Archaeologists Find 15,500-Year-Old Spear Points in Texas

Through excavation of the Debra L. Friedkin site northwest of Austin, Texas, a team of archaeologists has identified a particular style of projectile point dated between 13,500 and 15,500 years ago — this is earlier than typical Clovis-style technologies dated to 13,000 years ago.

A 15,000-year-old stemmed point at the Debra L. Friedkin site, Texas. Image credit: Waters et al, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4505.

A 15,000-year-old stemmed point at the Debra L. Friedkin site, Texas. Image credit: Waters et al, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4505.

The team found more than 100,000 artifacts, including 328 tools and 12 complete and fragmented projectile points (about 3-4 inches, or 7.6-10.2 cm, long), excavated from the Buttermilk Creek Complex horizon of the Debra L. Friedkin site.

From 19 optically stimulated luminescence dates of sediments, they determined the artifacts were between 13,500- and 15,500- years-old.

“There is no doubt these weapons were used for hunting game in the area at that time,” said lead author Professor Michael Waters, Director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas AM University.

“The discovery is significant because almost all pre-Clovis sites have stone tools, but spear points have yet to be found.”

“These points were found under a layer with Clovis and Folsom projectile points.”

Clovis is dated to 13,000 to 12,700 years ago and Folsom after that. The dream has always been to find diagnostic artifacts — such as projectile points — that can be recognized as older than Clovis and this is what we have at the Debra L. Friedkin site.”

Proposed models explaining the peopling of the Americas: (A) the earliest people exploring the Americas used stemmed projectile points and traveled along the coast 16,000 years ago, moved inland, and reached the Debra L. Friedkin site by 15,500 years ago and South America by 14,200 years ago (blue arrows); (B) a triangular lanceolate projectile point form develops in situ from the earlier lanceolate stemmed form 14,000 years ago, with Clovis developing 13,000 years ago and spreading across most of the United States and northern Mexico (red arrows); (C) alternatively, the origin of Clovis may be explained by a second migration that occurs with people using triangular lanceolate points traveling through the ice-free corridor and reaching the Friedkin site by 14,000 years ago; Clovis develops in situ 13,000 years ago and spreads across central and eastern North America (red arrows). Archaeological sites with ages are shown. Colored regions on the map show the general distribution of Clovis, with highest densities in the east (brown), moderate densities in the central United States (orange), and light densities in the west (yellow), overlapping with the Western Stemmed Tradition shown by the cross-hatch pattern. Image credit: Waters et al, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4505.

Proposed models explaining the peopling of the Americas: (A) the earliest people exploring the Americas used stemmed projectile points and traveled along the coast 16,000 years ago, moved inland, and reached the Debra L. Friedkin site by 15,500 years ago and South America by 14,200 years ago (blue arrows); (B) a triangular lanceolate projectile point form develops in situ from the earlier lanceolate stemmed form 14,000 years ago, with Clovis developing 13,000 years ago and spreading across most of the United States and northern Mexico (red arrows); (C) alternatively, the origin of Clovis may be explained by a second migration that occurs with people using triangular lanceolate points traveling through the ice-free corridor and reaching the Friedkin site by 14,000 years ago; Clovis develops in situ 13,000 years ago and spreads across central and eastern North America (red arrows). Archaeological sites with ages are shown. Colored regions on the map show the general distribution of Clovis, with highest densities in the east (brown), moderate densities in the central United States (orange), and light densities in the west (yellow), overlapping with the Western Stemmed Tradition shown by the cross-hatch pattern. Image credit: Waters et al, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4505.

The Clovis people invented the ‘Clovis point,’ a spear-shaped weapon made of stone that is found in Texas and parts of the United States and northern Mexico and the weapons were made to hunt animals, including mammoths and mastodons, from 13,000 to 12,700 years ago.

“The findings expand our understanding of the earliest people to explore and settle North America,” Professor Waters said.

“The peopling of the Americas during the end of the last Ice Age was a complex process and this complexity is seen in their genetic record. Now we are starting to see this complexity mirrored in the archaeological record.”

The research is published in the journal Science Advances.

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Michael R. Waters et al. 2018. Pre-Clovis projectile points at the Debra L. Friedkin site, Texas — Implications for the Late Pleistocene peopling of the Americas. Science Advances 4 (10): eaat4505; doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat4505

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