalo. They were also using grinding stones to process gathered plant foods.

By 7360 BCE, the people at the Medicine Creek Lodge site were using a Cody Complex tool tradition (see above).

Mummy Cave:

By 7280 BCE, Indian people had begun to live in Mummy Cave (48PA201), a west-facing natural room. This site is located in northwest Wyoming. They were using a side-notched projectile point. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:

“Hunters of bighorn sheep utilized the cave during the entire span of its use.”

Nets may have been used to trap the sheep.

Sheep Mountain:

By 7000 BCE, at Sheep Mountain in the Absaroka range Indian people were using nets to harvest game, including mountain goats, deer, and rabbit. They were using a net that was 200 feet long and 6 feet high made from two-ply cord twisted from juniper bark fibers. In his book The Smithsonian Book of North American Indians: Before the Coming of the Europeans, Philip Kopper reports:

“The hunters who made the Sheep Mountain net probably used it by stringing it across a game trail in the rugged mountains and waiting for animals to pass, or by hanging it across a natural bottleneck and driving game into it.”

Granite Creek Rockshelter:

By 6000 BCE, Indian people were using the Granite Creek rockshelter (48BH330) in the Bighorn Mountains. The rockshelter is 85 feet long and 18 feet deep at its deepest point. This was an animal processing area which was used repeatedly by hunting groups for several thousand years. Most of the stone tools at this site were made from local materials.

Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.


Ancient America: How Old is It?

Archaeology in the United States is often said to have started in 1764 when amateur archaeologist Thomas Jefferson had his African slaves dig up hundreds of Monacan skeletons so that he could learn more about their mortuary customs. During the next century and a half, many ancient American Indian sites would be dug up by archaeologists, both amateur and professional, who were unable to determine the actual age of these sites. There was lots of speculation about the age of these sites, but very little hard data regarding their antiquity. During the twentieth century, however, this changed with the development of a number of scientific methods for determining the age of an archaeological site.


 In 1901, University of Arizona astronomer A. E. Douglass began doing research on tree rings which developed into an archaeological dating method known as dendrochronology. Douglass was studying the effects of sunspots on climate. Since he did not have weather records long enough to be tested for correlation with the 22 year sunspot cycle, Douglass turned to the rings of coniferous trees as potential proxy climate indicators.

From the perspective of archaeological data, there are two basic categories of trees: complacent and sensitive. Complacent trees have rings of uniform width and therefore have no use for dating. In sensitive trees environmental conditions influence the width of the annual rings. Within broad limits, sensitive trees in any geographic region exhibit the same growth patterns. Since the width of the rings varies from year to year, an overall chronological sequence can be established. Material from an archaeological site can be compared to this sequence and it can be determined when the tree died.

In his entry on dendrochronology in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, Jeffrey Dean writes:

“Thus, dendrochronology became the first of many independent dating techniques used in archaeology.”

Over the past century, some 50,000 tree-ring dates from about 5,000 sites in the American Southwest have produced the finest prehistoric chronology in the world. Use of dendrochronology in dating archaeological sites has spread from the American Southwest to other areas of North America and to Europe.

Tree-ring dating is a straight-forward procedure, at least in principle. In practice, it can be astonishingly difficult. It is not simply a matter of counting tree-rings. Jeffrey Dean explains:

“The fundamental principle of dendrochronology is crossdating, the matching of identical patterns of variation in ring morphology among trees in a particular area.”

Crossdating is generally done via covariation of ring widths. According to Dean:

“A tree-ring date is determined by finding the unique point at which the ring-width sequence of a sample matches the pattern of a dated chronology.”

In other words, dendrochronology is used to create a master chronology of the tree ring patterns for a specific region. The find from a particular site can then be compared to patterns from the chronology and in this way the age of the wood is determined.

In some sites, such as the ancient pueblos in the American Southwest, dendrochronology may yield a number of different dates. For example, in building a structure, the builders will use poles that they have just cut (dendrochronology will show this date); they may also re-used poles from an earlier structure (dendocrhonology will thus show a different date); they may use a tree that died naturally (again a different date will result). The most recent dendeochronology date thus shows that the structure was completed about this time.

Summarizing the importance of dendrochronology to archaeology, Brian Fagan writes in his book Quest for the Past: Great Discoveries in Archaeology:

“Tree-ring chronologies are extremely accurate, but they are limited to relatively recent times, and to areas with well-defined rainfall patterns.”

In The Atlas of World Archaeology, Paul Bahn puts it this way:

“Although dendrochronology can provide a reliable method of dating, its use is limited to areas where timber was much used and/or where it has been preserved by dry or damp conditions. It has had its most impressive results in the American Southwest and Scandinavia.”

Another area where dendrochronology has been very useful has been in Ireland. Irish archaeologist Laurence Flanagan writes in his book Ancient Ireland: Life Before the Celts:

“Ireland proved to be an ideal subject for dendrochronology, because timbers of oak were available from all time periods. An overlapping chronology was eventually established that stretched back from the present day to nearly 6000 BC, so that substantial pieces of wood from any point in this period could be accurately dated.”

Dendrochronology in Ireland, and in other areas, has also been useful in fine-tuning other chronometric dating methods. In Ireland, for example, Laurence Flanagan reports:

“It was also used to calibrate Irish radiocarbon dates, which made possible a high-precision radiocarbon dating.”

Radiocarbon Dating:

 Another major advance in chronometric dating came with the development of radiocarbon dating. This dating method was developed in 1949 by Chicago chemist Willard Libby as a result of the Manhattan Project (i.e. the development of the atomic bomb during World War II). It is based on the principle that radioactive carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by all living things. At death this absorption stops and a steady decay of carbon begins. Since the half-life of the radioactive carbon is known (5,568 years), measuring the amount of carbon remaining can determine the age of the material.

There are a couple of limitations regarding radiocarbon dating. First, only materials which were once alive—wood, plant matter, bones, etc.—can be used. Metal and stone cannot be dated with radiocarbon.

Second, it is generally used to date materials less than 40,000 years old. Beyond this time, the amount of remaining radioactive carbon is so small that it is difficult to measure. However, the use of an accelerator mass spectrometer allows dating of older and smaller samples. With this, materials up to 100,000 years old can be dated.

Radiocarbon dates are not as precise as those obtained through dendrochronology and are given in archaeological reports as estimates. Radiocarbon dates are often accompanied with a + or – estimate showing the accuracy of the dated material. It is common for radiocarbon results to be published as “years BP” where 0 BP (“before present”) is 1950 CE.

With regard to the importance of radiocarbon dating, Stuart Fiedel writes in his book Prehistory of the Americas:

“It allowed archaeologists to transcend their former obsession with chronology. Given a framework of absolute dates, they could move on to compare the cultural sequences in different areas, to investigate the cause of variation in the rates of cultural development.”

Radiocarbon dating today is the most widely used dating technique in archaeology. With regard to the impact of radiometric dating in archaeology, Andrew Moore, writing in Archaeology, says:

“Advances in the precision of radiometric dating are radically changing our views of the timing of key events in the human timeline.”

Moore goes on to write:

“In ways that past generations of archaeologists could never have imagined, we are able to refine our knowledge not just of what happened, but when it happened. These new insights, some subtle, and some dramatic, will continue to clarify our human past.”

Daniel Weiss, also writing in Archaeology, reports on a potential problem for radiocarbon dating:

“The use of radiocarbon dating, which allows archaeologists to estimate the age of human, plant, and animal remains, may soon be complicated by fossil fuel emissions.”

Fossil fuels which are millions of years old are putting carbon into the atmosphere which contains no radioactive carbon and this carbon is absorbed into organic materials. By 2050 it is estimated that the radiocarbon date for a brand new garment made from organic materials such as cotton will produce the same radiocarbon date as a garment worn in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Obsidian Hydration:

 Another dating method which has been used to date many American sites is obsidian hydration which can be used for dating sites from 200 to 100,000 years old. When a piece of obsidian is chipped to make a tool, the freshly exposed surface begins to absorb water at a rate that depends on the source of the obsidian, the temperature, and the humidity. In their report Prehistoric Use of the Coso Volcanic Field, archaeologists Amy Gilreath and William Hildebrandt write:

“That moisture penetrates volcanic glass at a predictable and, hence, quantifiable rate is at the foundation of obsidian hydration dating.”

By examining a thin section of the tool under a microscope and measuring the thickness of the hydration layer, the date of manufacture can be calculated.

Obsidian hydration dating has been used primarily in California and the Great Basin. In Mesoamerica, it has generally been used to supplement other dating methods.

Ancient America: The Dakotas, BCE

The Dakotas—the modern states of North and South Dakota—are a part of the Northern Plains, an area which was buffalo country from the time of de-glaciation until modern agriculture in the nineteenth century. A few of the archaeological findings regarding the Dakotas BCE are described below.

Early Pre-contact Period:

The time from first settlement by Indian people following de-glaciation until the climate changes about 9,000 years ago is called the Early Pre-contact Period by some archaeologists and the Paleo-Indian Period by others. Indian people during this era were hunting now extinct mega-fauna, including the mammoth and pre-historic bison. Some of the archaeological sites from this period include:

Lange-Ferguson: About 9100 BCE, Indian people using Clovis technology killed and butchered at least two mammoths at the Lange-Ferguson site in South Dakota.

Ray Long: About 9000 BCE, Indian people occupied the Ray Long site (39FA65) in South Dakota. They were using spear points which are lanceolate with narrow, straight to concave bases. These points had ground edges near the bases.

Jim Pitts: About 8200 BCE, Indian people were using the Jim Pitts site near the Black Hills area known as the Racetrack. The people were hunting bison and mule deer. They were using Goshen, Folsom, Agate Basin, Cody, and Fishtail points.

Middle Pre-contact Period:

The era which archaeologists call the Middle Pre-contact Period begins about 6800 BCE with a hot, dry Altithermal. Much of the area is abandoned by Indian people because of the lack of game. The Altithermal began to moderate about 3000 BCE and both the animal and human populations increased. During the last portion of the Middle Pre-contact (about 1000 BCE), the use of the tipi as a primary domicile increased. In addition, there is increased evidence of domesticated dog.

Benz: About 6000 BCE, Indian people with Cody Complex tools began to occupy the Benz site on the Knife River in North Dakota. The Cody Complex, which included an assemblage of projectile points, scrapers, gravers, wedges, choppers, hammer stones, and bone tools, was associated with bison kill and processing sites.

Liking Bison: By about 4730 BCE, Indian people were using the Liking Bison site in South Dakota. This was a bison kill site in which the hunters drove the animals into a gully which is about 3-5 feet wide and 2-3 feet deep.

Beaver Creek Rock Shelter: About 4700 BCE, Indian people were using the Beaver Creek Rock Shelter (39CU779) in present-day Wind Cave National Park. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes: “Among the animal remains from the site are a variety of frogs and reptiles, suggesting that the arid conditions of the Altithermal had not dried out this north-facing rock shelter. In addition, remains of deer, bison, and pronghorn indicate a diverse diet for Early Archaic hunter-gatherers at the site.”

By 4570 BCE, the Indian people at this site were using side-notched projectile points. By 2700 BCE, they were hunting bison, deer, and pronghorn. At this time, they were using McKean projectile points.

Besant Phase: By 90 BCE, in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alberta, the time period which archaeologists call the Besant Phase begins. Indian people at this time were sophisticated buffalo hunters and were engaging in other big game hunting. Archaeologist George Frison, writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, reports: “Besant hunters were apparently still using the atlatl and dart, and their projectile points are distinctive in morphology and manufacture technology, utilizing the best available raw materials. They may have been the most sophisticated bison-hunting group on the Northwestern Plains in pre-horse times judging from evidence recovered in eastern Wyoming.”

They were using ground stone tools as well as side-notched projectile points. At some sites on the Upper Missouri River and at some sites in Alberta, the people appear to have used ceramics which suggests that they were in contact with Woodland Indian groups to the east.

James River Area: About 25 BCE, an epidemic struck the people living along the James River area and killed at least 28 people, mostly infants, children, and elders. The partially cremated remains of the dead were buried in a deep pit lined with hides.

Ancient America: Montana 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE

About 8,000 years ago (6,000 BCE), the American Indian cultures of the Northern Plains and the Columbia Plateau began undergoing a series of major changes. There was a decrease in dependence on big game hunting as the people engaged in a wide range of hunting and gathering patterns.

One of the events of regional importance was the eruption of Mount Mazama in Oregon in 4750 BCE. The volcano crater would later fill with water and become known as Crater Lake. The volcanic ash from this eruption covered much of the region, including parts of Montana. For today’s archaeologists, this ash layer provides a way of dating some archaeological sites.

Briefly described below are some of the Montana sites between 6000 BCE and 3000 BCE.


Pretty Creek: By about 5735 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Pretty Creek (24CB4) site near the Bighorn River at the present-day Wyoming border. They were using basin-shaped fire pits into which they added stones to help hold the heat.

Hogback Homestead: In 5400 BCE, Indian people using Cascade points were now occupying the Hogback Homestead site (24GN13).

Black Bear Coulee: In 5000 BCE, Indian people were now occupying the Black Bear Coulee site which is located at an elevation of 4,000 feet just north of present-day Drummond.

In 4750 BCE, Indian people living at the Black Bear Coulee site witnessed ash falling over the hills and streams of western Montana from the eruption of Mount Mazama. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes: “The layer of ash seems to have had little long-term effect on the people of western Montana: Early Archaic peoples lived there before and after the eruption with equal success.”

Middle Kootenai River: On a high terrace along the Middle Kootenai River valley near present-day Libby, Indian people were using site 24LN1054 by 5000 BCE. This was a winter residential base. The primary food resources included deer and elk. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes: “Artifacts at the site include net weights used for trout fishing and pestles used to process root crops, which are abundant in the Kootenai valley.”

Graybeal: By 4890 BCE, Indian people were now using the Graybeal site (24GN61). This was a semi-permanent site used for wintering. The people at this site were using a type of point which the archaeologists call Salmon River Side-Notched.

Buckeye: In 4300 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Buckeye Site. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes: “Plant remains at the Buckeye Site indicate use of prickly pear cactus and biscuitroot for food, and sagebrush and pine for firewood. The pine probably came from the nearby Pryor Mountains.”

 Kobold: In 3700 BCE, Indian people were using a buffalo jump at the Kobold site (24BH406) along Rosebud Creek. The jump is a 25-foot-high sandstone escarpment. At a buffalo jump, Indian people would harvest bison by running the herd over the cliff and then butchering the carcasses in the area below the cliff.

Bear Paw Mountains: In 3500 BCE, Indian people were now using site 24HL1215 which is at an elevation of 4,680 feet in the Bear Paw Mountains. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes: “The small occupation, perhaps a group of hunters, used the uplands of the Bear Paw Mountains for hunting and gathering.”

While they used local stone for making tools, they also had some exotic stone, including Knife River flint from western North Dakota and obsidian from present-day Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Myers-Hindman: In 3500 BCE, Indian people were using the Myers-Hindman site (24PA504) near present-day Livingston for hunting bighorn sheep.

Pit House: In 3365 BCE, Indian people constructed a pit house in the south central portion of the state (site 24CB1332). They were exploiting many non-bison sources of food, including rabbit, deer, and pronghorn. They were also gathering a variety of plants.

Sun River: In 3200 BCE, Indian people occupied the Sun River site (24CA74) near present-day Great Falls during the fall. A group of about 25 people occupied the site for a few days. They were using a wide array of local fauna, including pronghorns.

Rigler Bluffs: By 3040 BCE, Indian people were using the Rigler Bluffs site (24PA401) on the southern bank of the Yellowstone River.


 A complex is simply a group of tools and artifacts which are associated together at a number of different sites. Archaeologists use complexes for showing the relationships between different sites. A complex is also a chronological unit and thus can be used for the initial dating of a site.

 Bristow Complex: In southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana, the period which archaeologists call the Bristow Complex began about 5500 BCE. This complex is characterized by the use of local glacial outwash and river gravels as the primary source for lithic raw materials. Bristow Complex projectile points are shallow or deep side to broad side/corner notched dart points.


Note: the information in parenthesis following the name of the site is the Smithsonian Designation System. In this system of recording archaeological sites, the first number refers to the state; this is followed by letters which refer to the county; and then a number indicating its order in being recorded. Thus 5LP 10, means that the site is in Colorado (5th state when the states are listed alphabetically), La Plata County (LP), and was the 10th site recorded in La Plata county in the State Archaeologist’s office.


Ancient America: Quarry Sites in Montana

One of the common ways of making stone tools throughout the world is by breaking and flaking: a process commonly called flintknapping. Tools made by flintknapping included points (both spearpoints and later arrowpoints), knives, scrapers, and other cutting implements. The process of breaking stone to form tools is not a random process: it is not simply a matter of banging two stones together. The toolmaker will take a piece of stone and shape it into a culturally acceptable form. Thus, in a culture the same basic tool shapes appear over and over again.

One important thing to understand about stone tools is that not all stone can be used in tool-making. In flintknapping, Indian people needed stones that would break in a predictable fashion and would provide a sharp edge. Albert Goodyear, in his research monograph A Hypothesis for the Use of Cryptochrystalline Raw Materials Among Paleo-Indian Groups of North America, reports:  “It is a general geological fact in most places of North America and probably throughout the world that lithic raw materials of even minimal suitability for flaking do not occur evenly over the earth’s surface. In fact, some environments such as coastal plains and alluvial valleys have no lithic raw materials whatsoever.”

Areas in which there were good stones for making stone tools were important to ancient Indian peoples. They would not only return to these sites regularly to obtain tool-making material, but they would also trade this material to other bands. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:  “At quarry locations, hunter-gatherers would often shape the stone into the rough form, or preform, of a tool. By producing preforms at quarries, they reduced the amount of stone they had to carry with them when they left the quarry

Obsidian, a natural glass produced by volcanic action, was a valued natural resource for many tribes. In some places it is found in massive flows but is difficult to extract. An active trade in obsidian was going on for several millennia prior to the European invasion. The obsidian used by the Indians at the Hogback Homestead site (24GN13) near present-day Philipsburg, Montana came from the Centennial Mountains in Idaho and from the Teton Pass in Wyoming.

Briefly described below are some of the quarry sites in Montana.

Horse Prairie Valley: By about 13,000 BCE, Indian people had established a quarry at Horse Prairie Valley to obtain chert for stone tools. Tools made from this stone were used by people 200 to 300 miles from the site. Indian people continued to mine chert from this site for about 5,000 years.

Otter Creek: By about 8500 BCE, small bands of about 25 people began to inhabit the Otter Creek area in the southeastern portion of the state. The people existed on a diversified diet of local vegetation and wild game. They camped along canyon rims, on the tops of buttes, and along drainages. One of the reasons for the occupation of this area was porcellanite, a native stone created when burning coal seams bake the surrounding dirt into rock. The porcellanite is easily knapped and was used by the people for tools such as arrowheads, scrapers and lance points.

South Everson Creek: About 7400 BCE, Indian people were using a quarry on South Everson Creek to obtain stone material for the manufacture of tools.

Big Springs: By about 5000 BCE, Indian people were using the quartzite quarry at the Big Springs site (24CB77) in the Big Pryor Mountains. They were using side-notched projectile points similar to those found at Mummy Cave, Wyoming. The quarry was heavily used and Indian people were digging mining pits 3 to 4 feet deep and about 5 feet in diameter.

The quartzite at Big Springs occurs in large nodules. Archaeologist Kent Good, in his M.A. Thesis at the University of Montana, reports:  “Probably a combination of heat and water were used to crack the nodules so as to expose the inner material. Abundant wood and water available at the site would have enabled peoples to use this process.”

Once the inner material is obtained, hammerstones and/or batons are used to manufacture blanks from which blades can be struck. Archaeologist Kent Good also reports:  “While utilizing the quarry material to blank out preforms, the people may have carried on daily activities such as hide preparation and hunting.”

Bowman Creek: By about 1000 BCE, the Kootenai were quarrying chert for making stone tools about 3 miles upstream on Bowman Creek from its confluence with the North Fork of the Flathead River.

Ancient America: Montana Prior to 6000 BCE

While the region of North America known today as Montana entered into written Euro-American histories in the early nineteenth century with the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Indian people had been living in the area for many millennia. Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game.

With regard to the archaeological record for Montana, In his Ph.D. dissertation on the MacHaffie site for Columbia University, Richard Forbis reports:  “The raw material for archeology in Montana consists largely of campsites (most often entirely lithic in content), workshops, scattered hearths and tipi rings, bison kills and traps, trailside offertory stone heaps, burials, and pictographs. Chipped stone work, often found out of meaningful association, is common while ground stone is rare.”

Briefly described below are a few of the ancient sites which have been uncovered by archaeologists.

Anzick Rockshelter:

 By about 9550 BCE, Indian people were using the Anzick rockshelter (24PA506) near present-day Gardiner for burials. Interred with the burials were finely made bone projectile points as well as both finished and unfinished Clovis-like stone points. Archaeologists uncovered more than 100 stone artifacts and a number of bone tools in this collapsed rock shelter. The artifacts had been covered with a heavy coating of red ochre.

Archaeologists also found human remains at the site. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture, write:  “The remains of a toddler consisted primarily of skull fragments, and the artifacts were all stained with red ochre. The other individual has been shown to be unassociated with the Clovis materials.”

In his book Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart Fiedel writes:  “The application of a blood-colored pigment to the corpse may have been a symbolic restoration of life.”

Since the children buried here were accompanied by stone tools, it is assumed that these items were gifts rather than items the deceased had used while living. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:  “It seems fairly clear that they were placed with the infant as part of a ritual or ceremony.”  The stones had come from a variety of different locations.

Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley report: “Eleven bone rods were among the artifacts collected from the disturbed deposits of the site: two complete rods, four fragments with beveled ends, and five midsections.”

DNA from the remains show that they are related to most modern American Indians.

Mill Iron Site:

 While Clovis points are both well-known today and highly distinctive, there were other lithic technologies being used more than 11,000 years ago. Indian people at the Mill Iron Site (24CT30) were using well-made, bifacial projectile points with a concave base which were neither fluted nor made in a Clovis-style. Archaeologists have classified these large lanceolate projectile points as Goshen. Goshen culture is often associated with bison hunting.

 While contemporaneous with Clovis, Goshen projectile points are not fluted or basally thinned. The Mill Iron site contained 1,709 stone tools. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald reports: “Most of the raw stone at the site was obtained locally.”

The Indian people at the site killed at least 30 bison, all adults and mostly cows, at a spring or early summer event. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes:  “Low-value animal parts dominate at the kill site, suggesting that the hunters took the best parts of the animals with them when they left.”

MacHaffie Site:

By 9000 BCE, Indians using Folsom technology were using the MacHaffie Site. Their lithic tool kit included points (including the classic Folsom style), knives, scrapers (several kinds), gouges, and choppers. In his Ph.D. dissertation on the MacHaffie site for Columbia University, Richard Forbis reports:   “The absence of grinding stones at the MacHaffie site indicates a lack of concern with seed gathering and seems to indicate that the early hunters at the site gathered nuts, roots, and berries that did not require grinding to make them palatable.”  The Indians at this site were hunting deer.

By 4900 BCE, Indian people using Scottsbluff technology were using the MacHaffie Site. Their lithic toolkit included points, knives (including a stemmed knife), scrapers, choppers. Richard Forbis reports:  “The MacHaffie site yielded a wide range of Scottsbluff artifacts. Like Folsom, Scottsbluff sites may share little more in common than the distinctive projectile points from which their name is derived.”

Some other sites:

False Cougar Cave: Indian people occupied the False Cougar Cave in the Pryor Mountains by about 12,600 BCE. DNA analysis of a hair from the site is associated with haplogroup X.

Lindsay Site: The Lindsay site (24DW501) was a mammoth kill site which was occupied about 11,000 BCE.

Indian Creek Site: Indian people occupied the Indian Creek site (24BW626) prior to 9000 BCE. This site represents a Folsom adaption to a higher elevation.

Baron Gulch Site: By 7400 BCE, Indian people at the Barton Gulch site (21MA171) were gathering and processing a variety of food plants, including slimleaf goosefoot (Chenopodium leptophllum) and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha). They were using roasting pits to process these foods.

Pictograph Caves: By 7100 BCE, Indian people were using Pictograph Caves near present-day Billings.

Myers-Hindman Site: By 7000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Myers-Hindman site near Livingston. They were hunting pronghorn, deer, elk, and sheep. They also had dogs.

Dawson County: By 7000 BCE, Indian people using Goshen projectile points were occupying site 24DW272 in Dawson County.

Some Complexes and Tool Traditions:

A complex is simply a group of tools and artifacts which are associated together at a number of different sites. Archaeologists use complexes for showing the relationships between different sites. A complex is also a chronological unit and thus can be used for the initial dating of a site.

Goatfell Complex: The Goatfell Complex spread throughout southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana by 9000 BCE. In her M.A. Thesis for the University of Montana, Mary Collins reports:  “It was defined by a preference for black metamorphosed siltstone, large stemmed lanceolate and leaf shaped spear points, and large flake blanks and tools. Biface manufacture was characterized by the removal of large expanding flakes with acute angled, faceted striking platforms.”

Hell Gap Complex: The cultural tradition which archaeologists call the Hell Gap Complex moved into the Northern Plains about 7600 BCE. Hell Gap people were big game hunters with a primary emphasis on bison. The sites tend to be short-term campsites.

Pryor Stemmed Projectile Point: By 6300 BCE, Indian people were using Pryor Stemmed Projectile Points in the Pryor and Bighorn mountain area as well as in parts of central Wyoming.

Cody Complex: The Cody Complex, which included an assemblage of projectile points, scrapers, gravers, wedges, choppers, hammer stones, and bone tools, was associated with bison kill and processing sites. This complex first appears about 8000 BCE. By 7400 BCE, Indian people using Cody Complex tools were using the Mammoth Meadow site for the production of stone tools. They were killing bison as well as other mammals.

Ancient America: The Lower Columbia River Area

In 1805, the American Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made its way down the lower Columbia River. This area, from Celilo Falls near the present-day Oregon city of The Dalles, to the Wapato Valley (the Portland Basin), to the mouth of the river, was inhabited by numerous Chinookan-speaking Indian nations. The many villages along the river were linked through trade and through intermarriage. As Lewis and Clark traveled along the lower Columbia River, they found that villages and towns were numerous.

The lower course of the Columbia River and the Pacific Coast adjacent to its mouth have changed significantly over time. During the past 5,000 years dunes have formed, creating a ridged topography. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, explain:  “The Clatsop Plains is a ridged landform of stabilized dune sand stretching between the Columbia River and Tillamook Head. The sand derives primarily from Columbia River sediment that is returned to the outer coast due to high energy waves.”

Earl Dune Site:

 American Indians first began using the Earl Dune site (35CLT66) about 1,350 years ago. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report:  “The initial occupation appears to have been on an open sandy beach on the ocean side of the dunes, where marine fishes (primarily hake and sculpin) were harvested, and razor clams were opportunistically collected.”

Occupation of Earl Dune site was short-term. As the dune accumulated more sand, occupation of the site became less frequent and use of the site ended about 1,200 years ago.

Palmrose Site:

The Palmrose site (35CLT47) is located at the southern end of the Clatsop Plains. The site was first occupied about 3,900 years ago and by 2,700 years ago the people had constructed a large rectangular plank house. This is the earliest plank house known on the southern Northwest Coast Culture Area. This house was approximately 6 meters (20 feet) wide and at least 12 meters (40 feet) long. The house was probably similar to the plank houses that early European and American explorers saw in the area.

The Palmrose site was a permanent site and is characterized by a large shell midden. The people who lived here were harvesting horse clam, butter clam, and littleneck clam. Archaeologists also found evidence of 23 species of birds, 23 species of fish, and 14 species of mammals. The remains of mammals included both sea mammals (whales, sea otters, sea lions, and fur seals) and land mammals (deer and elk were most common). In general, it appears that sustenance was largely based on marine and littoral resources.

With regard to tools, the archaeologists found a variety of projectile points, atlatl weights, mortars, stone mauls, antler digging stick handles, antler splitting wedges, composite bone harpoon points, and shark-tooth pendants.

Archaeologists also found a number of carved bone and antler artifacts with motifs similar to those found farther north. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report: “These similarities show clearly that close contacts were being maintained over great distances up and down the coast by 2,700 years ago. These ancient connections may be a factor in the presence of Salish languages in Oregon, which otherwise dominate the Washington and southern British Columbia coasts to the north.”

The Palmrose site was abandoned about 1,600 years ago.

Par-Tee Site:

 Indian people were occupying the Par-Tee site (35CLT20) near present-day Seaside, Oregon by about 1,400 years ago. The people were exploiting sea mammals as well as fish and shellfish. They were also hunting elk. Some of their tools were made out of modified whale bones. Houses at this site appear to have been circular.

Avenue Q Site:

While Indian people first began occupying the Avenue Q site (35CLT13) about 3,500 years ago, the most intense period of occupation was between 1,700 years ago and 1,000 years ago. In modern times, the site’s shell midden, which was about 10 feet deep, was mined to obtain material for road building.

Indian people at this site had a subsistence focus on marine environments. Fish, particularly halibut, lingcod, and cabezon, predominate. Among the mammal bones found by archaeologists at the site, 73% were from marine mammals (sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, and whales).

Eddy Point and Ivy Station:

About 25 miles upstream from present-day Astoria are the Eddy Point (35CLT33) and Ivy Station (25CLY34) sites. Both of these date back about 3,000 years. While deer and elk bone was common at both sites, there were also some harbor seal bones. Archaeologists also uncovered evidence of fish (salmon, sucker, sturgeon, and marine fishes), waterfowl (swan, duck, goose), and marine shellfish. While archaeologists found no evidence of house structures, they feel that both of these were village sites.

 Meier Site:

 At the Meir site (35CO5) archaeologists uncovered the remains of a large Chinook-style plank longhouse. It is estimated to have been 14 meters wide and 35 meters long. Radiocarbon dating shows that it was initially constructed about 700 years ago and that it remained occupied until historic times. The archaeological data shows that the main wall and roof support members had been shored up and/or replaced about eight to ten times during the life of the house.

Down the center of the house were a series of formal boxed hearths. The ethnographic record shows that each of these hearths would have served from two to four related families. Houses of this type were generally occupied by several related families. Each family would have a bedroom area which was a platform attached to the outside wall.

The longhouse at the Meier site had storage pits or cellars along both sides of the hearth area. These pits had been dug, filled, and re-dug many times during the centuries that the house had been occupied. When in use, the pits were probably covered by flooring planks. With regard to the archaeological evidence in the pits, C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report:  “The pits yielded an abundance of fire-cracked rock and tens of thousands of bone fragments from elk, deer, salmon, sturgeon, and other animals, the remains of food that was stored, cooked, and eaten in the house.”


When Lewis and Clark journeyed through the Lower Columbia River area, they encountered the village of Cathlapotle which was across the river from the Meier site in what is now the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in the state of Washington. They reported that this was a large village with about 14 houses and a population of about 900. Archaeological investigation of the site began in 1991 and continued until 1996. Dating shows that the site was occupied from the mid-1400s until the 1840s.

The archaeologists found six house sites in two parallel rows on a ridge above the river’s high water level. The houses ranged from 60 feet to 200 feet in length and from 24 feet to 36 feet in width.

As with the longhouse at the Meier site, archaeologists found large storage pits or cellars in the longhouse sites. Some of these were six feet deep and when the houses were occupied, they would have been beneath the sleeping platforms that lined the walls.

With regard to the Cathlapotle site, Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, report:  “So long as a site is not threatened by disturbance, such as from land development or erosion, today’s archaeologists deliberately study only part of it. They leave the rest for the future, a time sure to have new insights, new investigative techniques, and new research questions.”



Ancient America: A Plateau Clovis Cache

As the ice age was ending in North America, a new hunting technology arose. This technology, commonly known as Clovis after a find in New Mexico, is characterized by a finely made stone projectile point with a characteristic flute which helps in attaching the point to an atlatl dart.

One of the principle weapons used by the Clovis hunters was the atlatl. The atlatl is a wooden shaft with a hook at one end and a handle at the other. The butt of the spear is engaged by the hook. Grasping the handle and steadying the spear shaft with the fingers, the spear can be hurled with great force. Archaeologist L.S. Cressman, in his book The Sandal and the Cave: The Indians of Oregon, notes:  “Thus the atlatl was in principle an extension of the arm and, by the added leverage, gave much greater power to the thrust of the spear.”

Archaeologist Sandra Morris, in her M.A. professional paper at the University of Montana, summarizes Clovis this way:  “Clovis represents a terminal ice-age human adaptation characterized by a hunting technology displaying distinctive, fluted spearpoints and carved bone and ivory shafts.”

The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. In 1987, a number of Clovis points were discovered below the surface in an apple orchard in East Wenatchee, Washington. As in the case of many major archaeological discoveries, these points were discovered accidently by workers installing a new irrigation system. Recognizing that this might be an important find, professional archaeologists were called in.

The land was owned by Mack Richey and the orchard was managed by his brother-in-law Rich Roberts, and thus the site became known as the Richey-Roberts Clovis Site. Excavation rights were sold to the State of Washington. The scientific excavation of the site was observed by members of the Colville Confederated Tribes as well as the news media.

The initial find at the Richey-Roberts site included 29 items, among which were five large stone points and three short bone rods. To discover more about the site and its overall size, the archaeologists brought in ground-penetrating radar. The radar located a cluster of seven large Clovis points. These points were about twice as large as those found in association with animal remains.

Unlike artifact “collectors” (better described as “looters”) who remove artifacts to display them or sell them, archaeologists pay close attention to the context in which the artifacts are found. At the East Wenatchee site, archaeologists noted that the undersides some of the points had sandy crusts. These crusts detracted from the fine flaking of the points, but provided an important dating clue. A geologist, Dr. Nick Foit, identified the silica in the crusts as originating from a Glacier Peak volcanic eruption. This eruption occurred about 13,000 years ago. The Clovis points had lain on top of the ash when it was still fresh enough to crusts on the points. This meant that the site was somewhat younger than 13,000 years.

The blade surfaces were checked for traces of blood or other animal protein and on one large biface researchers found evidence of both bison and deer. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, explain the findings:  “This does not necessarily prove hunting. Residual proteins have many sources. They can come from the leather of a storage pouch, the leather protecting the toolmaker’s hands, from sinew used for hafting, or from blood, hair, or hoof glue in the hafting mastic.”

One of the puzzles from the site was the large Clovis points. In terms of size, the only other Clovis points of this large size were found at the Anzick rockshelter site in Montana. The Anzik site was a burial site and the large Clovis points appear to have been grave offerings. At East Wenatchee, there was no burial, but there are traces of red ochre on one of the points. Red ochre was generally used ceremonially and thus one of the questions about these points is: Were these large Clovis points ceremonial offerings?

One of the ways archaeologists study stone tools is with the aid of a scanning electron microscope. This allows them to see the wear patterns on the blade which provides information about how they were used. The large Clovis points, however, show no wear patterns, an indication that they were never used. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty ask:  “Was this a cache intended for later retrieval or were the showy points placed as a ritual offering?”

Use of caches is common among nomadic hunting and gathering people. Since goods and weight are oppressive when you are moving regularly on foot, items which will not be needed at the next resource collection area can be cached and then retrieved when the group returns to the area. Writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, David Meltzer reports:  “Befitting wide-ranging hunter-gatherers who lacked animal transport and were able to carry only limited provisions, they often cached stone for later use.”

With regard to the large size, experimental archaeology has shown that the Clovis points frequently break when they are used. They are then re-flaked into usable points which are smaller than the originals. Instead of ceremonial offerings, it could simply be that the large points are unused points which have not yet been broken and re-flaked.

One of the artifacts uncovered at a number of other Clovis sites are bone rods. At the Richey-Roberts site more than a dozen bone rods were found. There is some speculation that these rods, if fitted with antler tips, could have been used as flaking tools. No antler tips, however, were found with the rods.

Excavation at the Richey-Roberts site stopped in 1990. The location of artifacts was marked with copper cutouts, a sheet of protective geofabric was placed over the site, and it was covered with soil so that the apple trees could be replanted. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty write:  “Without knowing the exact location, no one now would recognize that particular section of the orchard as an important archaeological site.”

The items excavated at the Richey-Roberts site were donated to the Washington State Historical Society.

Ancient America: The Northeast Prior to 8000 BCE

The Northeastern Woodlands of North America is a land of heavily forested rolling hills and rounded mountains, salt marshes of waving grass, calm lakes, tumbling brooks, surf-beaten beaches, and rocky coves. This culture area stretches west from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River, and from Virginia in the south to New Brunswick in the north. The era from earliest habitation to about 8000 BCE is called the Early Paleo-Indian Period by some archaeologists. A few of the archaeological findings for this period from the Northeast are briefly described below.

The ice sheets that once covered the northern part of the continent began their withdrawal from the Northeast about 15,000 BCE. Human habitation in the area began when the ice sheet still covered much of the area. David Anderson, writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, reports:  “Paleo-Indian groups near the ice sheets targeted large game, particularly caribou, while groups in the Woodlands to the south were more generalized foragers, exploiting a wide range of animals and plant species.”

The overall data seems to suggest that there was initial settlement along major rivers at sites where there was high quality stone for making tools. According to David Anderson:  “These localities are thought to reflect areas of initial extended settlement, staging areas from which the colonization of the larger region proceeded.”

At present, the earliest evidence of human occupation in the Northeast comes from the Cactus Hill site on the east bank of the Nottoway River in southeastern Virginia. The site is about 13 miles east of the Fall Zone. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their somewhat controversial book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture,  write:  “Sometime between 20,100 and 22,600 years ago, people began to use the sand ridge as a temporary campsite.”

In southwestern Pennsylvania, people were using the Meadowcroft Rockshelter by 17,600 BCE, a time when the Laurentide ice sheet was only 50 miles away.

The earliest people in the Northeast appear to have been hunting and gathering people who were living in small, highly mobile bands. They often used fluted bifacial projectile points (most likely spear points) which had a rough resemblance to the famous Clovis points. Some archaeologists characterize the earliest inhabitants of the region as using “Clovis-like” points and associated stone tools. Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, Robert Funk reports:  “The fluted-point hunters probably entered the Northeast from the south and west following the glacial retreat.”

In Virginia, Indian people began to occupy the Cactus Hill site south of Richmond by 15,000 BCE. They were making blades from quartzite cores that had been collected elsewhere. The blades were made by striking the core with a soft stone hammer. They were making lanceolate, unfluted bifacial points that could be used as projectile points or as hafted knives. With regard to the implications of this tool kit, archaeologist J.M. Adovasio, in his book The First Americans: In Pursuit of Archaeology’s Greatest Mystery, writes:  “these appear to have been the work of people who were foraging for a variety of faunal and floral food resources.”

In the western portion of the Northeastern region, Indian people were butchering mammoths at the Chesrow site in Wisconsin by 11,500 BCE. The stone tools used at this site were made from a poor quality stone which is not suited for fine flintknapping. At this time, the good stone in central Wisconsin was still buried under the ice sheets. With regard to the people at this site, archaeologist Alice Beck Kehoe writes in her book America Before the European Invasions:  “They were intrepid pioneers indeed, cutting up wooly mammoths within a few days’ walk of ice fields stretching north beyond the horizon.”  At about this same time, Indian people hunted and butchered a Jefferson’s Ground Sloth in Ohio.

By about 11,000 BCE, Indian people occupied a cave in what is now Ohio. They were using stone tools, including scrapers and gravers. The animals hunted by these people included the short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), a giant, long-legged omnivore; stagmoose (Cervalces scotti), an animal that resembled modern moose except for its forked antlers; giant beaver, (Castoroides ohioensis), an animal that reached up to nine feet in length; flat-headed peccary, (Platygonus compressus), the wide-ranging American pig of the Pleistocene; and caribou (Rangifer tarandus).

By 10,500 BCE Indian people called Early Hunters by archaeologists were settling in the tundra adjoining the southern edge of the Wisconsin ice sheet. As the ice withdrew, spruce woodlands appeared which were utilized by these people.

At about this same time, the Dutchess Quarry Cave in what is now New York was being used for  making fluted points. The people at this site were hunting caribou.

About 10,000 BCE Indian people began to move into New England. Archaeologist Dena Dincauze, in her chapter in The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation, calls these people “Pioneers” and writes:  “Clad in their caribou-skin clothing, carrying infants and household goods and thrusting spears with elegantly shaped points of colorful stone, these are the people who first gave names to the landscape, who explained its special areas and vistas in terms of their own cosmology, and who first explored and exploited its riches for human purposes.”

At about this same time, Indian people were now living in New Jersey. In his book Looking Beneath the Surface: The Story of Archaeology in New Jersey, archaeologist R. Alan Mounier writes:  “Their signature artifact—the fluted point—is among the most recognizable of relics, owing to its graceful shape, its exquisite workmanship, and its celebrity, arising from its relative antiquity.”

About 9500 BCE Indian people established a hunting camp at the Conover Site in Virginia. They were using a variety of chert tools, including fluted projectile points, bifaces, and unifacial tools.

By 9300 BCE, Indian people began moving up the Champlain and Connecticut Valleys into the state of Vermont. Part of their economy was based on hunting caribou. They may have also exploited the marine resources of the Champlain Sea.

At about this same time in New Hampshire, Indian people occupied the Colebrook site. They were using a type of spear point which archaeologists call Michaud/Neponset.

By 9000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Thunderbird site on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in present-day Virginia. The occupants were making and using Clovis-type points. Thunderbird was a base camp and was associated with a nearby quarry. According to Ian Shaw and Robert Jameson  in A Dictionary of Archaeology:  “An important activity was the refurbishing of toolkits with new flaked stone tools manufactured from jasper collected from a nearby quarry.”

By 8900 BCE, Indian people occupied Sheriden Cave in present-day Ohio. In addition to stone tools (identified as Clovis-like), they were also using bone tools.

By 8800 BCE, Indian hunters using Clovis technology were hunting mastodons at the Hiscock site in present-day New York.

By 8600 BCE, the period which archaeologists call the Bull Brook phase in present-day Massachusetts, begins. With regard to material culture, the Indian people at this time were using fluted points.

About 8500 BCE, Indian people established a seasonal site at Vail in present-day Maine for killing caribou. The caribou were killed along a sandy patch of ground near the river and then the animals were processed for hide, meat, and marrow. The hunters maintained their camp across the river from the kill site.

With regard to their tool kit, hunters were using fluted points with deep, concave bases which are similar to those used by the people at the Debert site in Nova Scotia. While the nearest suitable source for stone for making tools is about 25 kilometers away, the hunters and food processors were using stone tools which come from more distant quarries in Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. The people living at the Vail site were using tents which measured about 4.5 by 6 meters (approximately 15 by 20 feet).

About 8300 BCE, a large group of Indian people established a seasonal camp near present-day Traverse City, Michigan. They were using stone tools which were made from stone from the Saginaw Bay area, 100 miles away.

Ancient America: Coastal Oregon, 13,000 to 7,500 Years Ago

The Oregon coast is a part of the larger Northwest Coast culture area which stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California. The cultures along this coastal ecotone (an area between two biomes) share a number of common features, including a subsistence pattern which is centered on sea and littoral (shore, estuary, and headlands) environments. In the northern portion of this culture area (the Alaska Panhandle and British Columbia), the coastline is highly convoluted with many offshore islands and is bordered with steep, high mountains. The coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, on the other hand are relatively straight which means they are unprotected and pummeled by unimpeded ocean waves.

One of the current hypotheses for the peopling of the Americas, known as the Coastal Migration Hypothesis, envisions early migrations to the Americas by coastal travelers using boats. It is well known that ancient people have been using boats of some kind for a long time. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write:  “Sea voyages date far back into antiquity. People reached Australia from Indonesia more than 40,000 years ago, and Japanese archaeologists have found obsidian brought to Honshu nearly 35,000 years ago from a small island 20 miles distant.”

The Coastal Migration Hypothesis suggests that archaeologists should expect to find the earliest evidence of the settlement of what is now Oregon along the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, there is little archaeological data along the Oregon coast to substantiate this hypothesis.

Archaeological surveys of early sites along the Oregon coast have yielded very little data regarding human habitation in this area prior to 4,000 years ago. Coastal sites tend to be rare because of two factors of physical geography. First, and perhaps most important, is the fact that sea levels have been rising, particularly over the past 18,000 years. During the last ice age when humans would have been first entering the area, the sea levels were 100 meters (330 feet) lower than they are today. Along the Oregon coast, this means that vast stretches of the continental shelf would have been exposed and the actual coast line would have been several kilometers to the west of its current positions. The camp sites and villages used by the early people are thus underwater today.

A second factor is the nature of the Oregon coast line. It is constantly changing due to the impact of tides and high-energy waves, tectonic uplift, erosion, and landslides. In other words, even more recent evidence of human use is being destroyed by natural forces.

While early archaeological sites are rare on the Oregon coast, data from the north and from the south strongly suggests that this area must have been inhabited. To the north, people were using On-Your-Knees Cave (49PET408) on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island by about 12,000 years ago. The people were engaged in a coastal marine subsistence pattern which includes fishing and the gathering of shellfish. It is also clear that they were using watercraft and were engaged in long-distance trade.

The human remains in On-Your-Knees Cave have DNA which belongs to the D4h3 haplogroup. Members this haplogroup are found exclusively on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Chile.

About the same time people were occupying the coastal areas of Alaska and British Columbia, they were also using Daisy Cave in California’s Channel Islands. One again, the archaeological data shows a pattern of using marine resources and knowledge of watercraft.

With people using watercraft living to both the north and the south of the Oregon coast during the period of the Terminal Pleitocene/Early Holocene (13,000 to 7,500 years ago), we would expect human occupation of the Oregon coast during this time. The actual physical data from the archaeological record for this period is, however, a bit scanty.

At the Indian Sands site (35CU67), there was a scatter of chipped stone artifacts and some burned and broken mussel shells which dated to 12,300 to 8,600 years ago.

At the Neptune State Park site (35LA3) there are a few lithic flakes which were dated to about 9,330 years ago.

The Tahkenitch Landing site (35DO130) has a few stone stools that date to 8,900 to 7,600 years ago. At this time Tahkenitch Lake was an estuary open to the ocean.

Archaeologists Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, summarize the early occupation of the Oregon coast this way:  “The early Holocene culture record to the Oregon coast remains impoverished, and while we can anticipate occasional new evidence of great age, the reality is that the early record will never be robust, given the geological history of Oregon’s Pacific coast.”