Casting Clovis Artifacts

A short while ago Dr. Francis Smiley from Northern Arizona University suggested making some new casts of the collections from the Clovis type-site.  We were able to meet in Albuquerque and borrow some lab space from generous colleagues at the NMMNH.

I chose about 18 artifacts generally representing our materials including points, knives, scrapers, gravers, and a fine-pointed piercer for the initial trial run.  Along with this, I intended to bring the Dickenson Cache but lack of organization (and coffee) caused me to forget the cache when leaving the collections facility.  Anyway, we still had some good stuff to work with and it was a pleasure to sit back and watch someone else labor away.

After photographing each artifact, a temporary number was assigned to each specimen and mold box.  The mold boxes are custom fit to each artifact in order to save on casting materials.

The artifacts are then placed in each box, suspended away from the edges with foam and pins.

Next, the two-part compound is measured out on the balance, mixed, and the timer set.

Round one begins with the mold material poured up to about the halfway point on the artifact.  Then we wait.

Round two removes the stabilizing foam at the top and the boxes are topped off.  Again we wait.

The boxes are removed and molds are labeled.  A razor knife opens the molds to reveal the original artifact.  Each is inspected for imperfections or air bubbles.



Voila! A mold is created to share these fine artifacts with the world without fear of damaging the originals.  Thanks to Dr. “Kim” Smiley for starting us off on this new endeavor.  We hope to see you again soon for the next round.

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.


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.


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.

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…


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.

Breaking News About Paleoindians at Clovis!!!


Portales Daily News.  Note that there was no “Clovis” cultural group yet…\

News1936-1jpgNews1936-2jpgClick HERE for the pdf, with bonus Coronado article OR link below:

Geologic Work at the Mitchell Locality

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.

Primary localities within the Clovis site.

Vance Holliday and Shane Miller coring the south bank.

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.

Coring in the paleo arroyo of the Mitchell Locality.

Up on the Mitchell Locality, the sparse cover wheat allowed clear view of the surface with many small flakes visible.

C. Vance Haynes overlooking the mine pit.

We were fortunate that the great wealth of geoarchaeological knowledge of the southern high plains was present in the form of Haynes and Holliday.

Core sample laid out for recording.

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.

Dr Holliday working at the rig.

Examining the sediments.

I’ll keep posting as we learn more.

Recent Activity at the Clovis Site

Photo courtesy of Tandy Bozeman.

Photo courtesy of Tandy Bozeman.

Photo courtesy of Tandy Bozeman.

Photo courtesy of Tandy Bozeman.

Lots of activity at the site.  Preparing to open for the season, giving guided tours to visitors, working on the analysis and re-writing our story.  We also had some professional photography done recently and will add those images in the following days.

From the log of the Starship Enterprise

In January of 1967, an episode of Star Trek entitled “The Galileo Seven” aired, and caught the attention of Dr. George Agogino, a past Director of the Paleo-Indian Institute at Eastern New Mexico University. In the episode, Spock and his crew crash-land on a hostile planet with “caveman” like creatures lurking around, and throwing spears at the crew. Dr. Agogino saw a morphological resemblance between the spear points used in the episode and Folsom points, so he decided to send a letter and request that the spears that were used in the television show be donated to the Blackwater Draw Museum. A few months later Robert Justman, the associate Producer of Star Trek received Agogino’s request, and was enthused to answer it.

Justman noted that the spears were based on the Folsom points that had originally been found in New Mexico in the late 1920s, but he made sure to address the “dramatic license” that was practiced by enlarging the spears to 15 feet in length. Nonetheless, Agogino was still thrilled at the possibility of having Folsom themed Star Trek memorabilia on display.

Below is a scene out of the episode featuring the spears:

Many letters went back and forth between Agogino, Justman, and NBC, mainly addressing shipping and logistics of mailing 15 foot spears, but eventually the spears made their way to Portales, New Mexico, and then to the Blackwater Draw Museum where they are still proudly on display.

Star Trek prop spears on display in the Blackwater Draw Museum.