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.
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.
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 interesting day, as usual. The Late Paleoindian sediments have yielded many intact bison over the years that have to be seen to be appreciated.
I decided to make an attempt to collect the forelimb as a whole. Paleobond helped consolidate the bone, but the soft silt was uncooperative. It was a risk, but a piece of masonite was slipped under the block to remove the limb as a whole.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once the black mat was reached (or nearly so), mechanical excavation ceased and 1 x 1 meter hand units were begun.
A 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.
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.
I 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.)
The most recent New Mexico Archaeological Council newsletter is out. this issue focuses on Paleoindian archaeology and includes a short article of recent activities at the Clovis site. Click here to download. If you are a New Mexican, or have an interest in the archaeology of our fine state, consider joining NMAC.
Paleoindian Archaeology in New Mexico
In Memorium: Patrick Culbert
Current Research and Investigations at Blackwater Draw, NM
Recent Research at the Mockingbird Gap Clovis Site
New Finds at the Water Canyon Paleoindian Site
Recent Paleoindian Studies at Spaceport America
Interpreting the Paleoindian Signature of Southeast New Mexico
Late Paleoindian Projectile Point Technology
We don’t find many predators in our assemblages on the Southern High Plains. When we do, it is generally a tooth, a single toe bone, or a few bits. Predators weren’t hunted in droves and likely wander off to die alone so they don’t end up in the cultural assemblage. However…
There are some interesting finds coming from UNLV lately. Las Vegas wash has produced many fossil animals, but, just as in many other ancient sites, it’s the predators that are the rare ones.
“The Pleistocene predators are starting to pile up in the fossil-rich hills at the northern edge of the valley.
Less than a month after a California team found evidence of a saber-tooth cat in the Upper Las Vegas Wash, UNLV researchers announced the discovery of a 1½-inch long foot bone from what they believe was a dire wolf that stalked the valley between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago.” Read the article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal here.
There is more information about the saber-tooth cats in this short article in the RGJ. Another interesting find that I want to know more from. With so much great information coming out through the scientific community, and the exponential nature of the data, it’s sad to think of all the time and energy focused away from this good stuff and onto the wacky pseudo-science floating across the television and internet.
The Mitchell Locality is a large portion of the Clovis Site (LA3324) lying along the northwest margin of the prehistoric pond and extending into the slight upland rise to the west. Over the last few years, we have been fortunate to extend our researches in this direction primarily through geologic coring. The best available overview of the Mitchell Locality is Anthony Boldurian’s summary in Plains Anthropologist 1990. The area is primarily known for the extensive Folsom-age materials found there but has a smattering of older and younger artifacts scattered throughout.
There was an intent to core more in this area but the soft sand created problems for both the machine and vehicle access. Devising Plan B for the autumn.
Up on the Mitchell Locality, the sparse cover wheat allowed clear view of the surface with many small flakes visible.
We were fortunate that the great wealth of geoarchaeological knowledge of the southern high plains was present in the form of Haynes and Holliday.
The fine sand overburden varies throughout the site and can be over 4 meters deep. In this area, it is only about 40 centimeters outside the arroyo.
I’ll keep posting as we learn more.
The climate studies class at Eastern New Mexico University has resumed, instructed by Dr. David Kilby, and funded through a grant from New Mexico NSF EPSCoR. The class spent the Fall 2011 semester collecting sediment samples from various locations in Eastern New Mexico, including various locations at Blackwater Locality #1. The Students are now analyzing the samples in ENMU’s new geoarchaeology lab.
The students are describing the samples using the Munsell hue test, a standardized way of describing the color of the sediments when they are dry, moist, and completely saturated. They are also testing the plasticity, carbon content, and calcium content of the sediments using various tests including the amount of effervescence after the application of acid (pictured above).
For more information click below: