Following Up on the South Bank

The South Bank of the Clovis site refers to an area at the southern end of the prehistoric pond around which lie a group of cultural sites spanning a time from the end of the last ice age until recent historic times.  This watering hole provided a marshy habitat for plants and animals and was the focus of human activity for the last 14,000 years.

SouthBank

The South Bank area of the Clovis site. View to the southwest.

Professional research on the South Bank of the Clovis site has been going on since the mid-1930s.  In fact, this is the area of the Clovis site where it was discovered for the first time, beyond any legitimate doubt, that humans were hunting mammoths in North America.  Other than the spear points we now know as Clovis, major discoveries in the South Bank area include bone spear points embedded in mammoth, spokeshaves, gravers, Levallois blades, turtle shells, bone flakers, bone foreshafts, and a variety of knives and other cutting tools.

Although more work has been done in the South Bank area than any other portion of the site, only a tiny fraction of all the work in this area has been published to date.  A few of us are working hard to remedy this and I have dedicated my career to unraveling the mess of 80+ years of excavation, sampling, and recording of this site.

Howard

Edgar Howard at the Clovis site, 1933.

What we’re up to now.  A building was placed over a small portion of the South Bank in the 1990s to preserve in situ some of the spectacular preserved specimens from this area.  As time permits, we are slowing removing the overburden in this area to reveal the palimpsest of bison kills, butchering, and other activities in this area.  A particularly good crew of excavators with faunal experience were willing to volunteer some of their time over the past couple weeks and huge progress is being made.

 

Here’s a gallery of random photographs from the excavations so far.

Thanks to those who are giving time to this project of mine.  Since, for me, archaeology isn’t worth doing without disseminating the information to the broader public I’ll update the blog as we continue to make progress.  Unfortunately, day-to-day operations of the Landmark and the university take precedent over the fun stuff like this so it will be back to the grindstone before too long.

An Alibates Knife

AlibatesKnifeHere’s an interesting Paleoindian biface made from banded Alibates chert.  It was apparently discovered by a local resident in the early 1970s.  The tool (knife) measures about 12 cm (4 3/4″) and is remarkably thin, with flaking consistent with other Clovis bifaces from the site.  I have used this, as well as other unusual specimens to demonstrate the wide variety of lithic tools that are part of the tool kit that are often overlooked in the popular media.  Although we cannot be certain as to it’s exact temporal placement, based on morphology, the area where it was recovered and information from the finder, I think it is most likely Clovis in age, but we will never be certain.

I decided to post this today as one of our graduate researchers, Stacey Bennett just came across the original field note from when it was returned to the Landmark in 1984.

AlibatesKnifeNotes

A Bison Trap at the Clovis Site (poster)

Bison Trap_S.BennettAn excellent poster about Ms. Bennett’s work on the South Bank Bison Trap at the Clovis Site.  Click the image for a larger image or the following for a full pdf:

Bison Trap_S.Bennett_10-7-2013_smallest

Paleoamerican Odyssey

I hope to keep this page updated during the Paleoamerican Odyssey Conference.  It will be a chore but it could be interesting. With the somewhat dark connections associated with the Clovis and Beyond Conference, rumors abound about this one including motives, funding, and possible personal agendas. After speaking of this with colleagues, I think the latter fear comes from the recruitment of the speakers as opposed to a general call for papers.  I’ll keep an open mind and let it flow over me.  I certainly expect to learn some new things.

And of course I’ll keep posting if I can.

Here’s a small copy of one of my posters to be presented.  The original is much larger but this will give the gist.  Just finished up at the printer’s.  Please don’t use without permission as the resolution is terrible on this one.

Field School Update

Lots of remarkable progress has been made using the field school students in and out of the South Bank Building.  The bonebed has yielded a few surprises and given up more excellent paleontological specimens.  More information to come, but here are a few photos to entice.

DSC_0625 DSC_0624 DSC_0622 DSC_0620 DSC_0618DSC_0634 DSC_0631 DSC_0628DSC_0643 DSC_0640FieldCrew2013

Field School 2013

We’re up and running, and therefore have little time to attend to the blog or emails.

I’ll try to post some photos as time permits but here’s a few for now…

DSC_0560

With the relatively large number of students and volunteers we have undertaken two separate, but related projects.  Some are fortunate enough to work in the shade much of the time as seen above.DSC_0564

The majority of the crew are back in Isequilla’s pit that we re-opened in 2009, working on the northeast profile.DSC_0574

The Southbank bonebed excavation is being expanded by about six square meters.  Some are finding that the bonebed is a difficult, and confining space, but it has it’s rewards.DSC_0578

At lunch there almost always an opportunity to pick up a spear thrower, and get in touch with our prehistoric hunter ancestors.DSC_0579

After a year of sandstorms, some of the deepest excavations need to be shoveled out.DSC_0582

Luckily, there’s enough bone, lithics, and interesting sediment changes to keep us all interested and busy most of the time.

An Excursion to Water Canyon

A tardy post.

Several weeks back I, along with David Kilby, was fortunate to be asked to come help with an excavation in  central New Mexico. The project was the brainchild of Robert Dello-Russo from the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies.  Since funding is always an issue with this type of research, this was very much a volunteer-based project, bringing in archaeological professionals and skilled avocationals  from around the state.

DSC_0492

A feeder arroyo in water canyon looking west.

The project area is west of Socorro, New Mexico between two mountain ranges.  There is a surprising amount of energetic water that comes from the mountains to the west, moving enormous amounts of sediment, and sometimes very large cobbles and pebbles.  This has created a sort of fan that covers the very old Paleoindian and paleontological deposits and is overlaid with several meters of fine silt.

The Black Mat visible in the arroyo.

The Black Mat as visible in the arroyo.

Evidence of a much wetter environment abounds in the arroyo cuts where black mats are revealed in the profiles.  The area has produced Paleoindian tools, projectiles, and bone in the previous two seasons of work.

How to move 500 cu m of dirt in 3 days

How to move 500 cu m of dirt in 3 days (Chris Merriman (L) and Ethan Ortega (R)).

DSC_0495

Overburden removed to expose the Black Mat and associated bonebed.

With only a couple weeks to remove 3.5-4 meters of overburden, a heavy excavator and backhoe were required to uncover the site.  This was done quickly and with remarkable precision as seen below.

DSC_0497

Excavation units begin to expose the bonebed.

Once the black mat was reached (or nearly so), mechanical excavation ceased and 1 x 1 meter hand units were begun.

Stacey Bennett and Chris Merriman starting to uncover the bison innominate in Unit 5-1.

Stacey Bennett and Chris Merriman starting to uncover the bison innominate in Unit 5-1.

DSC_0453Bone was soon reached in the later Paleoindian level and intensive mapping began.

DSC_0456DSC_0458DSC_0461DSC_0467DSC_0474DSC_0478Old bonebeds are notoriously slow and difficult to excavate but remarkable progress was made over the short two-week window.

DSC_0504A common problem with bison kills is proving that they are, in fact, kills.  To do this, something has to point toward human intervention.  Luckily this occurred, in the form of a projectile point, visible in the above photo near the left edge of the above excavation photo.

DSC_0501

Above is a close-up field photo of the fine Eden Point it turned out to be.  Fortunately, it even fits the expected dates for the strata where it was found.

DSC_0515I was glad to be part of this exciting investigation and hope to make it back to this remarkable site in the near future.  More information can be found HERE http://www.nmarchaeology.org/water-canyon.html.

(Look for more photos to follow as my co-conspirators pass them on.)