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Evidence of Paleo-Indian Culture

The name Paleo-Indian refers to the earliest human inhabitants of North America. We know about them because the chipped-stone tools they made have been found on the surface of the land and from ancient campsites and butchering sites across the continent. Paleo-Indians were big-game hunters who hunted mammoths and giant bison.

This was a time of change in the environment. The climate warmed and the last glacier melted, or "retreated." Vegetation changed too, and the great Pleistocene megafauna (animals larger than 100 pounds) became extinct. With these environmental changes came changes in how humans lived and their technology—how they made and used things. Archeologists identify early people by their technologies, because the traditions of how they made and used things can be traced over periods of time.

Early Paleo-Indian Clovis
Older than 10,800 years
A Clovis projectile pointThe typical Clovis projectile point is long with sharp edges and a central flute struck from both sides. The base is gently concave and smoothed. Clovis points have been found at kill and butchering sites for mammoth, mastodon, and bison across the continent. Although no butchering sites containing Clovis points have been found in Iowa, clovis points have been discovered on the surface to the land. The Runnels-Maske Site in Cedar County yielded 11 Clovis points.

10,900 to 10,500 years old
A folsom pointWithin a short period, the Clovis Tradition gave way to the Folsom. In this tradition, the Paleo-Indians produced smaller projectile points. Folsom points are characterized by a long flute flaked from the base of each side, up the center. This technique creates a thin, easily hafted blade with pressure flaking on the sides. These points are associated with bison kill sites.

Throwing spears with atlatls (spear-throwing sticks) were probably also used during this time.

Evidence of the Folsom Tradition is found across North America. Although no butchering site with Folsom points have been found in Iowa, numerous Folsom points have been collected on the surface, especially in southwestern Iowa.

Atlatl and Spear
An atlatlThe Atlatl is a spear-thrower, which increases the range and power of the spear. It is a small, flat stick with a handhold at one end and a catch at the other. The spear is about six feet long and tipped with a chipped stone or bone point. The dart is placed on the end with the catch.spear

When the arm moves to throw the spear, the arc is increased by the length of the atlatl and imparts more energy to the spear. Experienced throwers can increase their force by two and a half times. With practice, a spear will travel more than 100 yards.

spear head

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