A newly discovered spearhead once used to hunt down mammoths and mastodons some 15,000 years ago is bringing into question a lot of what we believe about the migration and technology of early people in America.
Archaeologists from Texas A&M University discovered the stone spearhead while rooting around a muddy field 64 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Austin, Texas. The blade, no longer than 10 centimeters (4 inches), was unearthed at the Debra L. Friedkin site, an area already rich with archaeological treasures from the Clovis culture, once believed to the first peoples in America, and well-known for their “Clovis point" spears.
However, this spearhead pre-dates the Clovis culture. As documented in the journal Science Advances, the findings suggest the spreadhead dates to between 13,500 and 15,000 years ago, which would make it the oldest known weapon in North America.
"The discovery is significant because almost all pre-Clovis sites have stone tools, but spear points have yet to be found," Professor Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M, said in a statement. "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.”
Most curious of all, the spear has a distinct stemmed point, much like the stemmed spearheads of the Clovis, which were extremely high-tech, relatively speaking, of course.
The discovery is pretty exciting for Waters and team. “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 Friedkin site."
So, did the spear belong to some predecessors of the Clovis? Or is it a relic from a previous, separate migration? Archaeologists are rightly cautious to jump to any big conclusions, but the discovery is certainly telling us a lot about the lifestyle and culture of pre-Clovis peoples.
Until very recently, it was widely accepted that the Clovis people entered the Americas from Asia across the Bering Strait land bridge and down through an ice-free corridor around 13,500 years ago. Then, mounting archaeological evidence came to light that suggested people stepped foot in the Americas considerably earlier than this. This spearhead is another brick in the wall of this mounting evidence. Nevertheless, even with all of this evidence at their fingertips, archaeologists are still not completely certain who these first people were or how they got to America.
“The findings expand our understanding of the earliest people to explore and settle North America," added Waters. "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."